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What is Cloud Computing? What you need to know

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What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing provides on-demand access to computing resources—applications, servers (physical and virtual), data storage, development tools, and networking capabilities—via the internet. These resources are housed in a remote data center controlled by a cloud services provider (or CSP). The CSP charges a monthly subscription fee or charges based on usage for certain resources.

In comparison to on-premises IT, and depending on the cloud services you choose, cloud computing enables you to accomplish the following:

  • Reduced IT expenses: Cloud computing enables you to offload a portion or all of the costs and work associated with acquiring, installing, configuring, and managing on-premises technology.
  • Enhance responsiveness and time-to-value: Instead of waiting weeks or months for IT to react to a request, acquire and set up necessary gear, and install software, your business can begin utilizing enterprise apps in minutes using the cloud. Additionally, cloud computing enables you to empower particular users—most notably engineers and data scientists—to self-serve software and support infrastructure.
  • Increase more simply and cost-effectively: The cloud enables elasticity—rather than acquiring additional capacity that sits idle during slow periods, you can dynamically scale capacity in response to traffic spikes and dips. Additionally, you may leverage your cloud provider’s global network to bring your apps closer to people worldwide.

Cloud computing also refers to the technology that allows it. Servers, operating systems, networking, and other infrastructure have been virtualized using special software to pool and divide across physical hardware boundaries. For example, a real server can be divided into virtual servers.

What is Cloud Computing

Virtualization can help cloud providers make the most of their data centers’ resources. To optimize usage and cost reductions relative to conventional IT infrastructure, and to provide end-users with the same degree of self-service and agility, several organizations have chosen the cloud delivery model.

A cloud application like Gmail or Salesforce, streaming video like Netflix, or cloud file storage like Dropbox are all likely to be used every day by those who use computers or mobile devices at home or work. Recent research shows that 92% of businesses currently use cloud computing (link external to IBM) and intend to use it more in the coming year.

Cloud Computing Services

The three most prevalent cloud service types are IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service), and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). It is not unusual for a company to employ all three. However, there is frequently disagreement over the three and what each includes:

Software as a Service (Software-as-a-Service)

SaaS—also referred to as cloud-based software or cloud applications—is application software that is hosted in the cloud and is accessed and used via a web browser, a specialized desktop client, or an API that interfaces with your desktop or mobile operating system. SaaS users typically pay a monthly or annual membership fee; others may provide a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model depending on actual usage.

Along with the cost reductions, time-to-value, and scalability advantages of cloud computing, SaaS provides the following:

  • Automatic upgrades: With SaaS, you have access to new features as they are released by the provider, without having to coordinate an on-premises update.
  • Data loss protection: Because your application data is stored in the cloud, you will not lose data if your device crashes or malfunctions.

Today, SaaS is the dominant distribution strategy for the majority of commercial software—there are hundreds of thousands of SaaS solutions available, ranging from highly targeted industry and departmental apps to robust enterprise software databases and artificial intelligence (AI) software.

Pay-as-you-go (Platform-as-a-Service)

PaaS offers software developers an on-demand platform—hardware, an entire software stack, infrastructure, and even development tools—for operating, creating, and managing applications without the expense, complexity, and inflexibility associated with maintaining an on-premises platform.

With PaaS, the cloud provider hosts everything in their data center, including servers, networks, storage, operating system software, middleware, and databases. Developers simply select servers and environments from a menu to run, create, test, deploy, manage, update, and grow applications.

PaaS is frequently developed using containers these days, a type of virtualized compute paradigm that is one step removed from virtual servers. Containers virtualize the operating system, allowing developers to bundle a program with only the operating system services it requires to operate on any platform, unchanged and without the need for middleware.

The Red Hat OpenShift is a popular PaaS built on top of Docker containers and Kubernetes, an open-source container orchestration system that automates container-based application deployment, scaling, load balancing, and more.

Infrastructure as a Service (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)

Real and virtual servers, networking, and storage are all available as IaaS. IaaS eliminates the need for huge upfront capital investments or unnecessary on-premises or ‘owned’ infrastructure, as well as the necessity for resource overbuying to satisfy periodic demand spikes.

It provides users the most control over cloud computing resources compared to SaaS and PaaS (and newer PaaS computing paradigms like containers and serverless). It was widespread in the early 2010s when cloud computing became prominent. While IaaS remains the preferred cloud platform for many workloads, SaaS and PaaS usage is accelerating.

Serverless Computing

All backend infrastructure management tasks—provisioning, scaling, scheduling, and patching—are offloaded to the cloud provider, allowing developers to focus on the application’s code and business logic.

