The cloud has taken the technology world by storm over the last two decades. Everyone is "moving to the cloud," and companies keep promoting "cloud computing."
But what does that even mean?
The concept of "the cloud" has evolved into a wide range of solutions, but cloud computing is essentially the use of third-party computing power that delivers services over the internet.
What is the cloud?
Cloud computing is provided by companies that own, house, and operate large facilities filled with servers. These facilities are called data centers, and they power the applications, services, and virtual machines delivered to customers. Customers use these to store data, create virtual networks, and deploy applications.
We call it the cloud because everything is stored remotely and delivered via web-based connections. There isn’t one single location where all this information is stored; it’s just accessed by users connected to the internet.
Companies use cloud computing services because this method is cheaper than buying expensive computing hardware. Users simply rent the power of a provider’s data center to virtualize the tools they need. Cloud services are offered on a pay-per-use model, so companies can spend money on what they need now, knowing they have the ability to scale services down the road. The range of cloud services is constantly expanding, but all follow the same delivery model.
What Is Cloud Computing?
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate "the cloud" is through storage. Traditional, local storage will keep files on your hard drive. When you save an image or download a program, it is stored on your device. Cloud storage, on the other hand, stores that file on the web. The file is distributed across remote servers and accessed through the internet.
Cloud computing has evolved from simple file storage and virtualized operating systems to a multi-billion dollar market of enterprise-grade computing services. These services utilize the computing power (servers) of third-party infrastructure providers. Servers create a hosted network capable of delivering storage, bandwidth, processing power and applications.
Cloud computing can do everything from providing the tools necessary to develop an application to delivering it to the end user. Cloud-based services are traditionally classified into a few large, all-encompassing groups: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS)
Infrastructure as a service is the oldest, most basic model of cloud computing services. It’s bare bones, but extremely powerful. When we talk about cloud infrastructure, we’re really talking about servers and computing power. Companies with IaaS offerings essentially rent out the computing power of their server farms on a pay-per-use basis. These server farms power a company’s networks, data storage programs, and hypervisors.
PaaS offerings deliver all of that and a bit more. Services here utilize similar pay-per-use models while providing both computing power and development tools to build, test, and deploy applications. These development tools are used to build and maintain applications capable of accessing the internet through the public cloud. PaaS can simplify an application’s development process with on-demand development environments, pre-configured networks, and pre-built databases.
SaaS takes all of these infrastructure and development needs out of the picture. SaaS solutions are delivered to users in their fully functional form. They can be just about any kind of application for virtually any purpose, from CRM software to team collaboration software tools. These apps store and access data from the cloud and deliver information to users anywhere with an internet connection.
Cloud Computing Definition
The operational definition of cloud computing in more academic terms is the delivery of services over the internet, hosted on third-party infrastructure. At the core, hosted computing power defines it, but these cloud computing solutions can deliver a wide array of services from stripped-down resources to full-fledged applications.
Cloud providers developed a service-oriented architecture which emphasizes the delivery of computing power, applications, and other functional computing components. Providers facilitate this delivery by investing in IT infrastructure. Infrastructure consists of hardware such as servers, as well as computer, telecommunications, and storage systems. The hardware is typically housed in a data center.
Cloud services providers utilize the infrastructure to power services that range across IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. They can be used in virtually any industry, across any department. The third-party nature of cloud computing enables their services to become scalable to any customer’s demand. The provider’s customers simply rent their computing resources and pay per use.
Companies, in return, receive scalable computing power and/or plug-and-play application components. Instead of purchasing their own expensive IT infrastructure, the cloud provider offers the ability to virtualize most kinds of computing machines, networks, and operating systems.
History of Cloud Computing
1993 — As early as 1993, distributed computing systems were referred to as “the cloud.” The first documented case was General Magic and AT&T’s Telescript and PersonaLink technologies.
1996 — The term “cloud computing” was used in an internal document at Compaq, which outlined potential technologies, many of which—such as cloud storage and applications—became a reality.
