What Is Cloud Computing


In an early interview, Steve Jobs once said that a computer is like a bicycle for our minds.

What he meant by this was that human body is poorly designed for locomotion. If you measure the energy that it takes a human to travel one mile by foot, we are – pound-for-pound – amongst the most inefficient animals on earth.

But if you place a human being on a bicycle, we become the most energy-efficient movers in nature. Nothing else can even come close.

In much the same way, computers can compensate for the weak points of human brain’s data processing capabilities in order to greatly improve our potential for thinking and problem-solving.

What is cloud computing?

These days, it seems like every new IT headline has something to do with this new technology called “Cloud Computing”. But despite all of the news and attention, many people don’t seem to be exactly sure what “Cloud Computing” is.

The name “cloud computing” comes from networking diagrams.

As IT administrators lay out their network topologies, they use symbols to represent things like printers, servers and databases. In these diagrams, cloud symbols are often used to represent external systems such as the Internet.

Whenever an internal process or system is taken out of the internal datacenter and hosted in a datacenter which is owned by another company, these systems are said to be “moved to the cloud”.

If you currently have a hosted web site, communicate through a Hotmail account or use Facebook, then you are already using cloud computing in your daily life.

Clients and Service Providers

Cloud computing consists mainly of 2 components: clients, and the service providers.


A client is simply a device that allows a user to interface with any compatible application. Usually, this is done without the need to install any new software, although there are some exceptions. Today, the most common example of a client would be a web browser.

When you go to your Gmail account, you have access to all of its functionality without having to install any special Gmail software.  And if you’re away from the office, you can access your Gmail account from any other computer with a standards-compliant web browser.

Sometimes, a lightweight application may need to be installed in order to facilitate communications with the remote service provider. This is common with VOIP services such as Skype.

Another type of client that’s growing in popularity is what’s known as Thin Client technology. Here, the entire operating system is hosted on a remote server and the thin client only exchanges video, keyboard and mouse data.

To the end-user, it appears as if he’s using the local machine, but all the work is happening remotely in a far-away datacenter.

The client-oriented approach has a number of advantages over traditional software:

Compatibility: A web-based SaaS application will work on any device with a standards-compliant  web browser. If your office contains a mixture of Mac, Windows, Linux and Android mobile devices, they can all use the same cloud-based software without any problems.

Cost: Computers that rely mainly on remotely-hosted applications last longer and require less RAM and hard drive space. And if the machine ever breaks, it can be quickly swapped out with another compatible machine without having to reinstall lots of software or configure lots of new settings.

Security: Since most of the processing and data manipulation is done on the remote server, the risk of malware or virus attack is greatly reduced. And if the computer is ever stolen, the thief will not have access to the remotely stored private data.

If you’ve ever had to update a piece of complex software across 40 different desktops, you’ll quickly see how a client-oriented approach to IT management can help reduce costs while also making life easier.

Service Providers

On the other side of the cloud computing model, you have the service providers. Although service providers are usually external organizations, some larger companies will build “private clouds” for themselves which serve the same function. The most common cloud services are Virtual Servers or Software-as-a-Service.

Virtual Servers

Unlike physical servers which must be purchased, installed and maintained, virtual servers are rented on a pay-as-you-go basis. And you can instantly assign resources as-needed with almost unlimited scalability.

Instead of driving to the office and taking 30 minutes to install a new hard drive into a physical box, an IT administrator can add more capacity within seconds using his iPhone while sitting at home.


Another way of using the cloud would be through Software as a Service. Here, instead of renting an actual virtual machine, you are paying for access to a remotely hosted computer program or data feed. Most people are already familiar with Software-as-a-Service applications. Unlike with virtual servers, you don’t need to concern yourself with the behind-the-scenes technical details.

When you perform a Google Search, you only want to know the search results. You don’t care about the thousands of Petabytes of data that they have stored across dozens of datacenters.

And one of the most exciting trends in Software-as-a-Service is the fact that you can combine components from several different applications to create your own customized applications.

A cloud computing application can consist of a single program, or it can be a mash-up of multiple systems that share code and resources.

Even a simple message board web site will often be a mash-up of many different services and components:

  • You visit the site which is hosted at a web hosting company.
  • An ad serving network such as DoubleClick manages the ads which appear on the site.
  • You log in using Facebook to make a comment.
  • You post videos in your message using an embedded YouTube player.
  • The web sites statistics are tracked using Google Analytics.

Just by visiting a single web site, you’ve used 5 different cloud computing services without even thinking about it.