Serverless also runs application code per request and adapts the supporting infrastructure to the number of requests. It is important to note that customers only pay for resources utilized by the application when operating.

FaaS, or Function-as-a-Service, is sometimes confused with serverless computing, although it is a subset. FaaS enables developers to launch application code (functions) in response to triggers. The cloud service provider provides the actual hardware, virtual machine operating system, and web server software administration, and shuts them down automatically when the code runs. Billing begins with execution and ends with execution.

Public Cloud

From SaaS apps to bare metal computing gear to entire enterprise-grade infrastructures and development platforms, public cloud computing is a subset of cloud computing. These resources may be free, or they may be subscription-based or pay-per-use.

These services are typically offered with high-bandwidth network connectivity to provide excellent performance and rapid access to applications and data.

The public cloud is multi-tenant, meaning all clients share the same data center infrastructure. The main public clouds—AWS, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle Cloud—have millions of clients.

Private Cloud

Private cloud computing dedicates all cloud infrastructure and computing resources to a single customer. Private cloud computing combines the benefits of both cloud and on-premises infrastructures, such as access control, security, and resource customization.

A private cloud is usually housed in the customer’s data center. However, a private cloud can be hosted on an independent cloud provider’s infrastructure or rented in an offsite data center.

Many organizations choose private cloud versus public cloud because it is easier (or only) to comply with regulations. In certain cases, sensitive data such as confidential papers, intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII), medical records, and financial data are stored in private clouds.

When ready, an enterprise can move workloads to the public cloud or run them in a hybrid cloud (see below) utilizing cloud-native principles.

Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud combines public and private cloud technologies. A hybrid cloud combines private and public cloud services into a unified, flexible architecture for executing applications and workloads.

This allows a company to select the best cloud for each given application or job, and to move workloads between the two clouds as needed. In this way, the firm may fulfill its technological and commercial goals more efficiently and cost-effectively than using solely public or private clouds.

Multi-Cloud and hybrid multi-cloud

Multicloud refers to the use of two or more clouds from different cloud providers. Using one vendor’s email SaaS with another’s image editing SaaS creates a multi-cloud configuration. When organizations talk about multi-cloud, they usually mean using multiple public cloud providers’ SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS services. According to one survey, 83% of businesses utilize multi-cloud. Hybrid multi-cloud combines two or more public clouds with a private cloud.

Businesses use the multi-cloud to avoid vendor lock-in, to access additional services, and to innovate. Managing your environment may get more difficult as you add multiple clouds, each with its management tools, data transmission rates, and security regulations. Multicloud management systems enable visibility across several provider clouds, allowing developers to see their projects and deployments, operations to monitor clusters and nodes, and security to monitor threats.

Cloud security

Security concerns have historically kept organizations from using cloud services, especially public cloud services. On-premises security solutions are slowly losing ground to cloud-based security solutions.

According to McAfee, 52% of organizations prefer cloud security over on-premises security (link resides outside IBM). Gartner also estimates that by 2020, IaaS cloud workloads would have 60% fewer security incidents than traditional data center workloads (link resides outside IBM).

Cloud security, however, necessitates unique procedures and human skills from traditional IT systems. Here are some cloud security best practices:

  • Client and cloud provider security obligations are mutually exclusive, however, it’s important to clearly define data ownership between private and public third parties.
  • Data encryption at rest, transit, and usage The client must own the security keys and hardware security module.
  • Customers and IT teams demand full visibility over network, device, app, and data access.
  • Collaboration between IT, operational, and security departments will ensure secure and long-lasting cloud solutions.
  • Monitoring all linked systems and cloud-based services to ensure awareness of all data transfers across public, private, and hybrid cloud environments.

Cloud Use Cases

With 25% of companies aiming to migrate all their apps to the cloud over the next year, it appears as though the use cases for cloud computing are infinite. However, even for businesses that are not contemplating a complete cloud migration, certain projects and cloud computing are a match made in IT heaven.

Disaster recovery and business continuity have always been a natural fit for cloud computing, as cloud computing enables cost-effective redundancy to protect data against system failures and reduces the physical distance required to recover data and applications in the event of a local outage or disaster. Every major public cloud provider now offers Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS).

Anything that needs storing and processing massive amounts of data at rapid speeds — and that requires more storage and computing capacity than the majority of businesses can or want to acquire and build on-premises — is a candidate for cloud computing. Several examples include the following:

For development teams who are implementing Agile or DevOps (or DevSecOps) to expedite development, cloud computing enables on-demand end-user self-service, which prevents operations activities such as spinning up development and test servers from creating bottlenecks in development.

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