1997 — “Cloud computing,” as a term, was coined by University of Texas professor, Ramnath Chellappa. This occurs as companies begin adopting virtualization technologies and adopting the service provider model for application delivery.
1999 — Salesforce launches Salesforce.com, becoming a pioneer in software as a service (SaaS) solutions.
2002 — AWS launches, releasing a number of disparate services via the online marketplace, Amazon Mechanical Turk.
2003 — The first release of Xen, a virtual machine monitor (VMM) or hypervisor, which allows users to run multiple virtualized guests on the same machine.
2005–2008 — Web 2.0 emerges, popularizing browser-based applications and virtual communities.
2006 — AWS relaunches with an integrated set of core services and Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2). EC2 remains to this day one of the most popular web services on the market.
2007 — Dropbox launches, making cloud storage widely available to both businesses and individuals.
2010 — Major vendors continue to adopt cloud technologies. Rackspace and NASA launch OpenStack, a cloud-focused open-source initiative to help companies offering cloud computing services on Rackspace infrastructure.
2011 — Mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) is popularized, offering development kits and cloud storage for web and mobile applications.
2012–Today — Companies continue investing in cloud computing technologies. from infrastructure as a service (IaaS) to software as a service (SaaS). The cloud computing market exceeds growth expectations, booming from $40.96 billion in 2012 to $186.4 billion in 2018.
How Does the Cloud Work?
Cloud computing works by shifting the location of computing hardware to a remote location and delivering services globally. Workloads are no longer facilitated by local computer hardware; instead, giant, interconnected data centers power virtualized software and networks for millions of disparate users.
Service providers build intricate and powerful networks of interconnected servers. The provider takes on the burden of both hardware investment and maintenance. They are responsible for balancing workloads, maintaining availability, and provisioning services.
On the infrastructural level, cloud service providers deliver networks, compute power, and raw block storage. Other infrastructural deliverables can include disk-image libraries, object storage, file storage, and load balancers. Customers can gain access to these powerful virtual machines and networks using high-level APIs connected over the internet.
Cloud platforms deliver all of that and a bit more. Atop the computing resources, PaaS vendors deliver software bundles and prebuilt application components. Customers manage application development and data input while the cloud provider manages runtime, middleware, virtual machines, and networks.
Software bundles typically consist of development environments, testing tools, and deployment capabilities. Many PaaS offerings can be modified using plug-and-play modules to add functionality. If a PaaS user demands additional functionality, they simply select additional services, while providers increase the cost of their pay-per-use offering.
SaaS is really just a delivery model for cloud-based applications. SaaS applications operate in the cloud while vendors manage cloud infrastructure. Users are delivered a fully operating application and don’t have to worry about provisioning virtual machines, configuring networks, or managing data center infrastructure.
Large providers have multiple data centers in multiple regions of the world. Amazon, for example, is the largest cloud provider in the world and has somewhere around 68 data centers across the globe. Each location houses as many as 80,000 servers linked to their 100 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) private network.
These servers power hundreds of different services to more than one million customers. The wide range of services spans across computing, storage, database, analytics, networking, mobile, developer tools, IoT, and IT security categories. Other major companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Alibaba, have a comparable breadth of services and facilities.
Types of Cloud Computing
Aside from the three main classifications of cloud computing services (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), there are three major types of “clouds.” Public, private, and hybrid clouds utilize similar infrastructure, but are managed very differently. Clients typically choose a type of cloud based on their ability to manage cloud systems and their demands for security.
The private cloud consists of dedicated resources and is operated by a single organization. Infrastructure could be managed by a third-party cloud service provider or managed internally. Companies managing a private cloud internally would need their own data center resources and management team. Managed private clouds will be hosted remotely and give companies varying levels of control.
An internally controlled private cloud will give the company more control, along with significantly more responsibility. Increased control allows companies to choose the hardware and resources they utilize. It also gives them the ability to customize security systems and maintain their own standards. They can also monitor their own networks, balance their own workloads, and allocate their own resources. As a result of this increased control, companies must spend more on resources and staffing.
