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What is cloud computing? – A guide to cloud computing technologies

Today, we talk a lot about the benefits of cloud computing and while most people understand the general notion of cloud computing, we wanted to provide a more in-depth look at what exactly is cloud computing and what are the benefits.

Simply put, cloud computing technology gives users access to storage, files, software and servers through an internet-connected device including computers, smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

Cloud computing allows users to store data and access programmes over the internet rather than on a physical hard drive or a local computer. Cloud computing providers store and process data in a location that is separate from end-users.

Cloud computing services – including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence – are delivered over the internet (“the cloud”) to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, highly available and disaster-resistant systems, and economies of scale.

Businesses of any size can harness powerful cloud software and cloud infrastructure to become bigger, leaner and more agile, as well as compete with much larger companies. Unlike traditional hardware and software, cloud computing helps businesses stay at the forefront of technology without having to make large investments in purchasing, maintaining, and servicing equipment themselves. The cloud service providers do this for them, and for all cloud customers.

Because you typically pay only for cloud services you use, you lower your operating costs, run your business more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.

How does cloud computing work?

Rather than building and owning their own computing infrastructure or data centres, companies can ‘rent’ access to anything from applications to storage from a cloud service provider. This helps businesses of all sizes reduce the costs associated with owning and maintaining their own IT infrastructure, and instead simply pay for what they use when they use it.

In turn, providers of cloud computing services can benefit from significant economies of scale by delivering the same services to a wide range of customers and by being able to scale up and scale down dynamically, rather than having to build infrastructure that caters for the peak times while being idle at other times.

Types of cloud computing

Cloud computing underpins a vast number of services. This includes consumer services like Gmail or the cloud backup of the photos on your smartphone, through to the services which allow large enterprises to host all their data and run all their applications in the cloud.

Most cloud computing services fall into four broad categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), serverless, and software as a service (SaaS). These are sometimes called the cloud computing “stack” because they build on top of one another.

SaaS

SaaS is a form of cloud computing in which users can access software applications without needing to download, install, or store that software and its various components on their devices or local computers.

Most cloud computing software of this kind is subscription-based with an annual or monthly fee. In return, users get seamless solutions and features without needing hardware, being bogged down by installing updates, or other maintenance tasks.

Users connect to the application over the Internet, usually with a web browser or application on their phone, tablet, or PC.

Examples of SaaS include Dropbox, Salesforce, AirBnB, Cisco WebEx or Office365.

PaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud computing solution that provides developers with an easy-to-use platform to create their own software, web applications, or other programming projects. Businesses use PaaS to create proprietary apps and programs without the need for servers or special testing environments.

PaaS is designed to make it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps, without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network, and databases needed for development.

Examples of PaaS include Windows Azure, OpenShift, and Google App Engine.

IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides companies with access to servers, firewalls, virtual machines, storage and other infrastructure. It’s ideal for companies that create highly specialised or unique proprietary applications, but who don’t want to spend time or other resources buying, storing, configuring, or maintaining the necessary equipment. Instead, they access ready-to-use infrastructure over the internet.

IaaS is the most basic category of cloud computing, sitting at the bottom of the stack and allowing businesses to rent IT infrastructure on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Examples of IaaS include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Cisco Metacloud.

Serverless computing

Overlapping with PaaS, serverless computing focuses on building app functionality without spending time continually managing the servers and infrastructure required to do so. The cloud provider handles the setup, capacity planning and server management for you. Serverless architectures are highly scalable and event-driven, only using resources when a specific function or trigger occurs.

Examples of serverless computing include Microsoft Azure Functions, Google Cloud Functions, and AWS Lambda.

Benefits of cloud computing

The benefits of cloud computing are changing the landscape of business. In a world where customers demand personalised marketing and instant and impeccable service, it’s fast becoming not just the best way to drive successful and innovative businesses, but the only way.

Here are some of the major benefits of cloud computing to businesses large and small:

Speed

Most cloud computing services are provided self-service and on-demand, so even vast amounts of computing resources can be provisioned in minutes, typically with just a few mouse clicks, giving businesses a lot of flexibility and taking the pressure off capacity planning. There is no equipment to set up and there’s no equipment to maintain. Cloud providers handle the maintenance of physical components, as well as security and software updates.

Save money

Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware and software and setting up and running on-site data centres—the racks of servers, the round-the-clock electricity for power and cooling, and the IT experts for managing the infrastructure. It adds up fast. For small businesses, cloud computing is particularly appealing as there is little to no upfront investment required. There’s no hardware or equipment to buy, no software to install, and no licensing fees.

Reliability

Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity easier and less expensive because data can be mirrored at multiple redundant sites on the cloud provider’s network and even around the globe. Cloud computing providers also offer redundant storage (generally in multiple data centres), bolstered security, and faster recovery.

Scalability

The benefits of cloud computing services include the ability to scale elastically. In cloud speak, that means delivering the right amount of IT resources—for example, more or less computing power, storage, bandwidth—right when they’re needed, and from the right geographic location.

In other words, you on pay for what you need. You can also add tools and resources for a growing team or scale back when you need them. Cloud computing has been particularly important to many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to scale back accordingly before ramping up their requirements as the recovery has been ongoing.

Performance

The biggest cloud computing services run on a worldwide network of secure data centres, which are regularly upgraded to the latest generation of fast and efficient computing hardware. This offers several benefits over a single corporate data centre, including reduced network latency for applications and greater economies of scale.

Data security

Many cloud providers offer a broad set of policies, technologies, and controls that strengthen your security posture overall, helping protect your data, apps, and infrastructure from potential threats. Security is handled by your provider both online and physically at their data centres. This not only helps to ensure better protection of your data, but it also contributes towards cost savings as all of your security needs are handled by your cloud computing provider. Many cloud computing providers, such as Salesforce, for example, will partner with customers to provide extra security recommendations on the best approaches for dealing with security threats and collaborate to combat those threats.

Free up your time to focus on the important things in your business…your customers

Cloud computing is changing the way businesses large and small operate. We have highlighted a number of key benefits above, however, the one that stands out the most is time. Using cloud computing services frees up time in your business to allow you to focus on the things that matter the most – your customers.

At NEC New Zealand, we partner with leading providers who use cloud computing technologies to deliver market-leading solutions including NEC-id, JNCTN, Palo Alto Networks and Juniper Networks. Talk to the team today and see how we can leverage cloud computing technologies to help your business to save money, increase productivity, and improve business performance. And to offer new and enhanced services to your customers.

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