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What is Cloud Computing?



What cloud computing is, and isn’t, is the subject of much discussion these days – and not just at the water cooler here at EarthLink Cloud. Because one thing cloud computing is…is hot.

Hot as it is, cloud computing is still not very well defined, at least not in the minds of most people. Ask a roomful of people “What is cloud computing?” and you’re very likely going to get a roomful of answers.

Whatever they mean by it, people definitely are searching for cloud computing. The term “cloud computing” has been skyrocketing in search volume in the past several years, according to Google Insight for Search, with the term going from zero on Google’s search volume scale in July 2007 to 100 in June 2011.

Cloud Computing is also enjoying the buzz as two of the hottest tech giants trying to out-cloud each other, with Apple promoting its iCloud service and Amazon promoting its Cloud Drive.

But while buzz-worthy, these cloud-based services represent only one area of cloud computing and are likely to be misleading to someone trying to answer the what is cloud computing question.

So…What is Cloud Computing?

Luckily, there’s an official definition of cloud computing, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Need a translation? Well, CNBC’s Cloud Computing 101 says that means:

“Accessing the Internet anywhere, anytime and being able to use any or all of the data and applications that you want.”

That, however, may be an overly general summary and not instructive enough in defining just what cloud computing is and isn’t.

What is Cloud Computing: 3 Service Models

Examples are often helpful when trying to fully understand and flesh out a definition, so here are 3 kinds of cloud computing with examples of each from the NIST definition of cloud computing:

  1. Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) – Software as a service simply means that instead of the traditional model where software programs (e.g., email programs, word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing, CRM, etc.) have to be installed on an individual’s computer to use, the software is instead web-based and hosted remotely on a dedicated server. Users typically access the software as service through a web browser. This is probably the segment of cloud computing that most are familiar with since it includes popular consumer products such as web mail services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail, Google Docs, Picassa, Salesforce.com and online blogging service WordPress.com. Users of a traditional email program like Outlook can choose to uninstall it. Users of a cloud-based email progam like Gmail can sign in or not sign in but there’s nothing to uninstall. In the software as a service model, users can sometimes make minor configuration changes to their experience of the software service, but they cannot manage or control the cloud infrastructure or overall software capabilities. Services are controlled and managed remotely—in the cloud.
  2. Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) – Platform as a service may be the least familiar cloud computing model. This is primarily an application hosting platform, allowing users to build and deploy apps onto the cloud infrastructure using programming languages and tools supported by the provider. Users do not manage or control the cloud infrastructure but can control deployed applications and possibly application hosting configurations. It lets app developers build or expand applications without the cost and complexity of buying the underlying hardware and software, managing the platform, and provisioning hosting capabilities. Examples of PaaS include Force.com from Salesforce, Microsoft Azure, Google AppEngine, Zoho Creator, and CloudFoundry.
  3. Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)- IaaS delivers fundamental computing infrastructure, such as data storage, processing, content delivery, basic networking, and other capabilities to end users as a service. It lets users provision, deploy, and run software, including operating systems and individual applications, through virtualized environments (virtual servers) without the need to purchase hardware such as servers, datacenter space, network equipment, and other in-house resources. EarthLink Cloud’s Cloud Hosting services are a good example of IaaS, letting users build and deploy custom virtual servers to our cloud platform in minutes.

What is Cloud Computing: Essential Characteristics

Whether the cloud computing services provided are infrastructure, platform, or software, they all share these 5 essential characteristics delineated by NIST. In these characteristics you’ll also start to see some of the many benefits of cloud computing.

  1. On-demand self-service: this means that users can provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, on their own, whenever they need it.
  2. Broad network access: cloud computing is available over a network and accessed through a variety of standard computing devices such as desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones.
  3. Resources pooling: this means that cloud providers of storage space, processing, virtual servers, etc., pool their cloud-based resources to dynamically serve multiple consumers/customers based on demand. This allows providers to provide resources more efficiently and therefore cost-effectively and pass on cost savings to cloud hosting customers.
  4. Rapid elasticity: one of the big benefits of cloud computing is how quickly it can scale out to meet rapidly growing demand or demand spikes and how quickly it can scale back down so cloud computing customers aren’t paying for unused capacity.
  5. Measured service: Cloud computing systems automatically control and optimize resource use by monitoring, controlling, and reporting on the service being offered, providing transparency for the cloud computing consumer as well as the provider.