Managing infrastructural resources and maintaining a skilled staff can become incredibly expensive very quickly. The upfront cost for a server can range anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on a company’s needs. (That does not include the implementation and setup costs, which can also be in the thousands.)
Warranties and replacement can be expensive as well, but the real costs come from maintenance and energy. The energy cost of data centers across the country is expected to exceed $13 billion annually by 2020. Data centers are expected to consume one-fifth of the world’s power by 2025. While a smaller company would not require an entire data center, private clouds remain significantly more expensive than public and hybrid options.
Public clouds are the most commonly used services in the cloud computing world. These clouds utilize infrastructure owned and operated by third-party cloud service providers. Companies don’t build their own data centers or purchase their own servers. They also don’t have to manage or maintain those hardware resources. In return, the business receives whatever software, middleware, and virtualized hardware they need.
Public cloud providers pool their resources to serve multiple customers on shared hardware the provider manages themselves. Providers will allocate resources, provision workloads, and configure multi-tenant environments. These kinds of services are delivered by major cloud providers such as AWS, Google, and Microsoft. They build giant data centers and distributed computing power across their own hardware resources to manage workloads and ensure availability for millions of customers.
Public cloud services are used in some capacity by 92 percent of companies, according to RightScale’s 2018 State of the Cloud Report. That survey was not limited to software and technology companies, either. Those industries made up half the respondents, but it studied many financial services, education, and healthcare companies, among many other industries.
The public cloud remains a popular choice for small, medium, and enterprise businesses. It has gained significant popularity over recent years because it is cheaper, requires less maintenance, and provides virtually unlimited scalability. Revenue from public cloud services are expected to grow more than 21 percent in 2018, according to Gartner, to a total of $221 billion in 2019.
While there are obvious benefits to utilizing public clouds, businesses do lose a level of control over resources. Public cloud users have a limited ability to manage server-side security or ensure compliance. They also lose the ability to customize hardware to optimize performance and network availability.
Hybrid clouds combine both public and private cloud services. Many businesses choose hybrid cloud systems to pair the control of private cloud infrastructure and the cost of public cloud services. They work by allowing businesses to move data, applications, and workloads between private and public cloud environments.
Companies can make limited investments in on-premises infrastructure and utilize the scalability of public cloud services as their computing demands grow. They will keep their sensitive data and business-critical information stored securely on the premises and leave high-volume or public-facing needs to the public cloud. Many businesses will use these to increase control over the data and processes with larger compliance needs.
Since public cloud services are offered on a pay-per-use plan, some businesses may set a threshold for what they can handle on local infrastructure and transition workloads to the public cloud if demand spikes. This limits the cost of their public cloud spending while keeping control over the majority of their computing infrastructure and operations.
These clouds can offer a “best of both worlds” solution, but require greater upfront and long-term investment. Companies will need to work with their cloud provider as they set up on-premises hardware or migrate workloads between public and private clouds. They will also need dedicated staff to monitor and manage local hardware. These systems can also be complex to set up and may require significant support from cloud providers.
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Cloud Computing Examples
Computing technologies are the most obvious examples of cloud services. These services are used to build and deploy applications, facilitating needs such as scalable computing needs, the creation of virtual machines, or containerizing applications. These various services are typically available on demand and nearly infinitely scalable to meet a client’s needs.
Computing needs will typically rely on virtualized servers to build, run, and test applications. Virtual servers allow companies increased control over resources to balance workloads, improve performance, and address latency issues. Computing needs may also include running batch jobs, configuring computing capacity, or delivering applications.
Virtual machines, as a concept, include a number of emulated computer systems such as operating systems, runtime systems, applications, and databases. Companies can typically configure and deploy virtual machines on demand. This gives companies a flexible cloud environment they can customize to meet their personalized needs.
