What is Cloud Computing?

GUPTA, Gagan       Posted by GUPTA, Gagan
      Published: June 30, 2021

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A step back in the time

A mashup of three fundamental concepts define the cloud: the first is delivering a service, such as computing or storage as a utility; the second is multiple people sharing the same computer resource, which is possible through a technology, referred to as virtualisation; the third is accessing services via networking. The 60s was a momentous decade in laying this foundation.

The inception of the modern-day cloud was realized by Amazon Web Services (AWS) launching its public cloud in 2002. There were virtually no competitors at this stage and while the benefits of using the cloud, such as elasticity and scalability were known, the real use cases to convince potential users were not yet available. Indeed, the cloud offered a dream solution to the technical and management nightmares that many small and medium scale businesses and organizations suffered. The cloud alleviated the burden of maintaining servers, upfront investment on compute resources and scaling web services based on demand - by renting resources that were concentrated in large facilities and maintained by trusted providers.

As the software stack required by institutions to organize their clusters as clouds became available, so private clouds started to emerge. Microsoft entered the marketplace, launching Azure services in 2009. Then similar to OpenNebula, the OpenStack software was launched in 2010. Both these projects were open source and attracted huge interest from the IT community. Later as it was possible to monitor the resources used on the cloud, so the concept of the cloud became more trusted. In addition to the pay-as-you-go pricing model, spot bidding was introduced for resources. Real-time streaming services started processing data on the cloud. In addition to relational databases, non-relational database services were now available. DevOps gained prominence and microservices were used for cloud application development.

With the advent of the IoT era, billions of devices are anticipated to be connected to the internet. They cannot all send data to the cloud due to increased network traffic and communication latencies. Fog/edge computing is a good mechanism to alleviate these challenges and therefore the market seems to be embracing the edge technology. Google has incorporated tensor processor units (TPUs) in the cloud.

Although the cloud is currently crowded, the technology offers more room for expansion. The golden era of cloud computing is yet to dawn on us.

What is Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of compute power, database, storage, applications, and other IT resources through a cloud services platform via the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing. Whether you are running applications that share photos to millions of mobile users or you're supporting the critical operations of your business, a cloud services platform provides rapid access to flexible and low-cost IT resources. With cloud computing, you don't need to make large upfront investments in hardware and spend a lot of time on the heavy lifting of managing that hardware. Instead, you can provision exactly the right type and size of computing resources you need to power your newest bright idea or operate your IT department. You can access as many resources as you need, almost instantly, and only pay for what you use.

Cloud computing provides a simple way to access servers, storage, databases and a broad set of application services over the Internet. A cloud services platform such as AWS/Azure owns and maintains the network-connected hardware required for these application services, while you provision and use what you need via a web application.

Cloud Computing Models

As cloud computing has grown in popularity, several different models and deployment strategies have emerged to help meet specific needs of different users. Each type of cloud service and deployment method provides you with different levels of control, flexibility, and management. 4 most popular models are:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) contains the basic building blocks for cloud IT and typically provides access to networking features, computers (virtual or on dedicated hardware), and data storage space. IaaS provides you with the highest level of flexibility and management control over your IT resources and is most similar to existing IT resources that many IT departments and developers are familiar with today.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) removes the need for your organization to manage the underlying infrastructure (usually hardware and operating systems) and allows you to focus on the deployment and management of your applications. This helps you be more efficient as you don't need to worry about resource procurement, capacity planning, software maintenance, patching, or any of the other undifferentiated heavy lifting involved in running your application.

Software as a Service (SaaS) provides you with a completed product that is run and managed by the service provider. In most cases, people referring to Software as a Service are referring to end-user applications. With a SaaS offering you do not have to think about how the service is maintained or how the underlying infrastructure is managed; you only need to think about how you will use that particular piece of software. A common example of a SaaS application is web-based email which you can use to send and receive email without having to manage feature additions to the email product or maintain the servers and operating systems that the email program is running on.

