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The Cloud Demystified

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The Cloud Demystified

Course Description 

This module explains what servers and data centers are, before explaining what the cloud is and contrasting the different types of cloud service models. 

Learning Objectives 

The objectives of this Course are to provide you with and understanding of: 

  • the basic components and operation of servers and data centers. 
  • what the cloud means and its role in providing software, hardware and other computer services. 
  • the different types of cloud service models. 
  • the key business benefits of cloud services, including economic and security benefits. 

Intended Audience 

The Course is aimed at anybody who needs a basic understanding of what the cloud is, how it works, and the important considerations for using it. 


Although not essential, before you complete this Course it would be helpful if you have a basic understanding of server hardware components and what a data center is.  


We welcome all feedback and suggestions - please contact us at qa.elearningadmin@qa.com to let us know what you think. 


OK, here’s a quick question to start with.  

What do you think ‘the cloud’ is? 

  • Is it a fluffy thing in the sky that rain falls out of; 

  • Is it someone else’s computer; or  

  • Is it a place which just remotely stores data. 

Well, it’s obviously not something that rain falls out of and it’s not somebody else’s computer. It does remotely store data but it’s much more than that. I’m sure you’ve heard of the cloud and you’ve probably used it, but perhaps you’ve never really thought about what it really is? 

Eat in or eating out? 

Before we start talking about technology let’s get our heads around the concept of the cloud. 

You’re having pizza tonight but you’re not sure whether to cook it yourself at home or go out to Giovanni’s Bistro. If you do it at home you need to prepare it yourself, using your own ingredients and then cook it. Afterwards you’ll need to do the washing up. This is a fairly cheap option but cost isn’t the only consideration. 

But, after a long day at work can you really be bothered to cook? If you haven’t got all the toppings you want, you’ll have to make do without and of course, there’s always the risk you could fall asleep in front of the TV and burn the pizza.  

Compare that to eating out. Giovanni’s has all the ingredients, does the cooking and even gives you somewhere to sit to eat the pizza. Then, they do the washing up. OK, you don’t get the satisfaction of cooking it yourself and you have to pay more for it, but you get a choice, there’s no risk of burning it and the quality is good – after all they’ve got great chefs and a 5-star health rating. 

This scenario is no different to an IT set-up. Some organisations do everything themselves and provide the hardware, software and data storage through their own IT Team. Sounds good – in control of everything – and this is the same as cooking the pizza yourself. But it’s risky – costs can be controlled but choice can be limited, it’s difficult to keep on top of new technologies (and the ongoing investment is high), and there are risks because the IT team need to know how to do everything. 

The alternative is to get somebody else to take the strain and this is how the cloud works. Another organisation provides the hardware and software over the Internet – the restaurant and the food – and you just use it – you eat the pizza. On the face of it, it seems more expensive but then you can get exactly what you want, change it when you want to and take advantage of the newest technologies – the menu’s always up to date. 

What is cloud computing? 

Put simply, cloud computing is a way of delivering computing services, like servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics and artificial intelligence, over the Internet – or the cloud. 

You’re probably using cloud computing right now, even if you don’t realise it. If you use an online service to send emails, edit documents, watch films or TV, listen to music, play games, or store pictures, it’s likely that cloud computing is making it possible.  

The basis of cloud computing is a very large data center that’s full of identical hardware which runs computer services and stores data for multiple user organisations. Generally, services in the data center are easily scalable and the processes for management, deployment and updates are automated.  

It’s basically a way for an organisation to outsource some of their important computer services to a specialist third party cloud provider who invests in hardware and software, can provide it to a large number of customers, and keep it up-to-date and secure for them. And it’s not just about the technology – organisations only pay for the services they use, so it’s efficient, cost-effective and scalable as business needs change. 

Why the cloud? 

Cloud computing is a big change from the traditional way organisations think about IT provision. It works because: 

  • Organisations don’t have to invest in buying hardware and software, or setting up on-site data centers; 

  • It’s what’s known as an ‘on-demand’ service so computing resources can be acquired in just a few mouse clicks, and capacity planning is easier; 

  • The data centers are generally vast and regularly upgraded to run the latest hardware – so the services will often be quicker than in-house services; 

  • Data back-up, disaster recovery and business continuity planning is easier and less expensive; 

  • Getting somebody else to set-up hardware, patch software and manage IT resources means the internal IT Team can focus on other things that are important to the organisation; and 

  • Last but by no means least – cloud providers have policies, technologies and controls which provide a very high level of security to protect data, applications and the overall infrastructure from threats. 


Think of it like this 

Joe Weinman, an expert in cloud computing has created a mnemonic which summarises what cloud computing is. 

  • C’ is for common infrastructure – reflecting the hardware, networks and storage that’s shared among a lot of customers 

  • ‘L’ means location independent. It doesn’t matter where the cloud infrastructure is located because it will offer the same services to organisations anywhere in the world – it has a global scale. But ‘data sovereignty’ isn’t a problem either – where, for security reasons, the infrastructure and data must be in the same country as the organisation; 

  • ‘O’ is for online. If the hardware is running software in somebody else’s data centers you need to be able to connect to it. This connection is generally private and secure but it does need an online connection to go from the user organisation to the cloud; 

  • ‘U’ is about utility pricing or pay-as-you-go. Servers can be rented by the hour, minute or even second, and storage and networking by the gigabyte. Some services can also be ‘pay per user’. The point is, if the service isn’t being used, then it doesn’t need to be paid for; which then leads into; 

  • ‘D’ for on-demand – cloud services provide ‘what you need when you need it’. Services are highly scalable for organisations who need one server or 1,000 servers. 

There’s a formal definition of cloud computing and the different cloud models in ‘The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing’ guide and some examples of how cloud computing is being used by a number of household names in the other guides. You’ll find links in the Cloud Literacy Resources. 

About the Author

Daniel Ives has worked in the IT industry since leaving university in 1992, holding roles including support, analysis, development, project management and training.  He has worked predominantly with Windows and uses a variety of programming languages and databases.

Daniel has been training full-time since 2001 and with QA since the beginning of 2006.

Daniel has been involved in the creation of numerous courses, the tailoring of courses and the design and delivery of graduate training programs for companies in the logistics, finance and public sectors.

Previous major projects with QA include Visual Studio pre-release events around Europe on behalf of Microsoft, providing input and advice to Microsoft at the beta stage of development of several of their .NET courses.

In industry, Daniel was involved in the manufacturing and logistics areas. He built a computer simulation of a £20million manufacturing plant during construction to assist in equipment purchasing decisions and chaired a performance measurement and enhancement project which resulted in a 2% improvement in delivery performance (on time and in full).