Containers are similar to virtual machines but package code and facilitate runtimes at the operating system level. They can help organize and deliver applications and package them with libraries, enabling them to run independently on any device.
Many cloud service providers allow customers to build virtual private clouds and virtual private networks. VPCs and VPNs enable users to create and provision isolated networks to designate IP addresses and integrate existing domain name services. Virtualized networks can also help create secure connections between local data centers and public cloud environments or remote offices.
Virtual networks give companies greater control over traffic and activity monitoring while isolating environments. Isolated environments improve security and abstract virtual machines or applications from public cloud access. Companies with lots of data being transferred across networks can improve monitoring capabilities to ensure their integration channels are secure.
Networking services can help companies optimize network performance and connect their data sources to applications. Traffic management tools are frequently used by companies with significant public-facing offerings. Elastic load balancing makes it easy to allocate resources as traffic demands scale. These tools can also help ensure a smooth, available experience for end users to access websites, applications, and databases.
Developing APIs can also come in handy when customers demand access to your data and services. Application and API gateways can help companies control who is using applications or connecting to their databases, business logic, or backend services. Managing connectivity is important while provisioning access control and authorization.
Content and media management is a big part of networking as well. A content delivery network (CDN) can improve the efficiency and quality of media being delivered to end users. Cloud CDNs can ensure quality performance with global reach. They can be seamlessly integrated into business websites or applications to provide dynamic content or even streaming services.
Development tools are a foundational component of PaaS offerings and can be core capabilities of cloud-based applications. While PaaS solutions offer many prebuilt backend components and application frameworks, most PaaS solutions will provide a development environment and connect users to source code repositories.
Development environments make it possible for users to write, test, and debug code in one centralized environment. Users can utilize testing tools to visualize how components of their developing application will operate and interact with one another. If issues arise, most solutions include debugging tools to identify errors and remedy them before deployment.
Code repositories and version control software are the most common tools used to store, manage, and access code during application development. These configuration management tools can connect users to repositories like GitHub or Microsoft TFS and help them work collaboratively with other developers.
DevOps is a common approach to software development that emphasizes the unification of development and operations practices. The methodology circulates around construction, testing, and deployment, while emphasizing automation. This circular iteration process helps developers build a toolchain of cross-functional processes.
DevOps tools allow multiple aspects of the development process to operate concurrently and continuously. Changes made to code are regularly built, tested, and integrated prior to deployment. Code is then packaged and set for release. DevOps engineers can manage configurations and revert to previous versions if issues arise. Otherwise they will repeat the process to update functionality while continuously monitoring performance.
Continuous delivery tools will allow users to alter and update applications with faster time to market and reduced downtime during updates. Companies can release a minimum viable product and update their application as new components are developed and integrated. This creates an efficient, continuous deployment pipeline for automated updates and releases.
Analytics tools come in a variety of forms for a wide range of purposes. Some analytics tools will help monitor performance and optimize availability. Other tools will provide streaming data or document event logs. Most analytics features have some goal of collecting information, processing data, and translating it into a comprehensible form.
Performance analytics will document resource usage and availability to help identify points of trouble. Reporting tools will allow users to view their resource usage and distribute workloads in the most efficient way. Some cloud service providers even have advisory tools that help interpret these performance figures for you.
Big data has gone from a marketing buzzword to a business necessity. All of the major cloud service providers offer tools to collect, process, and distribute enormous datasets using Hadoop and data warehousing software. These tools can take loads of disparate, heterogeneous data points, digest them, and regurgitate predictive analytics highlights and provide practical business insights.
Stream analytics pairs big data with the onset of internet of things (IoT) analytics. Millions of endpoints constantly collecting and producing information can become burdensome to interpret. But stream analytics can monitor performance and provide real-time updates for hundreds of IoT-enabled devices.
