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How Does Cloud Computing Work?

Just getting started? Whether you’re looking to become a cloud engineer or you’re a manager wanting to learn more about this industry, learn the basics about cloud computing here.

Are you wondering about how cloud computing actually works? I’ll explain the basic principles behind this technology. Cloud computing presents an ever-expanding universe that intimidates even the smartest among us.

Take heart. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

Even if you’ve only just begun to get acquainted with technology and computing, you’ve almost certainly heard cloud computing being brought up as a hot topic in conversations. The information below will inform you about this popular technology and help you understand why it such dominant topic of conversation in our tech-driven society.

Plus, we’ll look at what you can expect from the future of cloud computing.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Sometimes referred to as “the cloud,” cloud computing is a way for individuals and companies to access digital resources over the internet, from just about anywhere in the world that has connectivity. Cloud computing is typically provided by a third party as a software service, or is sometimes built in-house using DIY techniques and ad hoc hardware.

Cloud computing usually eliminates or reduces the need for on-site hardware and/or software. For example, if a person buys a hard drive backup service that relies on cloud computing, he or she could transfer his or her files through an internet connection so they’re stored on servers that may be located in another state, or even in another country. Typically the files would be stored in multiple places offering added security and redundancy that is impossible with standard hardware solutions.

Cloud computing offers the potential to vastly increase available resources since some people refer to cloud computing as “IT outsourcing.” The concept of outsourcing is particularly common in the customer service industry because companies outsource their call center duties to representatives in other places when they aren’t able to find suitable customer service agents locally.
Similarly, if you don’t have a desired type of software, or an on-site server large enough to handle the needs of your company, there’s a good chance cloud computing could fill that role.

Common Examples of Cloud Computing Technology

Cloud computing may seem like a foreign concept, but you probably use it every day without even realizing it. Here are some familiar tasks that are made possible through cloud computing:

  • Checking your email from anywhere in the world by logging onto a cloud-based webmail client.
  • Saving a document in an online cloud storage account and later accessing it at work, even though the original file resides on your home computer.
  • Collaborating in real-time on a shared online spreadsheet with colleagues that are working from different office locations.
  • Being able to rent software applications and save the documents you create online, rather than purchasing the physical software disks and having to download the contents to your hard drive. This example of cloud technology is especially useful considering how quickly some software becomes obsolete. Rather than making a one-time purchase of a physical disc, a user could pay a monthly access fee for the service, and then receive alerts whenever it’s time to download the latest version of the software.

Characteristics of Cloud Technology

There are several factors that set cloud computing technology apart from other options, and which make it especially attractive for business use. For starters, cloud computing technology provides a managed service so you can just focus on whatever task you’re doing that’s supported by the service.

When using your “local” version of Microsoft Word, you have to go into the program’s preferences and specify you want versions of your files to be periodically saved. Once you’ve done that, you can breathe easy knowing that, if you have a sudden power outage or other crisis that results in lost work, you’ll at least have a version of your file that was saved within the last few minutes. Even then, there’s always the chance your hard drive might crash, causing you to lose your work, despite taking the time to tweak settings so your versions are automatically saved.

However, when using Google Drive, which has a cloud-based word processor, everything you type is automatically saved in the cloud every few seconds. There’s no need to fiddle with settings to make sure work gets saved, or to designate a folder on your computer to store the saved content. The managed nature of cloud-based services like Google Drive allows users to simply enjoy the benefits of the technology they’re using and feel confident the service provider will take care of things like file saving and storage.

Many cloud computing services are available on-demand and are quite scalable. If your needs vary from one month to the next, its likely you can simply pay more or less depending on how your usage changes. Traditionally, there was always the risk of buying a pricey computer network and realizing it was larger than you needed, or perhaps discovering that the setup you have is much too small for what you’re trying to do. Cloud computing makes these scenarios less likely because you may subscribe to most cloud computing services without getting locked into lengthy contracts.

Cloud computing makes its respective services available publicly or privately, too. A cloud-based email account is one example of a public cloud computing service. However, many companies use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access secure private clouds, such as those that are only accessible to people who work at a particular company or department.

Pros and Cons of Cloud Computing Technology

Like any other type of technology, cloud computing has both good and bad attributes. Although we touched on a few advantages in the previous section, let’s go into more depth about the benefits of cloud technology, and then examine the potential downsides.

A reduced need for on-site IT staff: When choosing a service provider for your cloud computing needs, you’ll probably notice how most of them guarantee a very high level of consistent uptime. For example, a company may guarantee trouble-free service 365 days of the year and 99.9 percent of the time, and if it fails to meet those goals, you won’t pay for service. If you pick a provider that promises to be very reliable, won’t be dependent on on-site IT professionals for troubleshooting.

Cost-effectiveness: As mentioned above, it’s usually possible to buy only the cloud services you need, and have the option of scaling up later when necessary. That means you don’t have to make huge investments in physical equipment that may break down, get stolen, or age out over time.

