What is the definition of cloud services?

Cloud services are services that are delivered over a network (usually the internet) rather than through local IT infrastructure. They are already hugely popular in both the consumer and the business environments (especially amongst SMBs) and are also becoming increasingly popular with governments around the world. Here is what you need to know about them.

Understanding the cloud services

In the early days of IT, everything was done on local machines. As time went by, the idea of networking emerged and, eventually, led to the arrival of the internet. In its early days, the internet had very limited functionality, but as technology developed it slowly became transformed into the robust, flexible infrastructure we know today. At that point, it became not just a place to discover information, but a platform to deliver services, and the cloud, as we know it began to emerge.

1. For practical purposes “cloud” generally means public cloud

From a technical perspective, there are two main forms of cloud services. Private clouds are essentially private networks that are for the sole use of one customer, known as a tenant. These tend to be used when organizations want the very highest degrees of security and are not only prepared to pay for it but prepared to sacrifice some of the scalability and flexibility which has helped to make cloud services so popular.

Cloud Services

Public clouds are generally what people mean when they talk about “the cloud”. These are services provided on a communal basis, generally through the public internet, although they can often be accessed through a more secure channel such as a private network or a virtual private network.

Although public clouds are, technically, less secure than private clouds (and on-premises infrastructure), if you go with a reputable cloud vendor, the security they offer is more than adequate for most purposes. If it is not, public clouds can be combined with private clouds (an arrangement known as hybrid clouds) and/or with on-premises infrastructure so that companies can leverage the benefits of the public cloud as far as they possibly can, while still retaining maximum security when they need it.

The three basic types of cloud service

At present, cloud services can be split into three basic types, software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS).

SaaS is exactly what it sounds like. Well-known examples of SaaS include Google Apps and G Suite, Office Online and Office 365, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

IaaS means virtual storage, servers, and networking. Storage may be the cloud’s most popular service, certainly, if you include consumer use, since the ability to switch seamlessly between devices, including mobile devices, is largely dependent on it. It’s also become a convenient way for people to avoid the pain of having to send large email attachments, you can now just send a download link instead. It’s popular with businesses too, but these days virtual servers and networking are, at least, giving it a close run as the most popular IaaS service.

PaaS is the layer between infrastructure and software, essentially the likes of an operating system, middleware and database management and development tools. Basically, PaaS is what you need if you want to build your own applications on IaaS infrastructure instead of just relying on commercial SaaS options.

2. Public cloud platforms appear to be very much the way of the future

These days, many of the world’s biggest IT companies are shifting their focus to the cloud. For example, Microsoft, Google and Amazon have all become known as major cloud platforms and long-standing providers of standalone software products are in the process of guiding users away from their old flagship products and towards their cloud-based alternatives, while newer IT companies are increasingly likely to be cloud-native, Salesforce, possibly, being the most obvious example of this.

3. Cloud services change IT purchases from Capex to Opex

While there are many practical benefits to the cloud, possibly its single biggest selling point, for both vendors and users, is the fact that it changes the IT purchasing cycle from being one of occasional, large purchases to a pay-as-you-go model.

From the perspective of cloud vendors, this replaces erratic, spikey income with far more predictable monthly revenues, boosted by occasional purchases of add-on services. From the perspective of users, it exchanges capital expenses which may become obsolete long before they are properly depreciated for predictable operating expenses, which can be adjusted upwards or downwards depending on a company’s needs, wants and budget at any given time.

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