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Cloud computing 101

imageThere is nothing cloudy about cloud computing, really! The cloud is, in fact, a system which consists of hardware and software that is located off-site, in a data center. You've been using cloud services for several years now, without knowing about it. If you utilize a web-based email account from Google or Yahoo, you are already using a cloud-based service.

Since setting up their own data centers can be very expensive, individuals and companies of all sizes rent access to these computing resources by paying a monthly fee. This way, they don't have to pay the enormous fees that are associated with building and maintaining their own servers; by renting the needed resources from a cloud services provider, they'll only have to pay for what they are utilizing.

You can use cloud services to store your data to a secure location, for example. Or, you can back up the photos on your smart phone to the cloud. But you can also utilize cloud computing to create and run your own web-based applications. More and more software developers prefer to move their applications to the cloud, and then give people access to them, rather than have people install the software on their computers. This makes it easier to maintain the applications and diminishes software piracy. It's also easier to launch subscription-based services by making the programs run in the cloud.

Basically, there are three different cloud computing categories. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) allows companies to rent servers and storage space from the data center. The rented servers can be physical or virtual, and storage space can be hot (stored data is instantly available) or cold (archived data can be retrieved within several hours or days). Companies who have teams of skilled IT technicians will often use the IaaS cloud computing model to build complex web-based applications from the ground up. With Infrastructure-as-a-Service, the IT team can focus its efforts on the application itself, rather than wasting its time with building, and then setting up the needed servers and storage systems.

The second cloud computing layer is called Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). This service builds on IaaS, adding the software that is needed to create the desired applications: operating systems, integrated development environments, software for database management, and so on. With PaaS, it is much easier for companies to create the needed apps without having to invest a lot of money into the required hardware and software.

Finally, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the cloud computing layer that was built for end-users. Your web-based email provider utilizes a SaaS platform, for example. Dropbox and Facebook are other examples of Software-as-a-Service implementations. The application maker will take care of all the required software updates, system patches, and so on, while we, the end-users, have access to the application by utilizing either a web browser or a dedicated app that is installed on our mobile devices. SaaS is the dominant cloud computing model at the moment, and it looks like things won't change in the future. As you can tell, most companies are interested in offering their software as a service.

As a conclusion, with cloud computing, IT specialists don't have to buy and maintain their own infrastructure. They can create custom software that serves their companies' particular needs, or they can build SaaS applications that can be utilized by everyone. The prices of cloud computing packages are affordable, because people are renting, and not buying the required hardware and software.

It is true that some companies aren't that eager to store their sensitive data in the cloud, because they fear that it may fall into the wrong hands. And some applications are almost impossible to move to the cloud because of their complexity. However, recent research demonstrates that more and more companies plan to use cloud computing resources in the near future. It looks like the benefits outweigh the cons, after all.