What is cloud computing?

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So you’ve seen the commercials and heard the buzz and finally decided to search “What is cloud computing?” Well, welcome—you’ve come to the right place! Stick around for three short minutes and you will have a much better idea of what cloud computing really is, and more importantly, how your business might be able to take advantage of it.

What is cloud computingLet’s start with the basics. At the technical level, cloud computing is not magic, but from the user’s perspective, it can sometimes seem that way. If we stay with the magic theme, take a minute and imagine the cloud as a genie.  When you tell the genie your wish, all you care about is whether your wish is granted or not. You don’t care about the process that happens behind the scenes to fulfill your request. In a lot of respects, this is just like cloud computing.

Let’s say for instance you wish to play a game of Draw Something with your friend on your smartphone. You go to the app store, download the app, log in, find your friend and less than five minutes later, you’re having fun. This ability to request services for yourself when you need them in cloud computing terms is known as on-demand self-service. You didn’t need to go to a physical store, you didn’t need to call someone to place an order and you didn’t need to sit on hold or wait for anyone else to do anything for you.

(Related: Read Erik’s previous post “How to explain cloud to your spouse“)

Think for a minute what little else is required. You don’t need to go out and buy a computer, or write any code or set up a network.  You don’t care that Draw Something is running on IBM public cloud, known as SoftLayer.  All you care about is that the service offered is available and reliable. As more users join the game, the cloud is able to quickly grow or shrink to meet the change in demand—elasticity in techie terms. This is possible because a cloud provider, like IBM, has a massive number of servers pooled together that can be balanced between its various customers. But ultimately, you don’t care as long as it’s available for you.

Now I realize this is a simple example more at the consumer level, but I think that is actually a good thing when thinking about what cloud computing really is. Whether they realize it or not, most people likely already use bits and pieces of cloud in their daily lives as individual consumers. They like the fact that cloud services are available regardless of where you are (broad network access). It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, or at work or vacationing at the beach (well, most beaches).

But the cloud is more than downloading apps and streaming music.  Cloud computing presents a huge opportunity for businesses as well. The employees of these businesses see the value in their personal lives and ask, “Why I can’t have these same types of benefits at work?”  This is prevalent inside and outside of the IT department. Some people refer to this as the consumerization of IT.

There are several positive side effects that come along with this. Businesses or departments within businesses can focus on their core competencies as opposed to worrying about how some technology works. Smaller companies can get access to technologies and services in the cloud that were only available to the biggest firms a mere five years ago.  And the fact that almost all cloud services are pay as you go (PAYG) makes it very easy and economical to adopt this model.

So getting back to my genie: can I get everything that I want in the cloud with my three wishes? Maybe or maybe not, but the vast capabilities available and the attractive pricing models certainly make it worth asking. I hope this helped you understand cloud computing. If it did, please let me know by commenting below or finding me on Twitter @TalkToErik.

Principal Architect - Digital Technical Engagement

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