You might have some idea of what the cloud is and the services it provides, but here we’ll take a closer look at precisely how it all works and why the cloud has become so important, and so quickly. Chances are, even if you don’t know a thing about cloud computing services, you’ve probably still used them at some point.
“Cloud” is short for “cloud computing,” and it refers to tasks and services that are provided or hosted via the internet on a pay-as-you-go basis. People have been able to store, operate, and manage data via the internet for some time, but cloud computing describes paid services that do this on a much larger scale.
First off, it’s important to clarify that the cloud is not all virtual, and while your files may not be saved directly to your computer, they still need to be attached to some piece of hardware, somewhere in the world. When you upload something to the cloud, via a service like Dropbox, the file will be sent via the internet to a server—a real, tangible server. Cloud service providers will have hundreds and thousands of physical servers, collectively known as “server farms,” that are located in data centers around the world.
So, at its most simplified level, the cloud is a collection of servers and data centers scattered across the globe that we can store data on.
Essentially, it’s a digital storage unit where you can keep all your files; the big difference is that with a storage unit you have to physically go there to access your stuff, whereas with the cloud you can access it from any device so long as it has internet connection.
To be clear, “the cloud” is not one single, tangible entity. It’s a little more abstract. The “cloud” is essentially a metaphor for the internet itself. When you store a file the cloud, you’re storing it online. Anybody with the right resources and infrastructure can host their own cloud, but it’s no easy task, and it’s certainly not cheap, so when we talk about using a cloud service, we’re talking about high level services offered by a provider like Dropbox.
To put it in perspective, let’s use electricity as an example. It’d cost a whole lot and require a ton of maintenance to keep a private generator in your home. So instead, we have energy providers who essentially operate one big generator that anybody can access, and we all just pay for what we use. In the same sense, it’s far more efficient and cost-effective to allow a cloud service provider to host and store your data, rather than building your own infrastructure.
While at its simplest level, the cloud is a digital storage solution, cloud computation can actually be broken down into three different core functions: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) models.
To put it very simply, IaaS models offer the most control over your resources and cater to admins for hosting and storage, PaaS models offer less control and cater to developers for building, and SaaS models offer the least control and cater to end users for consuming.
To get a little more technical, there are public clouds, private clouds, hybrid clouds, and multiclouds.
The public cloud refers to cloud services that anybody can utilize. Dropbox’s services, for example, are all public cloud services. Anybody using Dropbox is renting a share of its server space, so the public cloud can be seen as a shared environment, kind of like a big office but everyone has their own secure desk and cabinet.
The private cloud is very different, as the virtual machine and all of the cloud infrastructure will be dedicated to a sole customer. You’ll still be hosting everything through the internet, but the server that hosts your data will be yours and only yours. Some may opt to use a private cloud for a bit of added security, while others may need to use the private cloud for performance; because the server your data is hosted on won’t be divided across multiple customers, it can put all of its processing power into your needs.
Private clouds also give the customer complete control over how the server is managed, secured and backed up, unlike public clouds. While most people would be most likely to use the public cloud, the private cloud certainly favors those handling big data, in the petabyte region.
Hybrid clouds make use of both in-house servers and public cloud servers, so you can keep bigger or more private documents in the private cloud, but keep everything else on the public cloud.
A multicloud is when a business makes use of multiple different public clouds, as opposed to using a combination of private and public like a hybrid. This generally occurs because different cloud service providers will offer different services and one business may need all of them.
When it comes to businesses, the benefits of cloud computing go far beyond its role as a simple storage solution. Cloud computing has become an essential driver for the productivity, efficiency, growth and organization of modern workplaces. Some of the main benefits of cloud computing for businesses are:
Outside of the office, there are plenty of ways you can benefit from utilizing cloud solutions at home. The clearest advantage is of course the space you’ll save. If you don’t currently make use of cloud storage, then most of your files are probably saved on your computer or smartphone. If you run out of space on that device, you might opt for an external hard drive, and if that gets filled up, you’ll get a second external hard drive, and so on. Suddenly, it becomes a whole lot trickier to find that old document you urgently need.
Having all your files saved in one virtual place, that doesn’t actually take up any of your personal space, will help you keep everything organized and under control, while saving you money on buying hardware. It’ll also help improve the performance of your device as you migrate a bulk of your files to the cloud.
Meanwhile, user-friendly, cloud-based software like Dropbox Paper—as opposed to using applications that require download and installation—will also save you a lot of space and help keep everything in order. Much of this software can be used as mobile apps or web applications, so using cloud-based software means you can work and create from any device—from anywhere.
Sharing with loved ones becomes a whole lot easier, too, so you can, for example, set up a collaborative photo album that anyone in your family can access.
The benefits of cloud computing are evident whether you’re using it at home or at work; the cloud can increase productivity, improve organization, enhance collaboration, and reduce costs—while keeping your data secure and protected.