What is Cloud Computing … And Why Should I Use It?

Here are 11 of the most often cited benefits of cloud computing:

  • Cost Savings – Cloud computing reduces IT expenses overall through reduced hardware, software, and networking management cost reductions. Bottom line: you need less stuff, the stuff you need costs less, and you need fewer resources to manage it.
  • Cost Control – Cloud computing helps businesses control costs because they don’t need to make usage predictions, don’t need to overbuild to handle usage spikes, can reduce upfront capital investments, and can budget cloud computing services as Opex costs (ongoing operational expenses) instead of Capex (big-ticket items you invest upfront money in to own).
  • Instant Scaling / Elasticity – Cloud computing allows businesses to instantly scale up IT resources to meet new demands and quickly scale them back down as demand lessens. No need to go out and buy new hardware every time a new need comes up.
  • Business Speed & Agility – Closely related to the scaling benefit: IT can react quicker to business needs to help streamline projects and decrease time to market.
  • Business Focus & Growth – Relying on a cloud service provider such as EarthLink Cloud for IT services lets businesses focus more time, energy, and talent growing current revenue streams and developing new ones to grow their business.
  • Automatic Updates – IT can focus on other issue and don’t have to worry about (or pay for) ongoing updates to hardware and software.
  • Remote & Mobile Access – Cloud computing services are by definition remote, which frees your organization from physical limitations of your business location. Most are also available from mobile devices such as smartphones, which makes your organization more flexible and nimble.
  • Innovation – How many times are good ideas killed because an organization doesn’t have the IT resources or can’t scale them fast enough to try something new? All the time. Cloud computing encourages and enables innovation by making it simple to try new things, scale up and down during a test, and remove the cost barrier of investing in new servers and other hardware to handle a new product or project.
  • Expertise – Cloud computing & hosting providers like EarthLink Cloud are proven experts in deploying and managing cloud IT services. Some large enterprises have that kind of expertise in house, but not many. For startups and small to medium-sized businesses, cloud computing is a big step up in quality even while lowering costs.
  • Makes Small Companies Larger – With a cloud hosting provider handling their IT needs, small companies can level the playing field with the big boys and compete more effectively. You get the same top-quality cloud computing resources as the Fortune 500 firms, but you pay only for what you need.
  • Greener Computing – Cloud computing is widely regarded as being a greener option for IT due to efficiencies of scale, diversity, and flexibility. The smaller the organization, the greater the positive impact will be. According to a Microsoft study, small organization can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 90% by moving to a shared cloud environment. For a large company, the study found a 32% emission savings for cloud computing. Here are 4 reasons why cloud computing is a green solution.

What Kind of Companies Can Use Cloud Computing?

Though some of the benefits will vary with the size and structure of the organization, cloud computing can help virtually any size organization cut or manage costs, increase business focus, be more innovative and responsive, and contribute to a greener environment.  EarthLink Cloud has experience working with all types of organizations, from small startups to large enterprises, in a wide variety of fields.

If you think your business may be interested in the benefits of cloud computing, visit the EarthLinkCloud.com site to review our Cloud Server HostingVMware vCloud HostingDedicated Server Hosting, and other related services. Or you can give us a call at 1-800-957-4872. A cloud computing specialist can discuss which solutions may be best suited to your business.

What’s Next for Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is big now and all signs point to it getting bigger fast. Just how big?

A June, 2011 IDC study reported that “Cloud computing will continue to reshape the IT landscape over the next five years as spending on public IT cloud services expands at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.6%.

According to research firm Gartner Inc., worldwide cloud services revenue was forecast to reach $68.3 billion in 2010, a 16.6 percent increase from 2009 revenue of $58.6 billion. And by 2014, worldwide cloud services revenue expected to reach $148.8 billion.

Good luck in the cloud!

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