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What is the cloud?

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It’s the buzzword at the moment; The Cloud! However, there is a lot of confusion about what the cloud actually is. There’s the technical term and there’s the advertising term.

The cloud is a new technology!

Like all new ideas, the cloud is not new. The history of the cloud goes all the way back to the 1950s. Computers (known as mainframes) would be as large as a room. They were hideously expensive and many businesses would embark on “time sharing” for users to share access to data and CPU time.

In response, they developed “time sharing” methods, which let multiple users share access to data and CPU time. This idea of “time sharing” is the premise of cloud computing.
The next major event in cloud computing history occurred in 1969 when J.C.R. Licklider developed ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in hopes that someday everyone would be able to access data and programs from any location.

Despite these early advances, the Internet didn’t feature enough bandwidth to make the cloud available to the masses until the ’90s.

Professor Ramnath Chellappa was the first to use the term “cloud computing” in 1997, and in 1999, Salesforce became the first site to deliver applications and software over the Internet.
Amazon officially launched its own cloud computing platform called Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006. AWS provides online services to website or client-side applications.
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Okay, but what is the cloud exactly?

Via the National Institute of Standards and Technology comes this definition:

  • On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
  • Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops and workstations).
  • Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.
  • Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.
  • Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimise resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilised service.

If we look at the definitions above, cloud resources are available when I want them and where I want them. I am completely separated from the actual physical resources that I am consuming and I can increase or decrease my consumption as I need to. Lastly, it’s a pay-to-use-service; the more I use and need, the more it costs me.

Interestingly, the cloud is really just infrastructure. Processor, memory, storage and networking resources made available through a subscription service. I then use these resources to deliver or run applications and services.

Services like Dropbox, and the like, are providing storage infrastructure via the cloud.

So, businesses are in the cloud?

There is a financial motivation to move to the cloud. For some small businesses, it can be difficult to justify the expense of moving away from the traditional “on-premises” server hardware. Particularly because you no longer have any physical access or control over my servers and networks.

However, that’s the point.

You don’t have to worry about server hardware anymore. No more dead servers, expensive on going maintenance and out of date hardware! Because it’s a consumption-based model, I can quickly react to changes in business requirements by scaling up, or scaling down, the resources that I need.

For business, agility can represent thousands of dollars per year.

Salesforce, in an article on the benefits of cloud computing, wrote, “Where in the past, people would run applications or programs from software downloaded on a physical computer or server in their building, cloud computing allows people access the same kinds of applications through the Internet.”

As you saw earlier, agility saves you money. It also gives you competitive advantages over other businesses that don’t take advantage of the potential of the cloud.

And it’s big?

Not sure. We can;t know exactly how much space can be provided by cloud-based services like Google, Amazon or Facebook; however, estimates say that the cloud can store about 1 Exabyte.

But how big is an Exabyte?
An Exabyte of memory can hold the same amount of data as 4.2 million MacBook Pro hard drives.

How secure is the cloud?
The cloud is great for storing non-sensitive information, like to-do lists on platforms like Evernote. But unsurprisingly, the idea of storing your personal information somewhere “up in the cloud” makes many people wary.

Some companies, like Google, are responding to this worry accordingly. Google recently announced it would automatically encrypt data for paid cloud storage service users.

Have you got your head in the cloud? Let us know in the comments section below.