What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is the on-demand consumption of IT services and resources over a network. The main cloud computing benefit is that it relieves users of directly managing and maintaining the underlying resources, ranging from infrastructure fundamentals like compute and data storage, all the way up to complete applications. Cloud computing services are available through hyperscale public datacenters, on-premises in privately owned datacenters, or in hosted or managed settings.
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How it works
Cloud computing works by allowing businesses to use their devices to access their data within cloud applications virtually from physical servers, databases and computers that are not on-premises.
Users access the cloud simply through the internet, also known as the front end. This includes using the client device, browser, network, and cloud software applications. The backend consists of databases, servers, and computers from the cloud host and functions as a repository, storing all the data.
A central server manages all the communication between the front and back end and relies on certain protocols to facilitate this exchange of data.
Cloud computing relies heavily on virtualization and automation technologies. Virtualization enables the easy abstraction and provisioning of services and underlying cloud systems into logical entities that users can request and utilize. Automation and accompanying orchestration capabilities provide users with a high degree of self-service to provision resources, connect services and deploy workloads without direct intervention from the cloud provider's IT staff.
What are the benefits of cloud computing?
The main cloud computing benefit is that it relieves users of directly managing and maintaining the underlying resources, ranging from infrastructure fundamentals like compute and data storage, all the way up to complete applications.
Here are some of the most common reasons why businesses are turning to cloud computing services:
Agility - Rapid resource availability enables your business to better respond to changing market conditions and opportunities by innovating quickly and speeding products to market
Elasticity - Increase and decrease your IT resources as needed to meet the circumstances
Scalability - Grow your IT capabilities as your business grows, without disruption
Simplified operations - The service provider is responsible for time-consuming, complex, and costly tasks such as maintenance, upgrades, and remediation, freeing you to focus on higher-value tasks.
Business continuity - Cloud providers maintain uptime by investing extensively in resiliency and redundancy capabilities.
Disaster recovery - When disaster strikes, providers restore services, applications, and data with little or no disruption to your business.
Types of cloud computing models
In order to begin your cloud computing journey, you must first choose the type of cloud computing architecture that your cloud computing services will be deployed on. These cloud technology options include public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and multicloud.
Public cloud computing
Public cloud computing services deliver IT resources and services (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) over the Internet to the public. Customers pay in increments of usage (for example, MBs, minutes, or hours) for the resources they consume. Resources include storage, CPU cycles, and bandwidth, as well as other services such as data transfer, load balancing, and monitoring.
Private cloud computing
A private cloud offers many of the same capabilities and benefits as a public cloud, but it is owned by and intended for a single organization. The organization hosts the private cloud in its own datacenter or outsources the hosting and operations to a third-party provider (though in a single-tenant environment).
Hybrid cloud computing
Hybrid cloud computing combines elements of public and private cloud. A single organization may run some of its workloads on-premises, some in a service provider, and others in public clouds.
Multicloud refers to the distribution of workloads across multiple clouds, be they private or public, as well as remote and branch offices (ROBO), service providers, and field deployments. This approach allows organizations to use the cloud that best meets their specific technical and business requirements.
Advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing
The central advantage of public cloud is that it offers great agility and elasticity—consumers can burst, expand, or contract resource consumption on the fly to satisfy seasonal demand or to accelerate software development. Public cloud can offer lower costs, particularly for use cases with unpredictable or intermittent demand—doing away with the need to invest in and maintain IT resources (particularly hardware) that are not being used consistently. In other words, users pay for operational expenditure (OpEx), rather than capital expenditure staff training (CapEx).
However, public cloud can also be a more expensive alternative for predictable workloads and when there is insufficient cost governance in place (making sure to avoid paying for underutilized resources). There is also a concern when it comes to public cloud computing security. Steps must also be taken to guard against security problems arising from user errors and faulty configurations. There can also be costs associated with workload migration, staff training, and vendor lock-in.
Organizations often turn to private clouds when they need greater reliability, scalability, and security. Many enterprises use them for running sensitive or mission-critical workloads with specific availability, security, and performance requirements. And because private clouds allow companies full control over their data, they are well-suited to meeting industry- and nation-specific regulatory requirements around such issues as individual privacy and data sovereignty. However, with private cloud, the organization is responsible for purchasing, operating, and maintaining the IT resources (or for paying a managed service provider for these services).
Hybrid cloud can deliver greater efficiency, costs, security, and performance by allowing organizations to always choose the optimal cloud for each workload. To achieve these goals, however, the hybrid cloud must offer seamless integration, especially around networking, and frictionless interoperability among the clouds, providing administrators the same management experience, whether the workloads are in public cloud or on-premises. Without the right solution, hybrid cloud can pose challenges around integration, security, workload mobility, latency, visibility, and license portability.
Multicloud refers to the distribution of workloads across multiple clouds, be they private or public, as well as remote and branch offices (ROBO), service providers, and field deployments. This approach allows organizations to use the cloud that best meets their specific technical and business requirements. With multicloud, organizations can use the cloud with the best pricing that best suits their needs with the best services for their specific workloads. Multicloud allows organizations to choose datacenters that are closer to their customers, decreasing latency and improving application performance. Using multiple clouds allows organizations to abide by certain compliance requirements by keeping data in the same country the customer resides by utilizing multiple datacenters.
