Cloud computing: Everything about it

Greta Warren-Fiedel -

October 17, 2022

In cloud computing, computing resources are delivered over the internet. Users no longer require an actively managed IT infrastructure to have network access to IT systems and services. All that is needed to access a shared pool of configurable resources is a device with an internet browser, an internet connection, and a username and password.

The on-demand and de-localized nature of cloud computing, together with its cost effectiveness, has revolutionized how we work. Startups no longer need huge capital expenditure to initiate projects, workers can access their applications faster and from anywhere, and large corporations can reduce energy waste by reducing server sprawl.

The backbone of cloud computing is virtualization. Virtualization is the process of creating a virtual version of something like computer hardware. It involves using specialized software to create a virtual or software-created version of a computing resource rather than the actual version of the same resource. Learn more about the different kinds of virtualization in this article.

The software used in virtualization, known as a hypervisor, has enabled the creation of IT systems that are adaptable to workload changes. Hardware and software cloud computing instances can be deployed on demand. In practical terms, what this means is multiple customers can be pooled into a single server. Each customer will have a virtual machine that is unaffected by what other customers operating on that same server are doing. If one customer requires a lot more computational power, this can be supplied on demand and the speed of the other virtual machines will not be affected.

What are essential characteristics of cloud computing?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cloud computing has 5 essential characteristics:

  • On demand / self service

All you need to access cloud computing is a device with a browser, an internet connection, and a username and password to your service of choice. Interacting with sales representatives is rarely required. Managing a full IT infrastructure is no longer a pre-requisite. For businesses, capital expenditure and time to market are greatly reduced.

  • Broad network access

Cloud computing is accessible from a network. This will mostly be over the internet. In the case of private cloud-based services, the device can be located anywhere within the enterprise.

  • Resource pooling

Cloud service providers use a multi-tenant model where, through virtualization, a single server can safely host multiple clients simultaneously. This process is known as resource pooling.

  • Rapid elasticity

Rapid elasticity is the cloud computing term for scalable provisioning, which is the ability to provide scalable services. Cloud computing users can automatically request additional space, a provisioning that can seem seamless to the end user, in their services. Like resource pooling, this is done through virtualization.

  • Measured service

The billing process is transparent. Each customer pays only for the resources they have used.

 The 3 cloud computing service models

In cloud computing, there are 3 different service models. Each is defined by who holds responsibility and ownership rights over the various aspects of the IT infrastructure: IaaS, PaaS & SaaS

Cloud computing service models compared
Cloud computing service models compared
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)

In IaaS, the supplier offers its users computing power in the form of a bare IT infrastructure, typically comprised of servers, virtualization, storage, and networking capacity. The customer then builds an IT network upon this framework.

The most prominent IaaS vendors are Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon Web Services (AWS). PRTG includes sensors to monitor services from both IaaS providers. We offer 3 different Azure sensors, each monitoring a different aspect of this Microsoft service, and sensors to monitor AWS alarms and costs.

  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)

In PaaS, the supplier offers its users, mostly developers, a variety of hardware and software services. These include the basic infrastructure that defines IaaS as well as middleware and an operating system. In addition, PaaS often includes some applications which developers can then use to design, test, and deploy their own applications. Database integration is typically available in PaaS.

Both AWS and Microsoft Azure also offer a variety of cloud services in the PaaS model, but here the industry is more crowded, and competition is growing. Other well-known vendors include Heroku, VMware Cloud Foundry and Oracle. PRTG includes sensors to monitor PaaS specific AWS services such as EC2, EBS and ELB.

  • SaaS (Software as a Service)

In SaaS , the cloud service company is responsible for all elements of the software and its proper functioning. It must ensure that the underlying infrastructure and hardware are running properly and is responsible for deploying updates to the software. The SaaS cloud provider is also responsible for data security and the end user application. PRTG includes a sensor for common SaaS monitoring as well as Zoom and Microsoft 365 services.

PRTG Hosted Monitor is an example of cloud-based SaaS. Monitoring your IT infrastructure has never been easier, it can be set up in minutes and no dedicated hardware is required. You can start monitoring from your browser right away! We take care of the day-to-day operations such as updates and regular backups of your configuration and data. Our service includes the dedicated monitoring of the security of your hosted instance. Start with a free trial and once you are convinced, switch to one of our flexible plans. You can switch between subscriptions at any time.

What are the different types of cloud computing?

The cloud deployment model is defined by who controls the physical servers running the cloud services and where these are located.

  • Public cloud

In the public cloud, systems and services are available to everyone. All elements here are controlled by the cloud service provider. This makes it cost effective, reliable, and convenient, as no maintenance is required for contracted services. However, there can be concerns over security and data protection. Companies with compliance regulations must also consider matters like data center location.

  • Private cloud

In a private cloud, the hardware that generates all the systems and services are within an organization or physical border. The cloud platform is implemented and maintained by an organization’s IT department within a cloud-based secure environment. This is the most secure and customized form of cloud service, but it is very expensive when compared to the public cloud.

