What is the "Cloud"?

Your guide to cloud computing

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is simply the delivery of on-demand services, from using computer applications to storage and processing power, entirely over the internet.

Rather than owning their own infrastructure or data centres, many businesses can rent access to many services from a cloud service provider.

By using cloud computing services, these businesses can avoid the upfront cost and complexity of owning and maintaining their own IT services, and simply pay for what they use.

Cloud computing relies on the sharing of resources and economies of scale in order to minimise costs for the user, and to provide a more consistent level of reliability and performance.

Why is it called the cloud?

One of the most important aspects of connecting to the cloud is that the location of the service, and additionally details such as the hardware or operating system on which the service runs, within reason, is largely unimportant to the end user.

Old telecommunications network schematics used to refer to the public telephone network as a cloud – as in it didn’t matter where exactly things were happening – it was just a “cloud” of stuff. This is of course much simpler than today’s reality of the technology, and location is indeed incredibly important when it comes to speeds and security, but the metaphor remains.

The importance of cloud computing

Building the hardware and physical infrastructure to support cloud computing now accounts for more than a third of all IT spending worldwide, which is only set to increase in the coming years.

According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, by 2021 94% of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud data centres. For enterprises it’s long past the question of if they’ll move to the cloud, but to what extent and when. From flexible capacity and compute resource to the ability to quickly roll out and scale new services, the benefits of moving to the cloud are well documented.

For the network, this changes the dynamic from it being simply a connection to the outside world to the life-blood of the business and a link that everyone depends on. Whether you’re a challenger brand disrupting the market place or an established player looking to innovate and grow, connectivity to the cloud can take your business to the next level – if you have the right plan.

"At its most optimal, cloud computing enables businesses to focus on performance as directly as possible, with minimal hassle or interruption. New advantages built upon the foundation of cloud computing – agility, mobility, flexibility, and security – emerge when highly scalable and flexible computing technology fuses with existing technology and processes (whether on premises or in the cloud).

The aim is to get the computation you want and need, the way you want it, and move on."

Google, Future of Cloud Computing.

The best benefits of cloud computing

Capital Expense & Maintenance

Cloud computing eliminates the expense of buying hardware & software, as well as setting up and running on-site data centers, servers with round-the-clock electricity & cooling, as well as IT experts for managing infrastructure ongoing.

Cloud providers are able to build economies of scale, meaning the end cost for a user is significantly decreased.

Speed & Agility

Most cloud services are provided on demand, so even vast resources can be rolled out just a few mouse clicks. This gives businesses a new layer of freedom & flexibility in managing their infrastructure, and takes pressure off of capacity planning. Using cloud services means companies can move faster on projects and test out concepts without lengthy procurement and upfront costs. This concept of business agility is often mentioned as one of the largest benefits of connecting to the cloud.

Scalability & Growth

Benefits of cloud services include the ability to scale easily & quickly. This means delivering the exact correct amount of IT resources, exactly when they are required, to the right location. For a company with an app that has big peaks in usage, e.g. that is only used at a particular time of the year, it makes sense to host it in the cloud, rather than have dedicated hardware and software laying idle.

Security

Many cloud providers offer a broad set of policies, technologies and controls that help strengthen security. This helps protect your data, apps and infrastructure. How secure you consider your cloud to be will largely depend on your current systems. In-house systems managed by a team with many other focuses are likely to be more unreliable than systems monitored by a cloud provider, who will have a dedicated team focused on protecting that system.

Productivity & Efficiency

On-site data centres typically require a lot of hardware setup, software patching and other miscellaneous IT management chores. Renting from a cloud provider removes the need for many of these tasks, leaving IT teams to spend more time on achieving more critical business targets.

Performance

The largest cloud services run on a network of secure data centres, which are regularly updated to the most recent generations of hardware. This offers several benefits over a single corporate data centre, including reduced network latency, and on average a cheaper service for the user.

Reliability

Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity easier and less expensive, as data can be mirrored at multiple redundant sites on the cloud provider’s network, meaning that even if there is a major outage or data loss, you data often easy and quick to recover

The different types of cloud computing

Not all Cloud solutions are the same, and no single type of cloud computing is right for everyone’s needs. Several different models, types and services have evolved to help offer the right solution for your needs. There are three main ways to deploy cloud services: on a public cloud, private cloud or hybrid cloud.