Serverless computing is a cloud computing model that offloads all the backend infrastructure management tasks - provisioning, scaling, scheduling, patching-to the cloud provider, freeing developers to focus all their time and effort on the code and business logic specific to their applications. What's more, serverless runs application code on a per-request basis only and scales the supporting infrastructure up and down automatically in response to the number of requests.

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What is Cloud Computing?
What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud Computing Deployment Models

Public cloud (aka cloud)

Public cloud is a type of cloud computing in which a cloud service provider makes computing resources-anything from SaaS applications, to individual virtual machines (VMs), to bare metal computing hardware, to complete enterprise-grade infrastructures and development platforms-available to users over the public internet. These resources might be accessible for free, or access might be sold according to subscription-based or pay-per-usage pricing models.

The public cloud provider owns, manages, and assumes all responsibility for the data centers, hardware, and infrastructure on which its customers' workloads run, and it typically provides high-bandwidth network connectivity to ensure high performance and rapid access to applications and data.

Public cloud is a multi-tenant environment-the cloud provider's data center infrastructure is shared by all public cloud customers. In the leading public clouds-Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle Cloud-those customers can number in the millions.

Private cloud (aka On-premises)

Private cloud is a cloud environment in which all cloud infrastructure and computing resources are dedicated to, and accessible by, one customer only. Private cloud combines many of the benefits of cloud computing-including elasticity, scalability, and ease of service delivery-with the access control, security, and resource customization of on-premises infrastructure.

A private cloud is typically hosted on-premises in the customer's data center. But a private cloud can also be hosted on an independent cloud provider's infrastructure or built on rented infrastructure housed in an offsite data center.

Many companies choose private cloud over public cloud because private cloud is an easier way (or the only way) to meet their regulatory compliance requirements. Others choose private cloud because their workloads deal with confidential documents, intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII), medical records, financial data, or other sensitive data.

Hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud is just what it sounds like-a combination of public and private cloud environments. Specifically, and ideally, a hybrid cloud connects an organization's private cloud services and public clouds into a single, flexible infrastructure for running the organization's applications and workloads.

The goal of hybrid cloud is to establish a mix of public and private cloud resources and with a level of orchestration between them that gives an organization the flexibility to choose the optimal cloud for each application or workload and to move workloads freely between the two clouds as circumstances change. This enables the organization to meet its technical and business objectives more effectively and cost-efficiently than it could with public or private cloud alone.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

- Trade capital expense for variable expense - Instead of having to invest heavily in data centers and servers before you know how you're going to use them, you can pay only when you consume computing resources, and pay only for how much you consume.
- Benefit from massive economies of scale - By using cloud computing, you can achieve a lower variable cost than you can get on your own. Because usage from hundreds of thousands of customers is aggregated in the cloud, providers such as AWS can achieve higher economies of scale, which translates into lower pay as-you-go prices.
- Stop guessing capacity - Eliminate guessing on your infrastructure capacity needs. When you make a capacity decision prior to deploying an application, you often end up either sitting on expensive idle resources or dealing with limited capacity. With cloud computing, these problems go away. You can access as much or as little capacity as you need, and scale up and down as required with only a few minutes' notice.
- Increase speed and agility - In a cloud computing environment, new IT resources are only a click away, which means that you reduce the time to make those resources available to your developers from weeks to just minutes. This results in a dramatic increase in agility for the organization, since the cost and time it takes to experiment and develop is significantly lower.
- Stop spending money running and maintaining data centers - Focus on projects that differentiate your business, not the infrastructure. Cloud computing lets you focus on your own customers, rather than on the heavy lifting of racking, stacking, and powering servers.
- Go global in minutes - Easily deploy your application in multiple regions around the world with just a few clicks. This means you can provide lower latency and a better experience for your customers at minimal cost.

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Threats & Risks of Cloud Computing

Cloud environments experience--at a high level--the same threats as traditional data center environments; the threat picture is the same. That is, cloud computing runs software, software has vulnerabilities, and adversaries try to exploit those vulnerabilities. In cloud computing, responsibility for mitigating the risks that result from these software vulnerabilities is shared between the CSP and the cloud consumer. As a result, consumers must understand the division of responsibilities and trust that the CSP meets their responsibilities.

