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Cloud computing: Definition, uses and benefits

At a glance

  • Cloud computing refers to using the internet to access networks and databases stored on remote servers.
  • Three types of cloud computing are Software-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service.
  • Learn more about the cloud and how to leverage it with a technology degree or a Cloud Computing Certificate from University of Phoenix.

Cloud services — programs that run on the internet instead of on local devices — are quickly becoming the standard for online company operations. Roughly 92% of modern businesses use the cloud as part of their business strategy, and 36% of those organizations spend more than $1 million a month on cloud services.

Cloud-based programs offer several advantages over locally stored applications. Cloud platforms are typically more secure since providers have invested heavily in data protection, such as built-in security features.

The cloud is also more convenient. As long as users have internet access, they can get to their files from anywhere on the planet.

Cloud computing can also play a role in the daily lives of a variety of people, from the average person looking to store pictures or documents on a cloud service to system engineers or IT architects managing a cloud environment.

Cloud computing, in other words, is here to stay. And if you’re looking to explore its capabilities in your career, you’ll need to earn a cloud education through an accepted technology degree.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing — immediate access to applications like networks, databases and servers over the internet — is quickly becoming a staple in modern business. It encompasses both the public cloud — an on-demand service where data storage is managed through a third-party provider — and hybrid cloud — a mixed environment made up of public cloud and private cloud services.

Virtually all industries can benefit in some way from cloud computing services. Many companies choose to store data on the cloud rather than locally on a server. Other organizations use cloud computing to allocate user permissions so that each employee has access to the right files, networks and contacts.

Cloud computing services have evolved from a 1963 Massachusetts Institute of Technology project into the online file-sharing process, computing resources users enjoy today. Cloud computing as a practice leapt forward in 1999 when Salesforce, a popular customer relationship management (CRM) platform, became a successful case study for secure, online data storage.

Amazon redefined private cloud computing and hybrid cloud computing in 2006 through the debut of its Amazon Web Services. Amazon Web Services became the first cloud provider allowing users to rent virtual computers for private or corporate use. Google Docs would launch the same year, the first cloud-native office suite available online. Another prominent cloud service provider is Microsoft Azure. 

Today, cloud computing platforms continue to evolve to parallel developments in modern cybersecurity threats. While traditional servers might lack adequate backup storage or regular security updates, thereby jeopardizing data, responsible cloud computing providers feature enhanced data security protocols and automatic security updates.

Types of cloud computing

In 2012, computer technology provider Oracle introduced Oracle Cloud to the public market. For the first time, businesses using third-party cloud services had three different options to choose from: SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service).

Each type of cloud computing serves as an independent cloud service model. Companies can determine the individual type of cloud computing resources that best accommodates their size, industry and needs.

Despite their differences, all cloud services offer on-demand cloud access to customers. Cloud customers can store information, access data, transfer files and correspond with other users through third-party cloud services. These services are engineered to provide easy, secure cloud storage options that can be tailored for each client.

For example, a small business might only need to store receipts and transactions online. Conversely, a larger cloud service provider might require an entirely customized cloud infrastructure.

SaaS

One popular type of cloud computing is SaaS, which allows users to access virtually unlimited amounts of data through an internet connection. Through the SaaS model, users obtain access to their cloud data through a web browser and a third-party cloud provider.

SaaS cloud computing services connect customers with critical online tools. You likely use SaaS applications daily without realizing it. Examples of popular SaaS programs are email, shared calendars, online spreadsheets and internet messaging tools.

IaaS

A type of cloud computing often offered as an enterprise service, IaaS platforms specialize in virtualization, networking and data storage. Many IaaS providers offer pay-as-you-go payment options, so users only pay for the bandwidth and the storage limits their project requires.

Cloud service providers implement IaaS solutions to save money on server costs and hardware maintenance. IaaS programs also help minimize downtime without the need for on-site data centers.

Many companies trust IaaS cloud computing platforms to handle all corporate data, correspondence and web elements. Examples of popular IaaS providers are Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Digital Ocean and Vultr.

PaaS

A robust cloud computing solution, PaaS provides everything a customer needs to leverage full-scale cloud computing. PaaS often includes elements available for IaaS clients, but also offer tools for database management, business intelligence and business development.

PaaS cloud solutions are meant to service a client’s entire cloud life cycle. When a customer partners with a PaaS provider, they receive everything they need to create, test and deploy a customized cloud application. Many PaaS providers also offer regular cloud infrastructure updates, keeping networks well protected against emerging cybersecurity threats.

Which fields use cloud computing?