Public Cloud

Public cloud is the classic cloud computing model, where users can access a large pool of computing power over the internet. One of the significant benefits here is the ability to rapidly scale a service.

The cloud computing suppliers have vast amounts of computing power, which they share out between a large number of customers -- the 'multi-tenant' architecture. Their huge scale means they have enough spare capacity that they can easily cope if any particular customer needs more resources, which is why it is often used for less-sensitive applications that demand a varying amount of resources.

Technically, there may be little or no difference between public and private cloud architecture, however, security consideration may be substantially different for services that are made available for a public audience. Generally, public service providers such as Amazon Web Services, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Google own and operate the infrastructure within their own data centre and provide access online. These businesses offer cloud connect services such as “AWS Direct Connect”, “Oracle FastConnect”, “Azure ExpressRoute” and “Cloud Interconnect” respectively, and require customers to purchase or lease a private connection to a peering point offered by the cloud provider.

Private Cloud

A private cloud refers to cloud computing resources used exclusively by a single business or organisation. A private cloud can be physically located on the company’s on-site data centre. Some companies also pay third-party service providers to host their private cloud. A private cloud is one in which the services and infrastructure are maintained on a private network.

Private cloud enables businesses to benefit from many of the same advantages as public cloud, but without the worries of giving up control of their data and services, as the entire cloud is put behind a corporate firewall. Businesses can control exactly where their data is being stored and can customise the infrastructure to their needs.

However, that additional security comes at an extra cost, as few companies will be able to manage the scale of businesses such as AWS, Microsoft and Google to drive costs down. Still, for companies that require additional security, private cloud may be a useful stepping stone, helping them to understand cloud services or rebuild internal applications for the cloud, before shifting them into the public cloud.

Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid Cloud is a composition of two or more clouds, that remain distinct, separate entities, but are bound together, offering the benefits of multiple deployment models. This could mean some data in the public cloud, and other sensitive data/projects in private cloud.

By allowing data and applications to move between private and public clouds, a hybrid cloud gives your business greater flexibility, more deployment options and helps optimise your existing infrastructure, security and compliance.

You can read more about how hybrid cloud is rapidly becoming the cloud model of choice for organisations seeking the best of both worlds in our hybrid cloud whitepaper

Types of cloud services: IaaS, PaaS & SaaS

Cloud computing now dominates IT future planning, with cloud-computing providers offering their services according to three different standardised models, as per the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, by 2021 94% of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud data centres. For enterprises it’s long past the question of if they’ll move to the cloud, but to what extent and when. From flexible capacity and compute resource to the ability to quickly roll out and scale new services, the benefits of moving to the cloud are well documented.

What is Infrastructure as a Service? (IaaS)

Infrastructure as a Service businesses offer services such as pay-as-you-go storage, networking and virtualisation. IaaS gives users cloud-based alternatives to on-premise infrastructure, so businesses can avoid investing in expensive resources themselves, and simply lease them from a larger provider.

The NIST defines IaaS as: “Where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over the operating systems, storage, and deployed applications; and possibly limited control of select networking components such as host firewalls.”

Maintaining on-premise IT infrastructure is costly and labour-intensive. It often requires significant investment in physical hardware and maintenance.

Such examples of services that offer IaaS could be Amazon EC2, Windows Azure, Rackspace, Google Compute Engine or Digital Ocean.

Old telecommunications network schematics used to refer to the public telephone network as a cloud – as in it didn’t matter where exactly things were happening – it was just a “cloud” of stuff. This is of course much simpler than today’s reality of the technology, and location is indeed incredibly important when it comes to speeds and security, but the metaphor remains.

What is Platform as a Service? (PaaS)

Platform as a Service is the next layer up – as well as underlying storage, networking and virtual servers, this will also include the tools and software that developers needs to build applications on top of. These are primarily used for building software or applications.

The advantages of PaaS are that developers don’t need to start from scratch when creating applications, saving time and money on writing base code. PaaS is a popular choice for businesses who want to create unique applications without spending a fortune or taking on all the responsibility. PaaS allows the developer to focus on the creative side of app development, as opposed to menial tasks such as managing software updates or security patches. All of their time and brainpower will go into creating, testing, and deploying the app.

