Welcome to the Cloud

Despite using it every day, the ‘cloud’ is this elusive, magical thing that the majority of the world struggle to wrap their head around. If you don’t understand it, don’t worry… because we do.

So what is cloud computing? Where is this so called ‘cloud’?

CLOUD FOR DUMMIES (NO OFFENSE INTENDED HERE OF COURSE!)

A very basic analogy is storing furniture at your home vs. storing furniture at a storage warehouse/facility. If you store your furniture (or in computing terms, your data/files/etc.) at your home, this would be the equivalent to your local storage or storing data on your computer’s hard drive.

If you want someone else to take responsibility for your furniture and store it on your behalf, you might store your belongings at an external warehouse where a company looks after it for you. In computing terms, this is how the cloud works. You are sending your data via the internet to an external storage facility and someone else makes sure it runs smoothly, is virus free, etc. Sometimes you may get charged for this, while other companies might offer it for free. Somewhere in the world (often in multiple locations), are actual physical servers that are hosting your data.

Whenever you wish to access that data, you just send a request over the internet and voila! It is sent back and displayed on your screen. Sadly, it is not actually a sitting in a white puffy cumulus cloud.

CLOUD FOR THE MORE TECHNICAL

It is a grand term that is thrown around a lot. In many ways the cloud is a colossal achievement, the next evolution in a stream of technical advancements culminating in global services the likes of which the world has never seen before, and which existed only in science fiction a generation ago. So let’s break this down and quickly describe how this came about, as it explains quite well what the cloud means in a practical sense to consumers.

Once upon a time, not many years ago, a business may have had a big computer in a cupboard that served their company web page. There was probably one or two staff that knew how it worked and they’d dust off the keyboard and perform arcane magic to keep the thing running most of the time.

Years later, and businesses started to take advantage of remote administration tools available in newer operating systems. This allowed for systems to be monitored remotely, and many problems could be fixed from anywhere in the world. Many took this a step further and moved their servers out of the cupboard, and into their ISP (Internet Service Provider) data centre to gain advantages of their infrastructure. Security became a greater concern, as businesses became increasingly dependent on the web and expanded the amount of data and systems they made available online.

The next evolution, The Cloud, became a thing when giant companies like Amazon realised they had massive existing data storage capacity that they could make available to everyone. Now with their AWS service it is possible to create an account for free, and even setup a small server for a year at no cost (conditions apply – these are paid services after all, but if you’re savvy then you can keep these costs down). You can spin up big servers or small, Linux or Windows, and more. The systems may be monitored from anywhere, and they are all standardised and secure. Amazon staff maintains the hardware and maintenance is much easier. Other companies sprung up to provide platforms for niche services; this includes things like Box and Dropbox for file sharing, Netflix for movies, Facebook for social media etcetera.

The next generation will take the existence of cloud services for granted, but those of us who have seen this technology blossom around us know what a massive impact this has had on the world. The cloud has made this possible, so we don’t need to tell you why this is important.

As a step by step evolution of systems, the cloud makes sense. Now let’s look at what we get out of all this:

  • Cloud hardware is located in data centres. These are specialised buildings designed to provide continuous power, cool temperature, and stability. Much planning goes into the location of these data centres to ensure continuous operation unhindered by the local environment. Staff at the data centre have sophisticated tools to constantly monitor all systems, and keep everything running smoothly.
  • Cloud servers may be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Everything from your favourite movie to your work documents to your friends may be accessible on your phone, tablet, computer, TV, etc.
  • Cloud expenses are relatively low. It costs a lot of money to setup and maintain a server. It requires specialist knowledge of hardware and software systems, so there are staff and operational expenses in addition to material costs. Data centres are massive and work on scale, so the costs are generally far less than you’d have to pay to setup anything remotely comparable.

In another topic, third party services, we talk more about the services that are used by our clients; this covers everything from Amazon web services which we often use to host web sites and applications, Apple and Google developer accounts, email services, and more.

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