Database hosting and integration gain a new level of scope and scalability through cloud computing services. Relational databases, NoSQL databases, and multi-modal databases can store virtually unlimited amounts of information when hosting infrastructure is no longer a factor. Users can build and maintain cloud databases or migrate existing ones to the cloud for increased storage space and functionality.
Managed database hosting provides a convenient and efficient way to maintain a relational database. Most cloud service providers have prebuilt solutions for popular database offerings, such as MySQL and PostgreSQL. Customers can choose to build databases using products they’re familiar with or move existing ones to the cloud for easier access and integration.
Cloud migration services are widely available both directly through cloud service providers or through third-party migration products. The digital transformation has motivated many individuals to adopt cloud-hosted databases to provide application integration and global accessibility. Database software can provide useful application data or a new offering via API access.
Cloud backup features are also helpful as insurance policies. Sometimes on-premises infrastructure fails or some kind of mistake causes a data-loss disaster. Cloud backup software solutions reduce the need to worry about constant backups and hardware maintenance.
Data integration is incredibly necessary in a globally interconnected world. Location is no longer a concern when internet access delivers information to anyone, anywhere. It’s very handy for adding additional levels of functionality to applications reliant on data. Geographical information and real-time updates are popular uses as well. Other than that, integrations with third-party applications are probably the most common uses for cloud-based data integration services.
Many software applications rely on APIs to obtain information from the outside world. Adding API access to an application can instantly add functionality by connecting your product with some other source of information. Those sources could be from social media platforms to threat intelligence networks and anything in between.
Integrating with GIS software services or other location-based APIs can add a level of localization to applications. This could mean an interactive, real-time map to help users navigate, or it could help gather data on the locations of an application’s user base.
Other integrations may connect CRM solutions to a lead intelligence platform to provide salespeople with information on their most lucrative and realistic opportunities. The applications of data integration are virtually endless, as are the benefits.
Security is one of the biggest concerns businesses have when it comes to cloud computing. (At least it should be.) Without on-premises infrastructure, companies cannot ensure firmware updates are applied and communication channels are secure. You can’t be sure server-side firewalls and load balancers are updated and performing properly. Cloud service providers offer a number of solutions to combat these issues.
VPNs and other network isolation tools are a good start, but advanced threat protection, DDoS prevention, and other security assessment tools may be necessary. Security assessment of all kinds can help individuals identify vulnerability points and help users ensure their data is secure and their applications are protected.
DDoS prevention tools are safeguards that help balance traffic requests in case a site or application is bombarded by a malicious botnet. These tools will identify abnormal user behavior as traffic spikes occur. The DDoS protection solution may not be directly connected to servers you can access, but it can help users allocate resources and block or divert traffic to a location that can handle the request load.
Web application firewalls (WAFs) and vulnerability scanners can help protect applications reliant on cloud infrastructure. WAF tools can block outside threats from penetrating applications, websites, and networks using up-to-date threat feeds. Vulnerability scanners can give insight into application security from a third-party perspective. They can dynamically test application components and help identify flaws in need of remediation.
Identity and access management (IAM) tools can help control what employees, customers, and service providers are able to do with your cloud-enabled services. They can prevent customers from accessing business critical information and set privileges for what data employees can access. Other tools will provide centralized consoles for users to access multiple applications, databases, or networks.
Customer IAM solutions help businesses create and organize account information for their various users and customers. Cloud-based services can help businesses set privileges for customer access to a business’s various data sources. They can also allow businesses or users to customize their own settings and ensure privacy control over sensitive data.
Privileged access management (PAM) software helps businesses control what their internal employees or professional service partners can access. These can help with anything from fighting corporate espionage to preventing an intern from destroying a database. Many can also integrate existing business directories to simplify these governance processes.
Single sign-on software are another useful identity management tool. They help create centralized points of access for individuals to log into multiple disparate applications. Administrators can set their permissions and choose which tools are accessed while the end-user’s application access processes are significantly simplified.
