“The cloud” refers to servers that are accessed over the internet, and the software and databases that run on those servers. Cloud servers are in data centers all over the world. By using cloud computing, users and companies don’t have to manage physical servers themselves or run software on their own machines.
The cloud enables users to access the same files and applications from almost any device, because the computing and storage takes place on servers in a data center, instead of locally on the user device. Therefore, a user can log into their Instagram account on a new phone after their old phone breaks and still find their old account in place, with all their photos, videos, and conversation history. It works the same way with cloud email providers like Gmail or Microsoft Office 365, and with cloud storage providers like Dropbox or Google Drive.
For businesses, switching to cloud computing removes some IT costs and overhead: for instance, they no longer need to update and maintain their own servers, as the cloud vendor they are using will do that. This especially makes an impact for small businesses that may not have been able to afford their own internal infrastructure but can outsource their infrastructure needs affordably via the cloud. The cloud can also make it easier for companies to operate internationally, because employees and customers can access the same files and applications from any location.
Definition of a Cloud Application
A cloud application is an Internet-based program where some, or all, of the processing logic and data storage is processed in the cloud. The user interacts with the application via a web browser or a mobile application, and the data processing is managed by a combination of the local device and a cloud computing solution. From the user’s perspective, the cloud application behaves like a standard website, but the computing and data processing are handled by the cloud via an API (application program interface) or a hybrid of both.
Cloud Application Designs
Cloud applications are usually designed in one of three ways:
- A local device runs a browser, and the application looks like a classic web solution using HTML sent by the cloud server to the local device. In this case, the logic, the data and the formatting of the output are controlled by the cloud servers. A well-known example of such an application is DropBox, where the user interacts with the application in a web browser to upload and interact with their files, but all the data processing and storage happens remotely on the cloud.
- The local device runs a native application handling some of the processing, and the native application uses APIs to send and receive data to the application on the cloud server. An example of this is when a smartphone app is loaded onto your phone which runs much of the program logic. These are often designed so that if the connection is lost, they can still function by storing the changes locally. Once the connection is restored the data will be synced with the cloud.
Why Cloud Applications?
Cloud applications bring several benefits to the individual consumer and to the technology company:
- Keep Costs Down: Since most of the processing power and storage is handled remotely, cloud applications could reduce the cost of your infrastructure – no need to maintain your own servers – as well as the cost of supporting your applications onsite. Depending on what software you are using locally, subscribing to a similar SaaS product could drastically reduce your licensing costs as well.
- Accessibility: Cloud applications aren’t tied to a single machine – you can access and interact with the application from wide variety of devices safely and securely from any Internet connection.
- Reliability: Cloud applications have access to more computing resources than it would be feasible to have onsite. Your applications can rapidly scale without an increase in your capital costs. Better yet, this scaling can be dynamic, so you’ll only use the resources when you need them.
- Standardization: When applications are hosted on trusted partners such as Google, they are guaranteed to be reliable and accessible. It also ensures that your data is safely and securely backed up remotely. Furthermore, it’s easy to ensure that everyone in your organization is working from the same version of the cloud application.
Cloud Application Categories
Generally, cloud applications fall into one of the following three categories:
- SaaS – Software as a Service: The most common category and the one that most users are already familiar with, this is a third-party cloud application where the third party not only supplies the hardware for running the application, but also the software application. Additionally, they provide complete support of the systems and the application. An excellent example of this would be Google’s G Suite that includes Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, etc. Using a SaaS solution eliminates the need to buy expensive equipment, expensive licensing and they provide support for the hardware and software.
- IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service: IaaS is where a third party provides the infrastructure and infrastructure support in the cloud, but the software designer supplies the middleware, the applications, and the application support. Middleware is the software between the operating system and the application, used to give extended features to the operating system functions and simplify programming. An example of this is Google Compute Engine, a sub-product of the Google Cloud Platform, which allows developers access to the same infrastructure that Google uses in their products on demand to handle spikes in usage.
- PaaS – Platform as a Service: PaaS is like IaaS, but it also includes some of the software, middleware, and operating systems. The PaaS supplier takes care of supporting the hardware and the software they provide. They also keep the software up to date. The developer provides the applications and the application support.
The Future of Cloud
The term “the cloud” started off as a tech industry slang term. In the early days of the Internet, technical diagrams often represented the servers and networking infrastructure that make up the Internet as a cloud. As more computing processes moved to this servers-and-infrastructure part of the Internet, people began to talk about moving to “the cloud” as a shorthand way of expressing where the computing processes were taking place.
Within the next few years, most if not all existing non-cloud apps will move to the cloud. Today’s computing landscape is evolving, and more and more companies are coming to the realization that the cloud is the wave of the future. With cloud implementation, data is accessible from almost anywhere and from device.
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