Conversely, the downside to multicloud can also be increased management complexity if approached on an ad hoc basis and without effective integration between clouds.
Types of cloud computing services
The three main types of cloud computing services are Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Cloud computing services are available through hyperscale public data centers, on-premises in privately owned data centers, or in hosted or managed settings. Many organizations use some combination of all three, taking a hybrid multicloud networking approach.
IaaS provides users on-demand access to the foundational infrastructure resources needed to deploy and run software. These resources typically include compute, storage, operating system, virtualization, and networking, although some providers offer database and message queuing services as well. It’s akin to having a virtualized datacenter in the cloud that users access via an API or dashboard. Users are still responsible for managing the OS, middleware, runtime environment, applications, and data.
PaaS provides the resources necessary to develop, test, run, and maintain software. This includes the infrastructure and the OS, middleware, development environment and developer tools. Users, often developers, access the platform via the web, and they are free to focus on the application rather than managing resources. PaaS allows users to deploy standardized or custom applications with supported programming languages, scripts, APIs, and tools.
SaaS is an operating model where applications are hosted in the cloud. Users access the applications via the internet. The vendor manages the entire stack, including the application itself, and there are typically no downloads or installations required on the client side.
Benefits and challenges of cloud computing services
Benefits and challenges of IaaS
IaaS affords the greatest amount of control and flexibility—users can control the entire infrastructure stack and tailor resource capacity and configurations to meet workload requirements. Other advantages of IaaS include high scalability, consumption-based pricing for hardware, and easy resource automation. IaaS can pose challenges around cost overruns, security (data, system vulnerabilities, insider threats), multitenancy (sufficient isolation), staff training, and integrating legacy apps with a cloud environment.
Benefits and challenges of PaaS
Paas offers simplicity, high availability, scalability, reduced coding, easy automation, and a path to hybrid cloud. Challenges may include data security and compliance, integration with existing services and infrastructure, vendor lock-in, customization of legacy systems, and limits on certain operational capabilities.
Benefits and challenges of SaaS
Users can access the services via mobile applications or web browsers and are freed from spending time managing the software. Conversely, SaaS can be the least flexible of all cloud computing options, depending on the offering. Integration and interoperability with existing systems can be difficult, and there may be limited options for customization. Moreover, what users gain in convenience from SaaS they lose in control, which means they may have to adjust their data security and governance models to align with the functionality and features of the specific SaaS offering.
Examples of SaaS vary widely, from work productivity applications (Microsoft Office 365, Google’s G Suite), to cloud governance tools (Cost Governance), to enterprise applications (Salesforce, SAP). SaaS may also include other subsets of “as a service” offerings, such as Desktop as a Service (DaaS), Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), or Database as a Service (DBaaS)—the latter may be considered either PaaS or SaaS, depending on how it is used.
Uses of cloud computing
Cloud computing has only been around and widely used for the past decade or so, but it’s so ingrained in our day-to-day life we don’t even realize that we’re using it. Checking your email from your phone or laptop? Streaming a show from your smart TV? Checking your activity level from your smartwatch? Posting to Facebook? Watching a TikTok? Cloud computing is being used for all of it.
Here are a few examples of use cases with cloud computing:
Create, test, and build new applications - Cloud computing allows organizations to quickly build, test, deploy, and scale applications for their needs or the needs of their customers with cloud-native technology.
Backup and disaster recovery - Store and protect your data more cost-efficiently and at scale. Cloud computing allows you to store all your data offsite so it’s accessible from any location on any device even if there is a disaster.
Stream audio and video services - Watch videos and listen to audio from any device, at any time, from any location.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) - SaaS allows organizations to update their software on demand to all their customers globally at any time.
Analyze data - Collect, analyze, interpret, and share insights from all the data stored in the cloud to make better-informed decisions for your business with artificial intelligence (AI).
Cloud computing and security
Cloud security is an entire ecosystem of security solutions, cloud processes and policies that protect the data and apps that live in the cloud and is fully customizable to meet the needs of an organization. These security measures are important because they protect data and support regulatory compliance, ensure customers’ privacy, and set authentication rules.
Cloud security is important because cyber criminals are constantly refining and strengthening their cyber attacks, so organizations must establish a robust security strategy to protect against data theft, leakage, and corruption. In the past, traditional human IT security was efficient to defend against common security threats, such as ransomware. But in today’s world, security breaches are more frequent and harder to catch. Having a cloud security solution in place eliminates these threats, allowing businesses to harness cloud computing and remain secure.
Nutanix offers cloud security through the NCM Security Central solution. It unifies cloud security operations for workloads and data on any cloud type while automating incident response with intelligent analysis and regulatory compliance.
The future of cloud computing
Cloud computing is behind every business and technological advancement today, with its extended agility and scalability and is here to stay. According to 1,450 IT decision-makers around the world surveyed for the 2023 Enterprise Cloud Index, hybrid multicloud is the cloud of choice for these organizations, as it spans a mix of private and public clouds - giving companies the best of both worlds (or clouds). This is driven largely by enterprises' realization that optimizing IT infrastructure involves matching workloads to the environment best suited for them, even as conditions and demands change. Moving workloads to the cloud and establishing a cloud management strategy that maximizes cost savings and operational efficiency are goals that every enterprise should strive for.