What is Cloud Computing? [Complete Guide]

For both IT specialists and the general public, it would be hard to imagine the modern world without cloud computing. But what cloud computing actually means and how does it work? What are the advantages and drawbacks of it? Are there different types or models of cloud computing?

If you are a beginning Project Manager, Chief Operations Officer, or Chief Executive Officer that just started working in a new position, this article will answer all the questions above. Moreover, using bright examples, it will help you to see the benefits of cloud computing for your project.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is the technology that allows delivering computing services on demand with the help of the Internet. Thus, companies and organizations rent the storage from the vendors instead of investing in their own servers and data storage systems. Cloud service providers ensure that users have constant and stable access to their ‘cloud’ at any time as well as make sure that all the information is protected.

The name “cloud” has nothing to do with the sky and the weather. It was likely to be borrowed from the old diagrams of telecom networks. On those, the network was usually depicted as a cloud. Later, the cloud symbol was also used to depict the Internet in schemes and diagrams.

How does cloud computing work?

Every cloud computing system consists of two basic parts ‒ back end and front end ‒ which are connected via the Internet. The front end is the side of the client, and it consists of the user’s PC or computer network. Those PC or the computer networks should have special application to access the cloud platform.

The back end is the side of the provider. It usually includes data storage systems, servers, and computers. They store customers’ data, manage the traffic, and fulfill other demands of the users. Another important component of cloud computing is middleware. This type of software ensures that computers in the cloud infrastructure will not connect or communicate in any way.

Why do we need cloud computing?

Now that you have a basic understanding of cloud computing, you may wonder, what the benefits may be of using it in your company. There is no doubt that cloud computing has plenty of advantages for any kind of business. Among the most prominent are:

  1. Reduced costs. The first and one of the most important (especially for small companies and start-ups) reasons is budget-friendliness of cloud computing. With cloud computing, there is no need to invest in hardware, additional office space for said hardware and its maintenance. Moreover, you can save on personnel as you do not need to hire technicians and system administrators to install and take care of the hardware. With cloud computing, you just choose a subscription plan that matches your needs and budget. A lot of providers actually offer pay-as-you-go plans where you get charged for procured services.
  2. Flexibility. Cloud computing allows you to change your subscription easily as well as allows you to access your files anywhere and anytime. These options let you use your budget, workforce, and time more efficiently.
  3. Scalability. Drastic and sudden changes in a number of team members won’t take you by surprise. You can easily purchase additional storage or features or even change the subscription plan within a moment.
  4. No need for a backup plan. In a case, if something happens to the hardware, some data can be damaged or even lost forever. Such a scenario is impossible with cloud computing. All of your data is safe and available as long as you have an Internet connection. If you are not ready to fully switch to cloud computing, you may use the cloud as a backup plan to store the most important data.
  5. Data security. Modern technologies make it almost impossible to steal the data from the cloud. Some providers even have test teams that regularly try to penetrate the system to ensure that the data of their clients is safe. Good user management and password policies within the enterprise are also vital for the security of your data. The best providers have the certification that proves the safety of their platform.
  6. A wide range of options. There are numerous providers on the market. After you write down all your requirements and needs of the company, you can compare subscription plans and features each vendor offers. Moreover, there are different types of cloud computing (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) so you definitely will find one that will meet your expectations.
  7. Improved collaboration. As staff augmentation and outsourcing is becoming more and more popular, the need for improving team communication becomes critical. Cloud computing allows team members from different parts of the world to easily share the data, communicate, see real-time updates on projects and collaborate in various ways. Thus now switching to cloud computing is not only the way to reduce costs. It as well may boost the performance and productivity of your team.
  8. Long-Term Investment. As we mentioned before, when you choose cloud platforms, you save money that you could spend on service and repair of hardware. Instead of a big investment into hardware, you can stretch your expenses in time paying for an annual or monthly cloud subscription.
  9. Mobility. Working from home or cooperation with remote specialists is a common thing in modern enterprises. With the help of cloud computing, everything a person needs for work is stable Internet connection as all the necessary data is accessible online. Some providers even offer off-line accessibility to ensure maximum comfort for the users.
  10. Security. It is much easier to steal a laptop or a PC or to damage the hardware than it is to hack the cloud. Clouding platforms allow users to remotely delete or relocate the information if there is any risk of security breaching. Another useful feature of cloud computing is that it allows assigning different access rights to different users. This way, you can control which member of the team can or cannot see certain information.

As you can see, the use of cloud platforms has a number of undeniable advantages that are relevant for any kind of business. Cloud computing may help you reduce expenses, boost team performance, and improve data security.

What is the risk of cloud computing?

However, like any other technology, cloud computing has certain risks. If you are considering the possibility of using cloud computing for your business, you should pay attention to the most important drawbacks. 6 main disadvantages of cloud technology are:

