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Cloud Computing: The Cloud

Cyril Darko

In the previous article, “Digging into The World Wide Web” we saw how technology permeated itself with the internet. First, the adoption of TCP/IP started with a handful of computers, then the government, large enterprises, small businesses and finally to individuals. Then came the invention of the world wide web which has kept communication in not only text but the technology to send and receive hypermedia (videos, music, images, etc.) over the internet. But this wave of technology is different and rather revolutionary. Cloud computing or simply “the cloud” has changed the conversation that focuses on organizational structure to conservative practices. Every organization seems to be moving to the cloud, but what is the cloud?

What Is the Cloud?

Cloud computing or simply “the cloud” is the on-demand IT or computing resources via the internet with pay-per-use pricing instead of buying, owning, and maintaining physical data centers and servers. With the cloud, you can access technology services such as computer storage, power and databases on pay-per-use from cloud service providers like IBM cloud, AWS, Heroku and many other companies. The resources are elastic, you can scale up or down quickly and conveniently to meet demand. The services are metered, so you only pay for what you use. Also, the self-service program gives you all the IT resources you need with self-service access. So, from the user perspective, there is a very simple and elegant interface to this vast IT infrastructure and they don’t even realize the complexity of it, they only realize the ease of using it.

It’s amazingly incredible how the cloud does that and users don’t see the whole abstraction and complexity, and that’s whole the point.

The Basic Concept of Cloud Computing

We’ve seen what the cloud is but if you don’t get it up to this point don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Let’s break it down. Take the cloud as a technological approach where computing resources (computing power, storage, servers etc.) are provisioned in a shareable way, so that lots of users get what they need, when they need it. But then how is this achieved without causing any lag or long hours of waiting for traffic to proceed in queues. You can imagine sharing same computing resources with other users. The cloud works with this idea but has gone many steps further. Cloud technologies work under the concept of hardware virtualization. Hardware virtualization allows the concept of physical machines and logical machine to be abstracted away from each other. The truth is the cloud isn’t a single technology or invention or anything tangible at all - It’s just a concept.

Hardware Virtualization

An operating system expects to be able to communicate with the underlying hardware in certain ways and that’s what happens when you install and use software on your PC – the software needs a hardware to run on. Hardware virtualization platforms employ what’s called a hypervisor. A hypervisor is a piece of software that runs and manages virtual machines, while also offering these guests a virtual operating platform that’s indiscernible from actual hardware.

With virtualization, a single physical computer can act as host for many independent virtual instances. They each run their own independent operating system and, to some degree, are indistinguishable from the same operating systems running on physical hardware. The cloud takes this a step further. Let’s look at a more practical approach. You have the need for four servers. First, you need an email server that requires 8 gigabytes of RAM per your analysis. Second, you need a name server which you can’t run on the same physical machine as your email server. Your email server needs to run on Windows while your name server needs to run on Linux. Third, the smallest server configuration your hardware vendor sells is a machine with 8 gigabytes RAM, so you have to buy another one with these specifications. Finally, you need a server for your financial database which doesn’t need too many resources to operate. Calculating the cost of these servers and their setup at the end of the month is rather outrageous. There are some which you might not even use at all in time but the cost of maintaining will either be the same or rise sometime. This is what the cloud saves large enterprises, small businesses and individual startups from. The cloud service provider will only charge host virtual instances of your servers instead of you buying the four physical machines and it costs much less than you’d spend on the four physical servers. The cloud computing company also offer dozens of other services. It let’s you leverage lots of existing services instead of having to build your own. This has evolved into something seen as “X as a Service”

Everything as a Service

Cloud computing now means so much than just hosting virtual machines. The terms associated with the cloud now comes as X as a Service, where X could mean anything. Let’s take a look at the four most common ones.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): The whole idea behind this service is that, you shouldn’t have to worry about building your own network or servers. You just pay some guy to provide you with that service. Well, that’s oversimplified. The cloud service company provides the necessary computing resources including servers, networking, storage and data center space on a pay-per use basis.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): Also, a subset of cloud computing that focuses on providing platforms for customers for to run their services. For example, if you are a web developer, you don’t really need an entire server complete with a complex file system, dedicated resources and all the other things associated. PaaS make available an execution engine for whatever software you want to run with everything required to support the complete lifecycle of building your application, and your application is live on the web.

Software as a Service (SaaS): Another subset of cloud computing that is essentially a way of licensing the use of software to others while keeping that software centrally hosted and managed. SaaS has really become popular for certain things. A great example is email. Offerings like Gmail for business from Google or Office 365 from Microsoft are really great examples of SaaS. Using one of those services means you are trusting Google or Microsoft to handle just about everything about your email service. SaaS is a model that’s really gaining traction because of the service’s ability to run well inside browsers. And if you can run something in a browser, it’s a principal target/candidate for SaaS.

Almost all organizations of every type, size and industry are using the cloud for a wide variety of use cases such as data backup, disaster recovery, email, software development and customer facing web apps among others. Spoiler alert, you’re using the cloud to backup data right now – your music folders in Dropbox, WhatsApp images and other documents in your Google drive, etc.

With the cloud, you don’t need to make large investments in hardware and over pay for storage you don’t even use. Instead, you only pay IT as you consume it hence, trading capital expenses for variable expense which is cool because in the cloud, you access resources in real-time, you can scale up or down to meet your business needs. What’s exciting about the cloud is that cloud service providers have infrastructures all over the world, so you are able to deploy your application in multiple physical locations or globally in a matter of seconds. Therefore, you bring applications in closer proximity to the end user, reduce latency and improve user experience. This gives you more time as a business owner to focus on what really matters. The future is exciting with the cloud.

Cyril Darko

Full-stack web development, Technology, Entrepreneurship and Environmental Science.