Benefits and Advantages of Cloud Computing
There is a wide range of benefits from cloud computing, many of which have already been discussed. There’s obviously a reason nearly any company you can think of has begun using cloud technologies to some extent. Here are a few highlights to consider if you and your company are determining whether or not to adopt cloud computing practices.
Both the upfront cost and total cost of ownership for most IT infrastructure are not realistically affordable for small businesses. Cloud computing services provide an ideal solution for companies to expand their technological capabilities and only pay for what they use. Instead of investing in costly hardware and hiring dedicated maintenance staff, companies can choose from an array of plug-and-play options to build IT solutions that fit their needs.
Companies with large compliance or security needs can house some infrastructure in-house and still save money with hybrid cloud plans. They can keep sensitive data secure and outsource infrastructure costs for any additional computing needs. This plan can also work for companies with existing infrastructure but growing needs. They can utilize their current hardware and move more work to the cloud as their business expands.
Technology companies and other startups facing rapid growth are in the perfect position to adopt cloud computing technologies. They can begin small, paying for a few heads or one virtual cloud and ramp up their services as demand grows. Businesses still have to plan for future costs, but can rest easy knowing the computing power they need is available at the click of a button.
Companies that develop applications or provide cloud services can also benefit greatly from cloud services. They can get the tools they need to develop applications and prebuilt components to expedite time to market. As traffic to their site or a user base grows, companies can increase their service plans to meet the needs of their users.
Companies outsourcing their computing needs have a reduced need for hardware maintenance and require fewer skilled staff members to maintain complex infrastructure. Servers require frequent updates and continuous monitoring that genuinely require dedicated staff. The cost of outsourcing management services, employing skilled professionals, and paying to replace hardware can add up quickly. Much of the effort and expenses can instead be put on cloud service providers.
Skilled IT talent is in high demand, and we’ve already seen a growing shortage of skilled workers; security professionals or IoT developers can be hard to find and expensive to employ. If their work is outsourced to the cloud or a cloud service provider, the company can spend less time and money finding and employing skilled IT staff. Instead, they can spend more time providing services and improving applications.
Plug-and-play components, along with third-party integrations, can add significant levels of functionality to cloud-based applications. Companies can easily build cloud databases and sync them to applications to improve information delivery. They can add big data services to better understand their application performance, security, and user base. There are hundreds of prebuilt tools to improve your network and application performance or security and IT management capabilities.
Third-party integration services are also capable of expanding application functionality. They can help companies share data and improve product management or better deliver services. They can also help applications work in unison through distributed application development or triggered actions.
Common Issues and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
While the benefits of cloud computing may seem endless, there are always downsides to consider. These may not necessarily deter you from adopting cloud computing services, but they should be considered. Knowing about common issues and potential roadblocks can help improve your approach and long-term cloud computing strategy.
Security is a concern with virtually any and all aspects of IT systems, but it becomes especially important as you lose control over components of your application. Private and hybrid clouds are obviously better in terms of security control, but public cloud services can still provide sufficient security processes. These terms should be clearly outlined in contract negotiations to ensure service providers maintain up-to-date resources with proper patch management and modern hardware.
Security solutions provided by the vendor should also be an early consideration when selecting a cloud provider. These tools can help improve user governance and help to better control data in transfer. Users should also be well aware of who has privileged access to their business critical applications. This should be done both in terms of internal employees and the vendor’s staff controlling your services.
HIPAA and GDPR, as well as other federal or international regulations, have made it more difficult for companies to ensure their data is operating in compliance with the law. Not all providers offer solutions catered to niche industries, but most will provide some kind of compliance management tool. These may come at an additional cost but can save a company money in the long run.
Many vendors have industry-specific solutions dedicated to ensuring a business is capable of meeting their specific compliance needs. These services may be used by health care providers to ensure HIPAA compliance. Others may be used by nonprofit organizations with specific financial reporting needs.
Vendor lock-in should be a real concern, since cloud providers have become critical components of enterprise IT systems. These service providers will be the ones making your application or product available to the public. It’s not realistic to think you can switch providers at the flick of a switch or hold out in hopes of a better deal. So you really have to know what you’re in for when signing up.
