What is Cloud Computing in Layman Terms – Really?

 In Cloud Services

When many people think of “The Cloud,” the natural reaction is to look up. Associated with images of the white and fluffy sort, computing or data clouds, in reality, are very earthbound and very ubiquitous. Cloud computing in layman terms is just a different way of storing and accessing data over the internet. In a traditional sense for an individual consumer, data is typically stored “locally” – usually on the hard-drive of your computer. This means that your data is close at hand and easy to access. Just fire up your machine and it’s all there. However, this gets complicated when large amounts of data become involved or when you are frequently sharing and altering that data. How do you store all that data on a single hard drive? How do others access data on your private machine? What happens when you need to upgrade or change devices? How do you back up or protect that data considering the changes in security trends? With cloud computing, these questions – among many others – are answered so you can understand cloud computing in layman terms.

What Makes Cloud Computing Different

Before cloud computing, businesses would purchase vast amounts of data storage equipment and hire whole teams dedicated to the upkeep of that equipment in-house. This required companies to dedicate large amounts of resources to the task of data storage. Such an undertaking was difficult for companies that did not specialize in data or technology at all. To understand cloud computing in laymen terms, you need to understand that cloud computing abstracts the details of data storage to companies that provide these services as their bread-and-butter so that consumers can focus more on their real priorities. Utilizing cloud computing changes your interaction with your data in three major ways:

  • It’s managed for you meaning you don’t need to worry about the problems of providing multiple licenses, data loss due to viruses or backup issues, rolling upgrades of servers. Google or Amazon will do all of that for you so that you can focus on whatever your goals are.
  • Your data is where the internet is – which is crucial for mobile or remote teams who do not work in the same physical space every day. All you need is an internet connection and your login information, and you have instant access to all of your data.
  • It’s secure according to your specifications. You have the often cheaper option of hosting your data on public servers which are physical servers that everyone else using this service also uses. Your data is still private to your organization; it just means you’re sharing physical space. However, you may elect to use more private space which often is a more premium service such as Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud.

Types of Cloud Computing

When researching the cloud, you might come across three major categories that offer different services provided for you. You might note that they are not entirely distinct from one another and are often vaguely defined. So you can better understand cloud computing in layman terms, we’ve explained the differences below.

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is often the most basic service as you are essentially purchasing access to raw computing or storage hardware over the internet- this might include direct access to servers or storage. Most of these services are set up to pay-as-you-go, so you only get what you need. A typical example of IaaS is web hosting: a monthly subscription or a per-MB/GB fee to have a host company store and serve up files for your site from their hardware.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) means you are using a complete application or software suite hosted on someone else’s servers. The G-Suite is a perfect example of this. You log in, create your content, and stash all of it on their servers.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) is usually a service wherein you develop your software using web-based tools, but your software runs on the systems and hardware provided by another company. As an example, you might build your storefront website but that site – including the cart, checkout, and payment systems – is running on another company’s server that they provide to you as a service. App Cloud from Salesforce and the Google App Engine are good examples of this service.

Advantages and Disadvantages

When data is stored “on the cloud,” you are essentially giving your data to a third party over an internet connection and trusting them to maintain and protect your data for you by adapting to the changes in cybersecurity. You are abstracting the details of owning and running your computing hardware to another company that provides this service for you so you can focus on your own goals. Suddenly data storage goes from buying hard drives and server racks and hiring personnel to manage this technology to pay another company to do all of that for you. This is a transition from up-front capital costs to more of a monthly operational cost – which may or may not be more expensive in the long run if you factor in personnel and upkeep costs of running your servers. However, this all means that you need a reliable, high-speed internet connection to access your data. This is relatively easy to access in the United States, but not so in some developing nations or rural areas where internet access is questionable. You are also dependent on buying the cloud services that are available to you from existing suppliers which may not precisely match your needs or can change depending on the decisions of the supplier. Cloud computing is also fairly new and largely unregulated – much like the rest of the internet. So we can understand why it may be difficult to find a clear explanation of cloud computing in layman terms.

The real impact of the cloud on IT is from the outsourcing implications. Cloud computing is merely a system in which an organization can take some or all of their IT infrastructure and have someone else manage it for them – or even something else. To put it metaphorically, cloud computing in layman terms is very much like renting a fully-furnished apartment rather than buying your own house – it is often very nice, and it means you don’t need to mow the lawn or clean the gutters, but it’s going to cost you and after all, some people enjoy that sort of thing.

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