The cloud is descending, but for many companies, they’re not entirely sure what they are going to find inside. Large companies like Microsoft, VMware, Amazon and Google have sold consumers on a number of advertising lines relating to computing as service in the cloud. But these lines often differ from one another and can leave clients feeling confused about what the cloud can really offer them, and if it is any different from the VPS hosting that they have become used to. While the big providers would like you to believe in a single, simple answer for the cloud, the truth is a bit more malleable than is often claimed.
Computing as a service follows similar models such as software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service – all of which have made headway thanks to the proliferation of virtual servers and the genesis of the cloud. In a typical hosted VPS situation, a company can see a number of its computing functions outsourced to a virtual machine that is located on a single, physical server. This machine acts as though it is the only one on the server, though it does share the basic resources of the server with other VMs that are present.
Cloud computing, meanwhile, refers to operations, processes and data that are carried out and stored on the Internet or “the cloud”. Cloud hosting options make use of a storage server – often SAN – to hold data, and also multiple host servers that share the data of the company among them. This allows a cloud provider to not only offer substantially better uptime than other computing as a service options, since if one server fails there are multiple others to take its place, but a provider can also throttle or increase bandwidth as necessary. This means that if a company is hosting a Web page on the cloud and their traffic begins to increase at mid-day, their cloud provider can increase their bandwidth to compensate. When the traffic falls of at night, the bandwidth can be scaled back, and the company will only have to pay for the bandwidth it actually used, instead of what it might need.
There are a number of computing processes that can be outsourced to a cloud hosting option – everything from data storage to billing reports, mobile apps, video processing and audio processing, to name a few – and all can run without the need for company oversight. This can free up space on local physical servers or can help to eliminate them altogether, and while the initial cost of cloud hosting may be more than the cost of physical hosting, the lack of maintenance and the removal of the need to upgrade can often cancel that cost out.
Security is often an issue that is talked about when it comes to clouds, and providers have taken a number of approaches to this. The first is simply ramping up protection, and this has led to cloud servers that are far more secure than a year ago, even considering recent downtimes for well-known public clouds. Private and hybrid cloud options are also available, and these are designed to provide the scalability of the cloud, but without the chance that another business and their data could affect performance or that a hacker could break in and steal data. Private and hybrid clouds are gaining ground, especially among larger companies that do not want to be a single voice in a public cloud.
With strong data-crunching abilities, computing as a service is making inroads into the cloud market.