Some providers will charge customers hoping to change providers. It can also be expensive to migrate data to the cloud in the first place. Prior to investment, buyers should understand the cost of migration and the fees they would be charged in the event they do choose to switch providers.
Emerging Cloud Computing Technologies
There are a number of emerging technologies associated with cloud computing, which should come as no surprise; you could make an argument that virtually all technology trends are impacted by cloud computing to some extent.
The following cloud-based technology concepts are witnessing rapid adoption and innovation. They’re drawing significant interest from technology professionals driving investment for new cloud services and solutions.
The internet of things (IoT) is a growing network of internet-enabled smart devices. These tools could be anything from a refrigerator to a turbine and include a wide range of innovative everyday devices. Each device is referred to as an endpoint, or a node, connected to some central network.
Business adoption of IoT technology has grown significantly in recent years because IoT devices can add significant functionality to simple endpoints and gather large amounts of data on users, networks, and performance. Many cloud service providers have launched IoT-centric solutions to help users manage and connect their endpoints.
Experts regard IoT as important, because this digital age has increased demand for internet-enabled devices. Individuals like when their home security systems are accessible from their phone. (They also like the speaker in their bathroom that they can use to play music or purchase clothes.)
The business impacts are significant because industrial hardware can be easily connected to cloud-based management systems. An energy company with hundreds of wind turbines operating over a large physical space can simultaneously monitor each turbine’s performance. They can use data gathered from each endpoint to better understand their networking architecture and receive real-time alerts for maintenance issues.
Eventually, an IoT-enabled endpoint could sit in every room of your home, every part of your office, and every section of an industrial facility. Consumers receive improved tools for everyday needs while companies better understand their machinery or IT systems.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a buzzword since The Terminator was released in 1984. Today’s technology looks very different from Skynet systems and their anthropomorphic robots. But some of the same underlying concepts remain intact.
Modern AI capabilities utilize machine learning and neural networks that help computer systems learn the same way humans do. Innovative companies are using these technological concepts to improve application performance, automate tasks, and expand the range of services and solutions they’re able to provide. Cloud computing comes into play when service providers make AI applications deliverable to any company that can pay for them.
Instead of spending time developing complex machine learning algorithms, they can simply utilize a cloud provider’s machine learning API and gain all its functionality. They can improve their analytics experience and expand their security systems with applications that learn and adapt to personalized needs. Companies can gain significant insight into user behaviors, business operations, and customer interactions with machine learning integrations.
Machine learning as a service is offered by all of the largest cloud service providers. Their customers can utilize pre-built algorithms and easily implement them into both internal or external applications. They can be used for anything from improving a chatbot’s natural language processing capabilities to adding AI for business critical applications.
Blockchain technology is about as trendy as technology gets. Much of the interest was initially generated by cryptocurrency growth but has expanded its reach into hundreds of niche industries. Blockchain concepts can be utilized for virtually anything that requires a transaction, from financial services to real estate dealings.
Blockchain technology works in two major parts: encrypting data and creating a public ledger. The person on each end of the transaction remains anonymous while the transaction itself is documented publicly. This has big impacts for data privacy and can speed up operational processes related to transactional operations.
Cloud providers have begun to offer platforms for individuals to build blockchain solutions. They help users create transactional applications and the public ledger system used to document and facilitate interactions. Much like a traditional PaaS offering, cloud service customers are given development tools and prebuilt backend components in addition to the blockchain ledger system.
Developers can use these tools to build secure, industry-specific transactional applications or innovative database and security solutions. The encryption concepts that lie at the core of blockchain technology can be applied to most computing concepts, from databases to e-commerce transactions.
Cloud providers develop the blockchain solution and provide the underlying infrastructure necessary to power finalized applications. Users can take those tools, rent computing power, and deliver groundbreaking solutions that improve security and efficiency for their users.
