Introduction to Cloud Computing
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing means that instead of all the computer hardware and software you’re using sitting on your desktop, or somewhere inside your company’s network, it’s provided for you as a service by another company and accessed over the Internet, usually in a completely seamless way. Exactly where the hardware and software is located and how it all works doesn’t matter to you, the user—it’s just somewhere up in the nebulous “cloud” that the Internet represents.
Cloud computing is a buzzword that means different things to different people. For some, it’s just another way of describing IT (information technology) “outsourcing”; others use it to mean any computing service provided over the Internet or a similar network; and some define it as any bought-in computer service you use that sits outside your firewall. However we define cloud computing, there’s no doubt it makes most sense when we stop talking about abstract definitions and look at some simple, real examples—so let’s do just that.
Types of cloud computing
IT people talk about three different kinds of cloud computing, where different services are being provided for you. Note that there’s a certain amount of vagueness about how these things are defined and some overlap between them.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) means you’re buying access to raw computing hardware over the Net, such as servers or storage. Since you buy what you need and pay-as-you-go, this is often referred to as utility computing. Ordinary web hosting is a simple example of IaaS: you pay a monthly subscription or a per-megabyte/gigabyte fee to have a hosting company serve up files for your website from their servers.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) means you use a complete application running on someone else’s system. Web-based email and Google Documents are perhaps the best-known examples. Zoho is another well-known SaaS provider offering a variety of office applications online.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) means you develop applications using Web-based tools so they run on systems software and hardware provided by another company. So, for example, you might develop your own ecommerce website but have the whole thing, including the shopping cart, checkout, and payment mechanism running on a merchant’s server. App Cloud (from salesforce.com) and the Google App Engine are examples of PaaS.