What is cloud computing… really?

Let’s starts with a simple working definition:

“Cloud computing refers to computing on the Internet, as opposed to computing on a desktop.”

Hmmm, so cloud computing just means Web-based software, right? Well, no. Truth be told, a lot of major software vendors are saying “We do cloud computing too!” simply because their software works over the Internet. Cloud computing is about MUCH more than that. Inasmuch as Web-enabled software is wonderful and very useful – it has also been around for a long time. It’s nothing new in itself.

In reality, cloud computing encompasses other forms of computing beyond software, including the underlying hardware (infrastructure) and platforms. In many ways, cloud computing is strikingly similar to desktop computing in that it encompasses the same three basic elements: hardware (infrastructure), operating systems (platforms), and software. The main difference is that, with cloud computing, all three elements are “rented” over the Internet, rather than being managed locally.

Let’s take a closer look at the definition above:

“…computing on the Internet, as opposed to computing on a desktop.”

What does it mean to say “computing on the Internet”? We simply mean that you can log onto a website to do whatever you might normally do on a PC or local server. For example, you can “rent” and manage all your hardware over the Internet, configure computing environments and/or run software. Cloud computing lets us do all of our computing on the Internet as a viable alternative to buying, installing, upgrading, uploading, downloading, backing up and otherwise managing physical hardware, operating systems and software. It doesn’t require a big upfront investment, because you “rent” only what you need, and as much as you need. With cloud computing, your PC is mainly used as a way to run a Web browser. The actual processing and computing is done by remote servers (or virtual servers) and software that may be scattered across the Internet, thus the word “cloud.”

In cloud terminology, the term “as a service” loosely refers to the ability to use something over the Internet on as-needed basis. The terms software, operating systems and hardware are confusingly described as Cloud Software (or Software-as-a-Service), Cloud Platforms (or Platform-as-a-Service) and Cloud Infrastructure (Infrastructure-as-a-Service). To make matters even more confusing, the acronyms SaaS, PaaS and IaaS are often used. Since our eBook is entitled Cloud Computing Made Easy, we’ve adopted the lesser confusing terms: Cloud Software, Cloud Platforms and Cloud Infrastructure, though we will occasionally reference the other terms. We recommend these terms. In due time, we believe that the “as a service” suffix will be dropped by everyone in favor of “infrastructure”, “platforms” and “software.”  Afterall, we don’t say “software on the desktop” now.  Rather, the desktop is implied as a suitable delivery mechanism for software. 

Next, we will talk more about “as-a-service”, and will drill down into the deeper significance of cloud computing.


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