Even though our cell phones have more computing power than old mainframe computers, some data processing exists on another level. Big data has emerged as the solution to tackle these enormous data sets. The technology is capable of digesting ridiculous amounts of information, normalizing datasets, and presenting it in a usable form. Companies take this processed information and use it for predictive analytics, customer targeting, and optimizing business processes.
Big data is most frequently facilitated through Apache Hadoop HDFS, a distributed file system used for big data processing and distribution. Hadoop emerged as the go-to big data processing solution when it was released in 2011. The program splits large datasets into blocks and groups them into clusters. It’s then able to package them and return processed information in a highly efficient manner.
Since Hadoop is really just a framework, cloud service providers deliver hosted, scalable Hadoop systems that distribute computing power across the provider’s infrastructure. Utilizing the third-party infrastructure greatly increases the speed and efficiency of big data processing projects.
Governments can develop efficient systems for managing petabytes worth of citizen information. Manufacturing companies can predict market trends and improve their internal operating systems. Large health care providers can store and process millions of electronic health records with ease. There are hundreds of ways to utilize this data, but some industries may benefit more than others.
Containerized applications have become very popular in the cloud services and microservices market. The term is used to describe an operating-system-level virtualization and code packaging delivery model. Containers will store components of an application’s code, libraries, and runtime.
This makes it easier to store and manage the various components of an application while enabling their use on virtually any computer connected to the internet. One container may store an application while another contains a web server. These components can be networked together and create a simplified application delivery model.
Containers isolate resources from their internal components which increases their efficiency and security capabilities. They also make it easier to create plug-and-play networking solutions or add functionality to existing applications.
Cloud service providers offer management, orchestration, and networking solutions to let users build, deploy, and connect containerized applications. Companies can create isolated environments for application delivery while utilizing the computing power of their service provider. They can add components or deploy new offerings without affecting their other containerized applications in use.
Containerized deliverables have increased consistency, performance, resource usage, and security. As a result, customers pay less for more efficient solutions. They can also improve DevOps processes by simplifying and automating deployments. These are the reasons containers have gone from virtually non-existent a decade ago to one of the most popular application delivery models today.
The Future of Cloud Computing
Today, the cloud is already everywhere all at once, but that doesn’t mean it’s stopped evolving. Cloud computing technologies of the future will only be more powerful and more common than they already are. It all started with cloud storage and virtual machines, and it’s already expanded to cover nearly all aspects of a company’s software stack.
For individuals, cloud storage will become cheaper and provide endless space for securing files, media, and applications. Applications will be more flexible and personalized to your personal needs. They will also scale with ease if your needs grow. SaaS solutions will be cheaper and range wide enough to serve just about any purpose you can think of. You’ll only pay for what you use and have little need for expensive, monolithic solutions, because plug-and-play tools are at your fingertips.
For businesses, cost savings are probably the first thought worth discussing. It will be easier and cheaper to build hybrid IT systems that store data securely while utilizing the power of public cloud services. It also will be easier to develop intelligent applications, like intelligent security systems, and process management solutions that make your deliverables more powerful and your operations more efficient.
Growing companies can already utilize scalable solutions and remain consistent as they grow. But the range of services will become wider and each part will be easier to implement. Big data solutions will help you better understand users, and blockchain technology will keep their data safe.
Cloud behemoths such as AWS, Google, and Microsoft will continue to grow. Startups will continue to emerge with new, groundbreaking technologies. Threats will remain in the shadows, but security will parallel their growth. It’s fairly safe to say that cloud computing is here to stay.
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Next step in choosing an cloud computing software solution
With hundreds of cloud computing solutions on the market, it's difficult to make a decision. Equipped with the knowledge you have now, you can utilize G2's infrastructure as a service and platform as a service categories to browse over 150 different solutions and read thousands of real-user reviews.
Even before cloud computing can occur, a process called edge computing must occur. Learn more about the prerequisites of cloud computing here.