This capability is part of the reason why the term Service Oriented Architecture has become so popular in recent years. For businesses, this means faster design and deployment of secure, consistent, error-free custom application by recycling and combining components from various systems.

Why is this so important?

One of the most important ways that companies benefit from cloud computing is in the way that computing power now becomes a pay-as-you-go commodity service without any sunk costs or capital investment.

In the early days of the industrial revolution, every factory had to purchase machinery to produce its own power. This meant that big companies could secure monopolies by locking out their smaller competitors who could not afford steam power or other in-house energy production.

But once the power grid was created, everyone had cheap, easy access to energy. This led to an explosive growth in innovation as smaller entrepreneurs were now able to compete without having to invest heavily in power generation.

In much the same way, Cloud Computing has allowed innovative shoestring entrepreneurs to create Software-as-a-Service alternatives that can compete with the biggest names in the industry.

For the IT administrators, cloud computing offers a number of attractive benefits.

Maintenance: With cloud computing, organizations only pay for the benefit of an application, without having to deal with things such as maintenance costs, licensing fees or software and hardware upgrades. It’s really pretty amazing the amount of service that you get with a $10/month web hosting account.

Reliability and Security: Because hosted cloud provider must manage thousands of client accounts, they invest heavily in making sure that their servers are secure, and that redundant hosting facilities are ready to take over in the event of an outage.  Also, the Internet is incredibly robust, and bandwidth is constantly improving. If a small office burns down, it’s a simple matter to move your operations to a secondary office or even have employees work from home.

Synchronization: Although you don’t hear much about this benefit yet, it will become more important as mobile computing continues to grow. In the future, mobile computing and geographically distributed offices will become the norm. When you send an email from your iPhone, it will appear in the “sent items” folder of your laptop and your tablet PC.

How will companies back up their systems when work is done on 100 laptops in 70 different locations? Cloud backup providers have already thought of this and created solutions for tomorrow’s problems.

Resource Utilization: Right now, most of the hardware in your datacenter is underused. You’ve got hard dives at 30% capacity, and processors which will only ever use 20% of their full potential processing capability. With cloud computing, you only pay for what you need, and you save money by sharing unused capacity with others in a multi-tenant environment.

You can’t walk into a computer store and buy a 342 Gig hard drive. But in the cloud, it’s possible.

Scalability: With cloud computing, resource provisioning can be done quickly with the click of a mouse. By filling out an online form, you can scale the size of your datacenter ten-fold overnight. Without cloud technology, this type of provisioning would require several months, a complete server room overhaul, a significant capital investment, and buy-in from your Finance department.

Cloud Computing is Not New

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has been quoted as saying the following about cloud computing:

“I read these articles, and I have no idea what people are talking about. Now maybe I’m an idiot. I mean, it’s really just complete gibberish.”

In order to understand what he meant by this, you need to look back at the history of cloud computing. From a technical point of view, there is really nothing new about cloud computing from a technical standpoint.

  • Back when mainframe servers were too expensive to own, the only way you could get access to one would be to rent computing time on the mainframe and access it using a modem and terminal.
  • And even back in the late-1990s, you could still access cloud-based applications such as email or web-hosting over the Internet.

So if cloud computing has been around for so long, then why are we just hearing about it now?

As I’ve said before, there is nothing technologically new about cloud computing. What’s really changed in recent years has been the available resources, and society’s attitudes towards technology. These are all external things that happen outside of the IT department.

  • Over the past few years, worldwide bandwidth growth has allowed anyone with access to a computer to do business internationally. Countries like China and India have been very aggressive in expanding their broadband capabilities in order to gain a competitive advantage. And this has forced all other countries to invest heavily in their online infrastructure in order to remain technologically competitive.
  • At the same time, we’re also seeing the emergence of digital natives. This latest generation of employees have never known a time without Internet. They are very tech-savvy, and prefer social networking over email, chat, phone or even face-to-face interaction.
  • Society is changing its attitude towards computing. For the past 50 years, most conversation around computing were very technically focused. Today, most technology discussions are more about empowering information, while the inner workings of systems have become less important.
  • The nature of business is also changing. Today’s corporate IT structures are much more fragmented. Employees want to work from home or on the road using mobile devices and laptops. If the sales department needs a new CRM system, whipping out a credit card and paying for an online service is much easier than negotiating with the IT department for a new project. And – more than ever – companies are operating out of many geographically distributed locations.

Cloud computing isn’t just going to change the way your company uses technology. It’s also going to dramatically change the way everyone does business.

If you’d like more information on how your company can leverage the benefits of cloud technology please visit for more information about server backup.

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