Examples of PaaS include Windows Azure, Heroku, Google App Engine and Apache Stratos

The NIST defines IaaS as: “Where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over the operating systems, storage, and deployed applications; and possibly limited control of select networking components such as host firewalls.”

Maintaining on-premise IT infrastructure is costly and labour-intensive. It often requires significant investment in physical hardware and maintenance.

Such examples of services that offer IaaS could be Amazon EC2, Windows Azure, Rackspace, Google Compute Engine or Digital Ocean.

Old telecommunications network schematics used to refer to the public telephone network as a cloud – as in it didn’t matter where exactly things were happening – it was just a “cloud” of stuff. This is of course much simpler than today’s reality of the technology, and location is indeed incredibly important when it comes to speeds and security, but the metaphor remains.

What is Software as a Service? (SaaS)

Software as a Service platforms make software available to users over the internet, usually for a monthly subscription fee. With a SaaS platform, you don’t need to install and run software applications on your computer, everything is available over the internet when you log into your account online. You can generally access the software from any device at any time (providing you have an internet connection). Most subscriptions include maintenance, compliance, and security services, which can be time-consuming and costly when using on-premise software.

SaaS providers also offer out-of-the-box solutions that are simple to set up, with more complex solutions for larger organizations. Well known examples of this include Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365.

SaaS is, and will remain, the dominant cloud model for the near future. SaaS spending is made up of applications and system infrastructure software, and the IDC state that spending on application purchases will make up more than half of all public cloud spending in 2019. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) tools will account for 60% of all application spending through to 2021.

How to connect to the cloud

Once you’ve decided to connect to the cloud, your next step is to select a cloud provider.

It’s incredibly important to assess the reliability and capability of your chosen service provider. Here are some key factors to consider:

Business Stability & Consistency

Your provider should:

  1. Have a track record of stability and be in a healthy financial position, to operate successfully over the long term
  2. Have a formal risk management policy and process for assessing third-party service providers
  3. Understand your business and what you’re trying to do, and match up with your technical expertise
  4. Be able to validate compliance with all your requirements through an audit

Support & Secure Service-Level Agreements

Your provider should:

  1. Be able to promise you a service level agreement you are comfortable with
  2. Give you accurate performance reports
  3. Have significant controls to track and monitor services provided and any changes made
  4. Have implemented automated resource management and billing, do you always meet a cost you expect

Technical Ease & Usability

Your provider should:

  • Have mechanisms in place to make it easy for you to deploy, manage and upgrade your applications
  • Use standard APIs and interfaces so you can easily build connections to the cloud
  • Have an established event management system
  • Have a documented and formal process for requesting, logging and testing changes
  • Make sure the provider has the capability to move to a hybrid cloud should you wish to do so in the future

Physical & Network Security

Your provider should:

  1. Build a comprehensive security infrastructure for all types of service
  2. Have comprehensive security policies and procedures for controlling platform access
  3. Build policies to ensure integrity of customer data is in place
  4. Ensure that physicals security should be in place, including for access to co-located hardware. There should be redundant networking and power, and a documented disaster recovery and business continuity plan

Colt's Cloud Connect Solution

Now you have found yourself a cloud provider, there is one more question - How do I connect to my Cloud?

The strength of your cloud is only as strong as your connection to it.

Colt’s Dedicated Cloud Access (DCA) – cloud connectivity services give businesses a superior public cloud networking experience when compared to relying on public internet.

Thanks to Colt, you can establish managed public cloud connectivity from your data centre, office or colocation environment, which can reduce your network costs, increase bandwidth throughput, and provide a more consistent network experience than Internet-based connections. And it is all seamless. Your public cloud solution will be delivered in sync with cloud providers so that you enjoy it from the first minute.

Moreover with Colt On Demand capability, we have heavily invested to provide a leading ‘real-time’ and ‘pay per use’ telecom service that matches the benefits of the IT Cloud providing the first all-in-one cloud experience end to end.

Explore Colt's Cloud Partnerships and see what a secure connection can bring you:

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