What is Cloud Computing & How Does it Work?
To say my data´s in the cloud is as true as to say my head’s in the cloud. Neither is literal. Rather, my data´s stored in one of many physical servers, along with that of mega-billions of others.
In heady days past…
I used a computer hard drive, floppy disk or CD to save my data.
Problems: The floppy got stuck in that interminable hard drive. The CD cracked. My computer crashed. Goodbye data.
Thankfully, along came cloud providers, like Google, Amazon and Microsoft Azure.
What is the cloud?
Think of it as huge libraries that store our virtual data. The files that hold our emails, graphics, photos, music, documents, contracts, videos and so forth get copied over the internet and stored into the servers of these cloud providers, on multiple hard drives. So, for example, all content on Google Docs, Gmail, Google Voice etc., passes through Google Drive, and gets whiffed into more than 2.5 million physical Google servers, housed in Oregon, Virginia, South Carolina and Salt Lake City.
Visit to the Cloud
Not far from where I live is a 10 million sq. feet server farm crossing 70 enormous buildings. Its sign reads ¨Build-To-Suit Data Center Solutions.¨ The data center is owned by RagingWire in Loudoun County, Virginia, and it handles up to 70% of the world’s Internet traffic every day.
Take its elevator down to the basement, past armed guards and nine password-protected doors, and you´ll find floor-to-ceiling racks of powerful computers, storing more than three million buzzing websites.
RagingWire won´t tell you whom they house, but every company you´ve ever heard of – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Netflix, Uber, the NY Times, CBS – live in data center cages like this one.
In the case of a power failure, massive generators run the data continuously, and if RagingWire happens to get hit by an asteroid, it´s data is replicated in various other locations.
This server farm is the cloud.
Where do I find my cloud provider?
You´ve got three options:
- Public – That’s where you use public companies like Google, Amazon or Microsoft to store your data.
- Private – You develop your own infrastructure or hire a third-party service to service your needs.
- Hybrid – you use a combination: Your own/ third-party as well a public cloud provider.
Cloud models: Which should I choose?
You´ve got three major service models:
Best for IT administrators, where all you need is plenty of storage at the cheapest cost. You´ll be the one who will manage the data, runtime, middleware, applications and the OS, while the rest is handled by the cloud providers. IaaS also gives you the basic computing infrastructure.
Best for the executive, where you get cloud platforms in runtime environments for developing, testing and managing applications. All you need to do is handle the applications and the data. The rest of the components like runtime, middleware, operating systems, servers, storage and others are handled by the cloud service providers.
Best for all of us. These cloud providers basically take all our needs under their belts giving us everything we need for hosting and managing our software applications. This includes buying, managing and maintaining the actual equipment.
Pricing models: How much does the cloud cost?
Anticipate three different price models:
- Subscription-based where customers pay, for example, a monthly fee for services and scale up or down as needed.
- Pay-per-use, where you pay for what you choose such as how many gigabytes you use per hour or how much cloud storage you need.
- Hybrid, which is a blend of both models.
Public Cloud – The Big 3
More than 800 cloud providers whiff your data to the public cloud. Of these, the top three players are Google Cloud, Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, with IBM, Alibaba, Oracle, and Rackspace Technology playing second fiddle.
- Google Cloud – Storage on Google Drive starts you off with 15 gigabytes for free and increases to a max of 30 terabytes for $300 a month. Google is the choice for most SaaS consumers, recently expanding its cloud service resources with Google Meet and Google Workspace.
- Amazon (AWS) – Amazon is the first and biggest cloud provider in the world – bigger than its next 14 competitors combined – with clients like Netflix, G.E, Shell, and Philips. It´s the leader in IaaS and has a bevy of ever-growing database tools that makes it a runaway favorite in the field.
- Microsoft Azure – A strong cloud player and enterprise favorite, Gartner praised Azure for its scalability but raised concerns about its outages, costs and sluggish customer support.
How do I choose a cloud service provider?
Here´s a checklist that you can use, for deciding, too, whether to remain on-premise, or to choose public, private or hybrid models.
- How much data do you have? Maybe you’re better off with at-premise rather than paying? Or maybe you’d rather a hybrid or private cloud that your enterprise builds than a public one?
- Is the service provider certified with one or other of these common cloud and cloud security certifications that shows it complies with government regulations?
- Does the cloud provider meet your objectives? Does it service all your needs or do you need a third-party service because the provider gives you only limited support?
- How’s your customer relationship with the cloud provider – responsive?
- Are their contracts transparent and legal? Check their stance on migration support, exit provisions and vendor lock-in, among other items.
- Check the provider’s business health and company profile. Check, too, reviews on its reliability and performance. How about its processes, ability and provision for disaster recovery?
- What´s the provider´s stance on data governance/ privacy? Can you trust it?
Benefits of the Cloud
The cloud gives you:
- Scalability – Easier and faster provisions for scaling up or down without losing money for maintenance and infrastructure costs.
- Security – Far greater security than on-premise, without your needing to monitor security protocols.
- Data loss – Cloud computing providers have robust disaster recovery measures to easily recover lost data.
- Cost-efficiency – Cloud computing systems are maintained by the cloud service providers, substantially reducing your costs.
- Off-site access – You can access data on any internet capable device anytime, anywhere – as long as you´re connected to the internet.
On the other hand, the cloud has:
- Risks of data confidentiality – We hand over our most urgent and confidential data to companies whose operations are secretive.
- Technical issues – If you experience technical issues, you need to call your providers to resolve these – and you may need to wait awhile until they do.
- Problematic security – SaaS cloud providers are regular targets for hacking. Not all are as secure as they say.
- Business interruption – You need constant internet connection for access to your data on the cloud.
Put simply, the cloud is where you store information. It gives you speed, security, flexibility and savings, but that doesn´t mean it’s flawless. The cloud uses massive amounts of energy and has data confidentiality risks, among other issues.
So what’s its future?
The cloud is here to stay. CRN forecasts that Alibaba will replace Google Cloud as the No. 3 provider, while the combination of COVID-19 and the growth of cloud will make a ¨perfect storm¨ for data governance and compliance some time this year. Amazon cloud provider is set to grow at 40% this/ a year, dwarfing its Amazon online store. And RagingWire at Loudon County can´t build its server farm fast enough…