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What is Cloud Computing?

14 Feb 2012

If you’re not from a technical background, attempting to understand ‘cloud computing’ may be both confusing and somewhat daunting. But it needn’t be. Put simply, cloud computing is a way to access products and services securely through an internet connection anywhere in the world.







It has been around for years. Whether you’re accessing Facebook, Amazon, Hotmail, or YouTube, you’re using cloud computing. You tap into huge banks of data through some very complex programs, each of which are hosted on various forms of physical hardware, located elsewhere and sometimes in other parts of the world.







The term ‘cloud computing’ incorporates all of the clever networking, languages, programs and environments that allow us to do this. It refers to our ability to link to computer technologies globally through a modest internet connection.







Why the big fuss?







Whilst types of cloud computing have been around for years, the ability to link to these technologies has only recently started to mature. IT investment is expected to focus on this area in the coming years. Where certain technologies were once out of reach for particular businesses, they are now accessible.







Take software, for example. Traditionally, it came on a disc and you loaded it on to your hard drive. In a larger business it was stored on local servers; the IT department would have needed to buy and install the software, as well as set up and maintain the servers it ran on.







More recently, however, software that we access through our web browser has become more popular. This can be referred to as ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS), and is one of three components classified within cloud computing. Sage CRM.com Cloud is an example of software we host and provide using cloud computing. You pay a subscription for the service and have access to it in a Public Cloud environment. The provider (in this case Sage) is responsible for maintaining that service for you. You may choose to access through a Private Cloud environment; this means you are still accessing through a browser, however, your programs and data are located in a Private Cloud. A Private Cloud can be referred to as ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS). 







‘I’ve heard of SaaS, but what else is involved with cloud computing?’







I’ve introduced you to the first component of cloud computing, SaaS, but there are two more. The second component is ‘Platform as a Service’ (PaaS). While SaaS allows access to software through a browser, PaaS offers much more than just buying and installing the software. It allows an organisation’s IT department or IT supplier to:







(i) Source/build and maintain the platform for the users to work from.







(ii) Customise the software to fit the organisation’s processes.







(iii) Develop software for its users.







This can be a complex process. PaaS providers allow their customers to build software and make changes to it using a simple internet connection in an environment they have built, and which they support and manage.







The third component is ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS). Data, hardware, servers and networking components are expensive, and require ongoing maintenance. Providers offer to host products in a central location and provide access to them through a secure internet connection. 







Huge buildings full of hardware exist worldwide (also known as Data Centres), with masses of virtual and real-life security. They are there to ensure that no one can access those servers but the customers using their internet connection, in some cases thousands of miles away. 







Cloud computing gives IT buyers access to technologies, without the constraints of large upfront fixed costs, space, power, or setup times. As technology continues to improve and develop, the ability to access the best products and services from anywhere in the world is also improving and evolving.







Mike Lorge is managing director for Sage Business Solutions. Go here for more.

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