What is cloud computing?

If you’ve been asked this question by a client, you know there isn’t an easy answer—it really depends on who you ask, and every article seems to say it’s something different. But as cloud adoption continues to rise, you’ll likely be asked this question over and over again, and you’ll want a simple answer you can rely on.

So we’ve broken it down for you.

What is cloud computing?

Inspired by the cloud symbol that’s commonly used to represent the internet, the term cloud computing means your client is storing, managing, and processing data over the internet.

But when people talk about cloud computing, they’re usually talking about it in one of two ways, and if you’re not a technical expert, it can get confusing. The first is about cloud computing services, and the second is about how the cloud is deployed. And while they both fall under the cloud computing umbrella, they’re two vastly different concepts.

What are cloud computing services?

Cloud computing services are services—like hardware and software—that are being provided to your client over the internet. There are three distinct categories of cloud services your client can use:

  1. Cloud infrastructure services
  2. Cloud infrastructure services, or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), refers to computing infrastructure like servers, virtual machines, and storage.

    With IaaS, companies don’t have to host or manage expensive on-site servers or data centers. Instead, they get server and storage space as they need it on a pay-as-you-go basis. Essentially, IaaS delivers the same capabilities as traditional physical network infrastructure, but for a fraction of the price.

    Examples of IaaS: Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform

  3. Cloud platform services
  4. Cloud platform services, or platform as a service (PaaS), refers to hardware and software needed for app development.

    Developers who use PaaS are able to use web-based tools to develop, run, and manage their apps without worrying about managing servers and storage, which is typically part of developing and launching an app. It’s an easy way for novice developers and startups to get their apps off the ground without a costly initial investment.

    Examples of PaaS: Google App Engine, OpenShift

  5. Cloud software services
  6. Your clients are likely familiar with the term cloud software services, or software as a service (SaaS). This refers to apps that are available over the internet.

    SaaS applications typically run directly through a web browser, meaning users don’t have to download or install anything on their end to use the software. With SaaS, users also don’t have to worry about maintenance like software upgrades or security patches, as it’s all handled in the cloud.

    Examples of SaaS: Auvik, Google Docs



What are cloud deployment models?

Cloud deployment models are about where the infrastructure resides and who has control over that infrastructure. There are four different cloud deployment models:

  1. Private clouds
  2. Private clouds are internal clouds—they’re hosted on a company’s intranet or data center, and they’re managed and maintained by the company (or their MSP).

    For companies who deal with sensitive corporate and customer data, or have to meet certain compliance regulations, a private cloud adds an extra layer of security, since it’s only used by a single business.

  3. Public clouds
  4. Public clouds are owned and operated by a third-party cloud service provider—like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure—and are shared by multiple businesses.

    Public clouds are also popular due to cost savings: Companies who use a public cloud don’t have to buy, manage, or maintain servers or data centers like with private clouds, and they only have to pay for what they actually use. The pay-as-you-go model is also a good choice for companies who have to scale quickly.

    While some question public cloud security because their data centers are shared by multiple businesses, all of your client’s data remains separate from others, so there isn’t a significant security risk.

  5. Hybrid clouds
  6. Hybrid clouds are a combination of a private and a public cloud. In a hybrid cloud environment, a business’s private and public clouds are connected, so they’re able to share data and applications.

    Hybrid clouds are ideal for companies who want the flexibility and scalability of the public cloud with complete long-term control over their company’s data. Hybrid clouds are also a convenient way for your client to meet compliance regulations without losing out on the benefits of the public cloud.

  7. Multi-clouds
  8. While hybrid clouds use a mix of public and private clouds, multi-cloud deployments use multiple public clouds. For example, a company may use AWS for all of their networking activities and Microsoft Azure for database services.

    While a multi-cloud approach prevents a company from becoming dependent on one provider’s technology, it can quickly become more than your client can manage.

There you have it—a complete, totally not confusing answer to give your clients the next time they ask “What does cloud computing mean?”