  1. Vulnerability to attacks. Every cloud platform, however secure it is, has a potential risk of being attacked. To minimize these risks and be sure confidential information is properly protected, give your team training on security and data protection and use encryption whenever it is possible.
  2. Network connectivity dependency. As cloud computing is the technology on the Internet, downtime becomes one of the critical disadvantages of it. No Internet provider can guarantee you perfect service all the time, and sometimes this entails huge money losses for the company. On the other hand, your vendor may experience problems as well with DDoS attacks or system failures. To secure yourself from these problems you should always have a recovery plan as well as consider implementing a dedicated network connection.
  3. Vendor lock-in. Although the world of technology is constantly evolving, transferring data from the cloud platform of one provider to the other’s may be quite challenging. Such a process may entail additional expenses or even breach the security of your data. In order to avoid this problem, first of all, choose the vendor wisely. It is better to spend more time comparing the providers and sometimes even to pay more for a subscription plan but to be sure that in the end, you made the best decision. Secondly, you may try a multicloud model where you combine the services of different providers.
  4. Limited control. Obviously, providers give customers control over their data. But the control over the execution and function of services is almost always limited. Let alone the control over the pricing policy, meaning that the provider may change the price of services very unexpectedly.
  5. Security and Privacy. Every cloud service company constantly improves its security standards. However, trusting critical business information to a third-party company is always a risk. In order to lower security risks, you should pay special attention to the shared responsibility model your provider has. Moreover, you should create a strict access rights policy in your company, so the sensitive data is available to a limited number of employees.
  6. Costs Savings. Although cloud computing appears to be a good long-term investment, it is not really budget-friendly for small short-term projects. Also, if you are using a pay-as-you-go plan, the final price of the services may be higher than expected. Therefore, it is better to use pre-paid plans and always track cloud spending.

Just like any other business decision, switching to cloud computing requires risk evaluation. However, with proper research and evaluation of the company’s needs, you may find the best cloud computing type and model.

What are the types of cloud computing?

Cloud computing services can be roughly divided into three types ‒ SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the method of software delivery where software is treated as a Web-based service. In this case, users pay a monthly or annual fee to subscribe to the service. Usually, SaaS does not require installing any programs or applications and runs in a web browser. SaaS is widely used as it usually saves money and time spent installing and maintaining software. Other advantages of this type of service are mobility and flexibility.

The most popular and well-known examples of SaaS are:

  • Microsoft
  • Google Apps
  • Salesforce
  • Dropbox
  • MailChimp
  • Slack
  • Hubspot
  • GitHub
  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Amazon Web Service SaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is targeted mainly at software developers. In a case with PaaS, providers offer users the web platform to build applications upon. Such option simplifies the lives of developers as they do not have to worry about the operation system, infrastructure, or storage. If you have tight deadlines, PaaS is a good idea as well. It allows starting directly with creating a customized app instead of devoting time to creating the necessary infrastructure. Nonetheless, there are some drawbacks to PaaS also. Among them ‒ additional expenses and reduced control. Vendor lock-in is a big risk in this case as well.

The brightest examples of PaaS include:

  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk
  • Oracle Cloud Platform
  • Google App Engine
  • Mendix aPaaS
  • Salesforce
  • Red Hat Openshift PaaS
  • IBM Cloud Platform
  • SAP Cloud Platform
  • Apache Stratos
  • OpenShift

In the case with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), the vendor provides the enterprise with the computing infrastructure. The most important detail is that all the control is in the hands of the clients as this service usually delivered through an API or a dashboard. Clients do not  need to purchase and maintain a physical data center while still getting  all the benefits of it. It is a perfect decision for small companies, startups, or small projects. Such advantages of IaaS as flexibility, scalability, and the ability to control everything are undeniable. As for the disadvantages of the IaaS, the necessity of corporate training (which means additional time and costs) and possible security risks can be named.

The best examples of IaaS are:

  • Amazon Web Services
  • IBM Cloud
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Server Central
  • Digital Ocean
  • Linode
  • OpenStack
  • Cisco Metapod
  • Rackspace

Needless to say that before choosing any particular model, you should research each of them deeper. And then compare found information with the requirements and expectations of your organization. Each of the models offers something special and is suitable for particular projects and teams. But no matter what you choose, switching to the cloud is definitely the future of business. So if you want to keep up with the times, you should consider doing it as soon as possible.

Cloud Computing Deployment Models (definition and key aspects)

Depending on the deployment method, cloud computing can be divided into four different models.

  • Public cloud. In this model, an independent company offers access to cloud platforms for both individual users and enterprises. The services of the providers are sold on demand. These companies usually offer pay-as-you-go plans although it is possible to sign a long-term agreement. The biggest and most well-known public cloud vendors are IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.
  • Private cloud. In this case, cloud infrastructure may be operated by either third-party company or be managed internally. However, this infrastructure is designed for a single organization and serves solely for the needs of the said enterprise. Although such a model offers better control and generally considered safer, it requires significant expenses and has a physical footprint.
  • Hybrid cloud. This deployment model is a combination of a private and public cloud. Usually, the public cloud serves as a base that is later complemented and improved with the features of a public cloud. This option helps companies to use the best qualities of public platforms and still have the security and control of data that private cloud offers.
  • As for now, this model seems to be the most popular among businesses. Multicloud means combining the use of different cloud services of different vendors in one architecture. It allows companies to choose the best features and plans of various third-party providers. Thus it lets organizations create a unique version of cloud platform that perfectly matches their requirements.

You should choose the cloud computing model depending on the type of your business, the size of your team, and other special requirements you have.

With the rapid development of technology and the trends of globalization, it is undeniable that cloud computing will only get more popular and widespread among organizations. Different types and models of service give opportunities for customizing and will match the needs of even the most demanding users. Undeniable advantages of the cloud, such as budget-friendliness, scalability, and flexibility, should persuade you to try cloud computing.

And if your company works with remote employees or even the whole team, cloud computing may be the perfect choice for you. It improves team collaboration and solves a number of possible security issues that may arise. Thus, don’t hesitate and start to assess opportunities of cloud computing right now.

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I've founded Echo based on my three passions: engineering, marketing, and head-hunting. As a company CEO, it is always hard for me to make time for writing. However, I like sharing my experience with people around.
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Lou Reverchuk

Entrepreneur, Marketer, Writer

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