Our pixelated friend above is looking for answers as to what the phrase in the cloud means. He’s about to get himself a bit lost – and he’s hardly the only one. Ultimately, the phrase even becomes a little abstract to the experts. It can become a saying that they take for granted.
Little wonder, then, that those who do not devote their working lives to such things can find themselves baffled. Again and again, this author is faced with the question of what the cloud actually is, and what it actually means to store something there. It arose, for instance, with friends over the weekend just gone. The problem is that numerous overarching definitions swirl around the Internet, and they do not necessarily tally with each other. Below are some of the most common examples – but do they reflect the reality?
1. Metaphor For The Internet
Some might say that the word cloud is merely a substitute for internet. This idea stems from the fact that, yes, storing data in the cloud means storing it online. A cloud server can only be accessed via an internet connection. In that sense, the theory is accurate.
However, depending on that explanation alone runs the risk of creating misconceptions about the properties of a cloud server. These primarily surround security and reliability of access, both of which are unequivocally firm in the cloud. It also skates over aspects of how a cloud desktop functions, particularly in terms of how applications are shared, and the long-term service required to maintain the platform. Perhaps this one is a starting point, but it covers very little in depth.
2. Anything Outside The Firewall
No two ways about it, this is an odd one. On the one hand, in the cloud refers to storing data away from a business’ own server. It follows that it must be outside that server’s firewall defences, so fair enough. Yet the term is so utterly vague that it is barely worth pursuing this one much further. The cloud has its own defences; they are actually more difficult to break down than onsite firewalls; and the phrase fails to distinguish what is cloud and what is just the wider internet. Next.
3. Cloud Computing = Grid Computing
Grid computing simply refers to a device network in which every computer’s resources are pooled. Such resources would include data storage, applications and power. Pooling these resources makes them accessible to all other connected devices – just, for instance, as the National Grid links all electrical mains devices.
Cloud computing does much the same thing, in terms of centralising data. However, there is a key difference. The grid depends on an assignment being divided between a set array of devices in the office, and it is a closed system. You have a group of computers teaming up to create one giant super-computer, relying on a specific network. The beauty of a cloud network is that the super-computer already exists: it’s called the internet. Any device can interact with it, and unlike the grid, its accessibility is not subject to all devices working properly.
Cloud and grid are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and there are similarities, but far from enough to make them truly equivalent.
4. Updated Utility Computing
Some analysts have tried to produce a focused definition of in the cloud through comparisons with utility computing.
Utility computing was a scheme for IT rental, whether that be hardware, software or network bandwidth. The cloud operates a similar pay-as-you-use business model to its business users, though it is a purely software-based service. With no virtualisation of data, and its limits to one geographical location, utility computing is an outdated practice. As with the grid, there is crossover. Yet while the cloud supports utility computing, the reverse is not the case. Think of the utility computing model as the cloud’s forerunner, but no more than that.
5. Moving From A Localised Desktop To A Secure Web-Based Service
Perhaps the above is the best way to describe what the cloud actually is. It is a sealed-off, secure area of the web, where a business’ data and applications can be stored and accessed remotely. That access can be reliably instigated from any location in the world, through any device.
In a sense, we’re back to our first definition, but the truth runs far deeper. The cloud is an environment where commercial applications are shared out among users from different business. This sharing of software – and the associated costs – is known as multi-tenancy. Moreover, the user does not have the responsibility for maintaining the network that any other IT system does. That responsibility has been delegated to a provider. When we talk of the big players in cloud – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud – it is they, or a third-party partner, who effectively become a client’s IT department.
There are a number of different definitions of “in the cloud” floating around cyberspace, and we have endeavoured to break them down and get to the truth here. Ultimately, we may actually find that the word will not confuse people for very much longer. The system is becoming so popular that “cloud” may soon be redundant: the cloud will just be standard IT for businesses. Though a recent scientific development, its growth is rapid – as well as consistent for the long-term. The phenomenon is now closing in on the time when it can call itself the norm in commerce.
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Written by Oliver Kiddell
Oliver Kiddell, Author at Viastak Technologists.