Anyone who’s been on the internet in the past year has heard something about “the cloud”, whether as part of the discussion about recent celebrity privacy scandals, in talks about internet and the future of networking, or even mentioned vaguely in passing by anyone who tends to keep their important files on Dropbox, but those looking to run a business might find themselves hearing more about the cloud than they otherwise would, with 84% of organizations claiming to use some form of cloud-based software. The cloud is definitely being presented as a solution to many small businesses technology needs, but what is it? What does it mean? This article hopes to clear up some of that mystery by defining cloud computing for you.
Defining the Cloud
The first step in defining cloud computing is talking about what the cloud actually is. Cloud computing is defined as any type of internet-based computing where a service is delivered to users through the internet. Basic enough, but if you go by that definition, then just about any web-based service is an application of cloud computing (Gmail, I’m looking at you). In a business sense, the term cloud computing has taken on many meanings, from grid computing to peer-to-peer applications to remote processing, so an important thing to note when discussing cloud computing with other people is to make sure you’re on the same page. What you might be talking about might not be what the other person is talking about, a good example of why defining cloud computing is so important.
Because of length constraints, this article can’t go into every nuanced definition of cloud computing out there, but we can at least cover the basics, starting with the three main types of cloud computing.
Three Types of Cloud Computing
A lot of things in the world can be broken up in to categories, and cloud computing is no exception. Defining cloud computing means understanding the three basic types of cloud computing, at least to the level where you can decide which type is best for your business. The three types to consider are: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).
Software as a Service (SaaS) is defined as software that is provided over the internet. SaaS includes web access to some form of commercial software, which is managed from a central location and maintained from that location by the provider. This means that you would not have to worry about maintaining and patching the software yourself, which would give you some peace of mind, but it would also mean that when something goes wrong on the provider’s end, you would have to wait for them to fix the problem instead of taking the initiative yourself.
In contrast, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is defined as a computing platform that allows the creation of web applications. This means that you could use PaaS to develop, host, deploy, and maintain applications for your business. The provider would give you the tools to create your app, but at the end of the day, you would be the one deciding how your app is run, and you would be the one ultimately responsible if something goes wrong. This gives you more control over the process, but also more responsibility, and a greater potential for failure if you don’t have the technological know-how to create a working app.
The final type of cloud computing is known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). This delivers infrastructure (servers, storage, network and operating systems…etc.) as an on-demand service, but doesn’t give you anything in terms of software. This would be helpful for companies that can’t afford the hardware required to set up their own servers, but again, this is only infrastructure, which is very helpful but still can’t accomplish much if not utilized correctly.
Choosing the One for You
Does that make some sense? Great, because now you have to make a decision. Before you decide to make the move to cloud computing, you need to consider your company’s needs and decide which type of cloud computing is best for you. Before you panic, take a deep breath. We’ll go through the pros and cons of each type of cloud computing carefully, giving you all the information you need to start making that decision.
SaaS is easily the simplest form of cloud computing, and the one most people are familiar with already (whether they know it or not). It makes sense for applications like email, where there is significant exchange between the organization and the outside world, and for applications that have a significant need for web and mobile access (again, like email). It also works great for software that is only used to satisfy a short term need. It’s not the best for applications where extremely fast processing of data is required, or where regulations don’t permit data to be hosted externally.
PaaS makes sense if you need a little more control over the software, or if multiple developers will be working on a single project and need to interact with the development process. It wouldn’t be the best choice if the application needs to be highly portable (able to be hosted in several different places), or if the approach or language involved in designing the app happens to be proprietary.
Finally, IaaS makes sense for specific infrastructure needs, for situations where demand is very volatile, and for organizations that cannot invest in hardware just yet, but it doesn’t make sense in situations where the highest level of performance is required, or when on-premise services can do the job just as well or better.
Hopefully, this helped in defining cloud computing somewhat. It’s a crazy world out there and constantly evolving, but understanding the trends and the pros and cons involved in cloud computing will come a long way towards being able to effectively use the cloud for your business.