Downtime: Internet connection and Power at Datacenter's. The internet is the only way to cloud computing. When there is no internet connection in your place, or the internet path to the cloud provider is in trouble, automatically access to your cloud computing machine will be disconnected. Now this is where the biggest obstacle is happening in developing countries and remote areas that do not have good internet access or power backups.

Data Deletion is Incomplete. Threats associated with data deletion exist because the consumer has reduced visibility into where their data is physically stored in the cloud and a reduced ability to verify the secure deletion of their data. This risk is concerning because the data is spread over a number of different storage devices within the CSP's infrastructure in a multi-tenancy environment. In addition, deletion procedures may differ from provider to provider. Organizations may not be able to verify that their data was securely deleted and that remnants of the data are not available to attackers. This threat increases as an agency uses more CSP services.

Increased New Layer of Complexity, Strains IT Staff. Migrating to the cloud can introduce complexity into IT operations. Managing, integrating, and operating in the cloud may require that the agency's existing IT staff learn a new model. IT staff must have the capacity and skill level to manage, integrate, and maintain the migration of assets and data to the cloud in addition to their current responsibilities for on-premises IT.

Loss or theft of intellectual property Companies increasingly store sensitive data in the cloud. An analysis by McAfee found that 21% of files uploaded to cloud-based file sharing services contain sensitive data including intellectual property. When a cloud service is breached, cyber criminals can gain access to this sensitive data. Absent a breach, certain services can even pose a risk if their terms and conditions claim ownership of the data uploaded to them.

Insufficient Due Diligence Increases Cybersecurity Risk. Organizations migrating to the cloud often perform insufficient due diligence. They move data to the cloud without understanding the full scope of doing so, the security measures used by the CSP, and their own responsibility to provide security measures. They make decisions to use cloud services without fully understanding how those services must be secured.

An added layer of insiders Abuse Authorized Access. Insiders, such as staff and administrators for CSPs, who abuse their authorized access to the organization's or CSP's networks, systems, and data are uniquely positioned to cause damage or ex filtrate information. Organizations can have full control and policy for their own organization, but they have an added layer of burden for CSP's unauthorized access. The impact is most likely worse when using IaaS due to an insider's ability to provision resources or perform nefarious activities that require forensics for detection. These forensic capabilities may not be available with cloud resources.

Risks related to lack of control When you host and maintain a service on a local network, then you have complete control over the features you choose to use. If you want to change the service in the future, you are in control. However, when you use a cloud service provider, the vendor is in control. You have no guarantee that the features you use today will be provided for the same price tomorrow. The vendor can double its price, and if your clients are depending on that service, then you might be forced to pay. Remember: you have many ways to protect your data when it is in control. However, once it's in the hands of a cloud service provider, you have ceded control to an entity over which you have no oversight.

Biggest Players of Cloud

When it comes to providing services, the big players in the corporate computing sphere include:
- Google Cloud
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- Microsoft Azure
- IBM Cloud
- Alibaba Cloud


Cloud computing is still a subject of research. A driving factor in the evolution of cloud computing has been CTO's seeking to minimize risk of internal outages and mitigate the complexity of housing network and computing hardware in-house. Cloud computing is beneficial to many enterprises; it lowers costs and allows them to focus on competence instead of on matters of IT and infrastructure. Nevertheless, cloud computing has proven to have some limitations and disadvantages, especially for smaller business operations, particularly regarding security and downtime. The future of cloud computing is likely to include exponential advances in processing capability, fueled by quantum computing and artificial intelligence, as well as expansion of cloud adoption. There will likely be more integration into increased modes of transportation - with self-driving cars and smarter elevators, subways, and aviation. One thing is for sure: The tech industry will continue to expand its adoption of cloud computing, to the benefit of businesses and consumers alike.

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What is Cloud Computing?

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