Fewer maintenance concerns: When dealing with physical computer networks, software, and hardware, there are a lot of maintenance needs.  You must dedicate resources for regularly optimizing processes that are working. Downloading new versions of software, installing them on computers and even running virus scans are all things that absorb valuable time and draw your attention away from other critical responsibilities. Cloud computing usually allows you to log into a well-maintained online interface and access the latest versions of applications and content — without having to download anything that needs to be checked for viruses.

Service is unavailable when the internet goes down: As mentioned above, most of today’s top providers of cloud-based technology are very reliable and can promise an exceptionally high percentage of uptime (almost unbelievably high). However, problems can occur if you’re solely reliant on the internet to access your files, and the internet connection in your workplace or home suddenly malfunctions.
If you’re using content in the cloud exclusively to run your business, operations will grind to a halt until your internet connection is restored.

Potential migration issues: If you start using one cloud computing service and then want to transfer your files over to a different provider, that process may prove much more complicated than expected. Although progress is occurring to make the task easier, there are still substantial incompatibility issues that may make moving your files between providers painful — at best.

Reduced customer control: Because cloud computing offers a managed service, that means customers give up some control to use what’s offered. That’s especially true in terms of what’s happening in the background. Many cloud computing service providers don’t provide details about their infrastructures, which may be frustrating to customers that prefer to handle administration needs on their own.

Predictions About the Future of Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing simply follows everything else in a shift into a paperless and wireless word. For example, fundraising has gone from mailed letters to fully online programs like Kickstarter or FirstGiving where funds are transferred instantly. When it comes to music, listeners are no longer keeping their music on iPods or hard drives, they’re streaming from Spotify or Pandora. Users are just now moving other data from their computers to the cloud as it moves from a fad to a trend to eventually a standard.

Things move very quickly in the cloud computing world. In early 2006, Amazon became the first provider of a public cloud computing service. Now, a decade later, the online retailer is still a massive force in the cloud computing industry, but is no longer the lone entity.

Let’s look at some of the things analysts think are likely to happen as the cloud computing industry continues to grow and evolve, according to the Wikibon 2015 Future of Cloud Computing survey:

IT companies will continue to favor public or hybrid cloud services: Over the past five years, IT companies have contributed to a 43.3 percent increase in public cloud usage. Furthermore, hybrid cloud services (which use both public and private clouds throughout single organizations) saw a 19.2 percent growth. However, the use of private services fell by almost 50 percent, and there’s no sign of them gaining significant momentum anytime soon.

Cloud computing providers must deliver products that are innovative, yet secure: Because the cloud computing industry has become increasingly popular, many well-known companies are launching improved or entirely new cloud services. Recently, Google has asserted its readiness to become a respected entity that provides enterprise-level cloud services.
In order to be competitive, providers of cloud-based services must prove that their technology is the most current and robust available, but also that everything’s being delivered and stored in an incredibly secure way. When answering a question in the Wikibon survey to identify their top concerns, 63 percent of respondents said security was first on the list.

Cloud technology will move beyond computers: Although we’ve focused on computers, analysts think cloud technology will soon be widely thought of outside the computing world. Use of the technology is already occurring in other industries, but still on a relatively small scale.

For example, some automotive companies have utilized cloud technology to deliver and share vehicle data and apps, while cloud-related advancements in the travel industry allow Lufthansa Airlines passengers to choose media at home before they leave, and then access that stored media/data during their flight for a personalized entertainment experience. Passengers have more options for controlling how they use time on an otherwise restricted journey.

In healthcare, practitioners are relying on cloud technology to share CAT scans and MRI images with colleagues, saving patients from unnecessary tests and radiation exposure. This relatively simple advance allows doctor and patient to benefit from multiple medical opinions about specific conditions. This data may become useful in tracking treatment and success ratios leading to new standards and saving time, money, and lives.

Customers will prefer to buy cloud-based services directly from providers: Until recently, individuals or companies that wished to take advantage of cloud computing options usually bought them from outside vendors, rather than going directly to the providers. However, trends show an increasing preference for straightforward, transparent transactions between service providers and their customers.
The reduction of influence from third-party entities gives customers easy access to information about pricing while simultaneously allowing providers access to feedback about how their customers use their respective products.

Technology With Staying Power
Now you have a general overview of how cloud computing works, why it has become a desirable type of service and what the future may hold for this technology. The next step is acquiring a greater technical understanding of specific providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform. Cloud Academy offers myriad resources for profitable cloud journey. Their video courses focus on practical subjects that move students along quickly. They boast a considerable stable of experienced IT professionals turned educators who share their hard-earned knowledge freely.
Reinforce the video lectures with quizzes and then build skills and confidence with hands-on labs. For most, the easiest method of quickly learning a subject is following a Cloud Academy Learning Path. These pull students along a defined path towards an achievable goal.
Try it all for free. They offer a 7-day trial subscription that unlocks ALL the resources.
Armed with your new knowledge, you may now feel more equipped to put forth a strong argument on why your company should (or should not) make the move over to cloud computing.
If you want to prove yourself ready for a cloud career consider a Cloud Certification from Cloud Academy. There is a community of learners who have achieved these and when you earn your certificate, you know you are trained and ready for action.

Written by

Scott Huntington writes for Tech Cocktail, Business Insider, Forbes, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.

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