How Things Work: Cloud Computing

Cloud computing simplifies computing projects by having certain services provided on the Internet. Data can be stored over the Internet in servers like these. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Cloud computing simplifies computing projects by having certain services provided on the Internet. Data can be stored over the Internet in servers like these. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

At the rate at which technology is being developed, it is easy to get lost in a bombardment of tech words and fancy lingo referring to new pieces of hardware and software. One of these words that has gained more attention in recent times is the term “cloud computing.” Upon hearing the term, it is probably not entirely clear what it is or how it works, but for those who have used some form of cloud computing service themselves, it is evident why it has become a buzzword used even at the top levels of the software and information technology industries.

Cloud computing may be simpler than it seems. Think of a network of computers that are either linked for the use of a company or people simply working on a similar project. In order to make sure that progress occurs as efficiently as possible, it is important that each person is equipped with the right hardware and software to do his or her job. Additionally, when dealing with a project that may eventually expand, it is also important to consider the costs of paying for licensing of additional members, costs of additional data storage, and even upgrades in software versions. This would normally be frustrating for any group using conventional file sharing or file transfer methods. With cloud computing, however, many of these problems are easily resolved. By abstracting key aspects of a project, such as memory storage and file sharing, and providing them as a service on the Internet, the project becomes more scalable and dynamic, while maintaining structure and simplicity in use, according to

Among people who are more familiar with computing and its terminology, cloud computing has often been compared to grid computing, utility computing, and autonomic computing. Grid computing commonly refers to a cluster of networked, loosely coupled computers that form a virtual supercomputer, used in order to perform very large tasks. Utility computing refers to computing resources that are charged based on the amount of use, similar to utilities such as electricity and water. Autonomic computing refers to computer systems that are capable of self-management. In many ways, certain cloud computing services share common traits with each of these concepts. However, every service exhibits different aspects based on its functionality, and thus cannot be classified into one category or another.

Aside from being scalable and dynamic, cloud computing services are often cost-efficient due to an individual service’s ability to maintain its technological infrastructure on its own, in addition to the utility-based pricing often implemented with its use. Since services are accessible online, information resources can be accessed on any machine with Internet access. Given the centralized structure of these services, security becomes more efficient while maintaining reliability provided by redundant sites in terms of disaster recovery and business continuity. Switching costs associated with cloud computing are often very low. A business looking to transfer their system “to the cloud” can do so with minimal barriers to entry, according to

Several cloud computing applications are Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, Managed Service Providers, Service Commerce, and Internet Integration. Services include Salesforce CRM, which is used to automate and organize sales-related activities; Amazon Web Services, which is a group of software services developers can use to build cloud-based systems; and Google App Engine, which is a platform for hosting and developing web applications.

Cloud computing, though relatively new, is slowly starting to have a crucial impact on the way we handle information and Internet resources. It is possible that we may soon see cloud computing implemented as a standard in the near future. What is now known as just another buzzword could become a gateway to a new age of information technology.