A wide variety of fields trust the cloud for regular business. Whether you’re building a cloud infrastructure, protecting your organization’s data or managing an active cloud network, your IT field likely uses cloud computing in some capacity.

The following are some of the occupations involved in cloud computing:

  • Systems administrators: Configure computer systems and ensure smooth, ongoing server operations across one or more different cloud environments. To get involved in systems administration, learn how to troubleshoot and resolve server issues.
  • Software engineers: Develop and continually test a variety of software programs, many of which integrate directly with cloud computing processes. To get involved in software engineering, learn math and engineering fundamentals before studying computer science.
  • Network engineers: Design, install and monitor cloud networks for all corporate users. To get involved in network engineering, you’ll need a basic understanding of programming languages and network design skills.
  • Cybersecurity engineers: Identify and mitigate potential threats to all cloud computing programs. To get involved in cybersecurity, you'll need a degree in cybersecurity from a reputable university.
  • IT architects: Design and sustain networks across cloud and traditional server environments. To get involved in IT architecture, familiarize yourself with in-demand IT skills and pursue a degree in information technology.
  • Information systems managers: Monitor all hardware, software and cloud computing systems used across a company or organization. To get involved in information systems management, work toward a master’s degree in information systems after completing a related undergraduate program.
  • Business developers: Maintain relationships with business partners, clients, customers and any cloud providers. To get involved in business development, complete a business or marketing degree before pursuing further education in professional management.

After completing the necessary educational steps, which may also require certifications by third-party providers, you’ll be ready to pursue an IT job. These and other career options can connect you with opportunities to leverage cloud computing daily.

Take a deep dive into network security on our blog!

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

Whether you’re a personal or a professional cloud user, cloud computing offers several distinctive advantages. Businesses and individuals might experience some or all of the following cloud computing benefits:

  • Cost savings: Hardware, software … data centers (with their racks, servers, IT managers and electricity usage) — all these necessities become superfluous when you transition to the cloud. Even better? The costs of maintaining them disappear, too.
  • On-demand availability: With most cloud computing services available on a self-service basis, you can scale the right amount of resources for your company, minus the time-consuming task of capacity planning. As for the data itself, it’s always available so long as you have a solid internet connection.
  • Storage options: Cloud storage lets you maintain data off your company’s premises without compromising security. Depending on your needs, you may opt to leverage a public cloud (hosted by a third party), a private cloud (used exclusively by one or select companies) or a hybrid cloud, which lets data and applications transfer between public and private clouds.
  • Accessibility: Need to access your data from the office? From home? From the beach? One of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is the accessibility it offers: You just need a solid internet connection.
  • Flexibility: The ability to access your data from virtually anyplace is one part of cloud computing’s flexibility. This is a fact that directly benefits employees because they can work from anywhere and collaborate easily. The other part of cloud computing’s flexibility is in the ways it can answer a company’s specific needs. With different storage options, scalability measures and even types of cloud computing, there is something for virtually everyone.
  • Scalability: Cloud computing can adapt to your company’s needs. As your organization grows, you can easily leverage more IT resources. If you wrap up a big project and need to downsize, you can do so relatively quickly without having to worry about maintaining or offloading equipment. Computing power, storage and bandwidth are all available as needed. Even more compelling is the time cloud computing frees up for your IT staff. Instead of maintaining data centers, both in terms of updating equipment and physically organizing it on racks, your company’s IT team can focus on progressing toward other goals.
  • Loss prevention: Because cloud computing is regularly updated with the latest hardware, and because cloud providers generally provide technologies and controls to bolster security, your data is safe in the cloud. Another added benefit? A cloud network enables data redundancy—your data can be mirrored at multiple sites—so that, should the worst happen (whether it’s a network breach, a hurricane or something in between), data recovery is fast and relatively painless.
  • Simple implementation: Like buying a new car, the hard part of implementing cloud computing happens in the beginning. You have to consider your organization’s strategy and goals and find a service provider that can best meet those objectives. From there, you need to develop a transition plan and possibly a training plan so everyone from the CEO to the new hire knows how to leverage the new capabilities. After that, well, it’s time to take it for a spin.

These and other benefits make cloud computing a clear upgrade over other forms of data storage, file sharing or collaborative online work.

Cloud computing is getting a lot of love from the world, and for good reason. While it can be difficult to change what seems to be working just fine, sometimes there are benefits that make the transition worthwhile. For many organizations, cloud computing falls squarely within that category.

If you’re ready to get started, discover the Cloud Computing Certificate at University of Phoenix!