  • Hybrid cloud

Hybrid offers many organizations the best of both worlds. Key services and data can be hosted privately whilst applications are deployed in a public cloud environment. The gap between them can be bridged with a layer of proprietary software. Hybrid cloud is the preferred solution for enterprise IT.

  • Community cloud

A community cloud is a cloud computing infrastructure which is shared amongst several organizations, with shared interests or concerns, from a specific community. This can be managed internally or by a third party. Security, compliance, or matters of jurisdiction are examples of issues that may bring organizations together to share computing resources.

  • Multi-cloud

In the multi-cloud deployment model, an organization uses multiple companies for computing and storage solutions. It integrates these services into a single architecture to improve infrastructure capabilities and costs. This avoids vendor lock-in and ensures savings. It can also help solve compliance issues by contracting local vendors in different geographical areas. Unlike hybrid, in the multi-cloud model all resources are sourced from public cloud service providers.

What are the benefits & advantages of cloud computing?

Whether cloud is an evolution or a revolution in computing is a matter still under discussion. What is clear, however, is that it has had a huge disruptive effect on the IT industry. Beyond IT, cloud’s many benefits and advantages have also resulted in widespread integration.

Reduced costs

To many users, the cost of cloud computing is its greatest benefit, as it simply is much cheaper than any other IT solution. No matter what cloud model a business or individual subscribes to, it will require very little IT infrastructure when compared to the equivalent computing power in a non-cloud scenario. This, of course, means great savings. 

Greater scalability

Rapid elasticity is the term given to scalable provisioning in the context of cloud computing, and it is extremely agile in nature. If you need more computing power, you can get it on demand. There’s no need to call up IT departments and put in requests. For many businesses, especially tech companies, deployment times can be greatly reduced through this scalability and a competitive edge is gained.

More mobility

Another great benefit of cloud computing is that, as it is internet based, it can be accessed from anywhere. The COVID-19 crisis saw many companies have their employees switch to home-office work models for their own safety. This was only possible thanks to cloud computing.

Automatic data backup

Because all data in cloud computing is stored at the cloud service provider’s data centers, a user’s data is always backed up. Cloud computing services are integral to any organization’s disaster recovery plan and helps ensure business continuity. Similarly, for individuals using a smartphone or tablet this means their data is stored safely elsewhere and is always available, even if the device is broken or stolen.

More resource saving & sustainability

Cloud computing is greener that its predecessors. Server sprawl was a big problem in the data centers of old. As servers were not running at full capacity, more servers were required to meet increasing computing power demand, and this also raised energy expenditure as the facilities needed additional cooling. Cloud computing means that servers are running more efficiently and so less of them are required for an equivalent computational power. This reduction in physical servers also helps keep energy expenditure lower.

History of cloud computing

Cloud computing, as we understand it today, was born in 2006 when Amazon launched two products: S3 (Simple Storage Service) and EC2 (Elastic Cloud Computer). However, the ideas underlying cloud computing had been around since the 1950s, most notably in Professor John McCarthy’s mainframe time-sharing theory. Virtualization as the path to making mainframe time-sharing viable was first put forward by computer scientist Christopher Strachey in 1959.

With the basic ideas underlying cloud computing now put forward, three things had to be developed to make cloud computing viable: an operating system capable of managing the physical computer resources, the virtualization technology that would enable distribution of resources, and the internet.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, the predecessors to cloud computing, initially time-sharing but later the further developed grid computing, were given little attention as the IT industry focused on the lucrative utility computing market. However, research teams continued to work in the background at improving the tools needed to achieve full cloud capabilities.

The term cloud computing was first used by executives at Compaq in 1996. This is the year that Compaq rolled out a $2 billion a year business plan to supply internet service providers with servers, as part of their prediction that soon business software would move to the web and services such as on-line consumer file storage would become common place. The three factors needed to make cloud happen, the software capable of managing resources, virtualization, and the Internet, had finally come together. This initiated a period of sector acceleration and the first SaaS business success stories (and failures) started to emerge. 

Despite the dot-com bubble bursting in the late 90s, it was clear that for many businesses cloud was the way to go. However, the concept of a fully public cloud, PaaS and IaaS remained elusive. At this point Amazon, already a leading on-line retailer, had moved into the sector of e-commerce as a service and was reorganizing its internal resources to a service-oriented architecture, maximizing the autonomy of engineering teams and applying a continuous deployment model. To maximize return on their impressive computing capacity opened up its platform to all developers and by 2004 over a hundred applications had been built on top of it. This unexpected developer interest took Amazon by surprise, but the company reacted quickly and soon database, storage and computing power were identified as the first set of cloud infrastructure services to be offered. In the years following its official launch in 2006, AWS launched multiple products and services and in 2010 retail migrated to AWS. Today AWS is market leader, with revenues in 2021 of US$ 62 billion.

The Author:
Greta Warren-Fiedel is a member of the documentation and internationalization team at Paessler. Specifically, she is involved in localizing PRTG user interfaces, adapting them in a technically correct and target culture oriented way, to make them commercially viable in international markets.