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Cloud Computing: What Are Cloud Environments, And How Do Cloud Services Work?

A quick look at the very basic fundamentals of cloud computing and the types of cloud environments you’ll find.

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The yearly tech forecast is looking to be particularly cloudy, with more clouds predicted for the years to come. More companies are joining the cloud than ever before; In their 2022 State of the Cloud report, Flexera found that 57% of companies assessed were beginning to move even more of their workloads to the cloud, highlighting the ever-growing importance of cloud computing. This trend is only set to increase in the near future, and it’s easy to see why. Cloud computing and all its solutions and features come with a lot of benefits that make it an attractive option for businesses both large and small alike. 

But what exactly is cloud computing, what kind of cloud environments are there, how do they work, and what are their specific benefits?

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing refers to the on-demand service of IT resources and services that are stored in servers and delivered to users via the internet. These resources and services can include information, data centers, applications and more. Cloud computing often goes hand in hand with cloud storage, where users can access and download data from storage servers via the internet. Larger clouds are distributed over a wide area, with multiple data centers to manage their data and server loads. 

Cloud computing certainly comes with a lot of benefits and customizations, making it an attractive option for companies of any age and size. The cloud can be used for email services, software development and testing, data backup, disaster recovery, data analytics, customer-presenting web apps, and much more. 

Cloud computing services tend to provide more agility, higher performance, easier maintenance, and heightened security for reportedly lower costs than their on-premises counterparts, which require a company to manage and maintain everything themselves. Performance and security are often aided by resource pooling, as cloud computing services are built using a multitenant architecture–meaning they service a lot of organizations and can crowdsource data and threat intelligence.

Cloud Computing Services

Cloud computing is usually delivered as a pay-as-you-go service, referred to as “as-a-Service” or “aaS.” As-a-Service services tend to be highly favored by a range of companies as they allow for greater customization and a higher level of programming, usually for a lower overall cost and without as much complexity as would be involved in building your entire environment from scratch. There are three main “aaS” services that are relevant here: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

SaaS is a service that delivers software applications to users over the internet. Users (companies, in this instance) do not need to install and maintain that software–everything needed is provided as a direct, online service. SaaS providers handle the management, maintenance, security, and performance of the software, leaving users to just pay the fee to access it.

SaaS providers operate as a multi-tenant environment, often serving hundreds of customers at once. They’re specifically tailored for business use and can provide packages and applications specific to a company’s needs. Data can be accessed more easily, regardless of where the user is accessing that data or what device they’re using to do it. SaaS is easily updated, and customers find that their applications can be highly customized, tailoring their SaaS specifically for their business. 

Overall, SaaS applications have low setup and maintenance costs, they’re highly accessible and scalable, and security is often highly advanced and pervasive. Updates can be rolled out automatically and more quickly, and are often managed by the vendor. Because of this, SaaS is often a favorite among companies who need to outsource their software as they don’t have the budget or the IT staff in-house to do it themselves.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) 

Where SaaS vendors give you all the equipment and tools you need to conduct your business, PaaS vendors give you just the bare bones–or specifically a platform–from which you can build, customize, manage, and run your own security software and applications. Customers don’t have to build and maintain the initial infrastructure for their cloud platform, but instead just focus on creating software bundles within the ready-made infrastructure.

Basically, where SaaS gives you a bottle of lemonade, PaaS gives you the lemons and a juicer.

PaaS is usually available in one of three ways. It can be offered as a private service, as software that is deployed via a public IaaS offering, or as a public cloud service where the vendor supplies networks, storage, the OS, servers, middleware, development tools, intelligence, databases, and more. The customer manages the actual deployment and management of any additional software.

Like SaaS and IaaS, PaaS is a service that offers a management and deployment base in the cloud, helping organizations to build their own cloud-based apps and enterprise-level applications. Also like SaaS and IaaS, PaaS environments are accessed via the internet.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

Keeping in line with the lemonade analogy, IaaS just provides customers with a lemon tree. This is the bare bones of the aaS family, where the customer must undertake the most responsibility. 

IaaS vendors provide their customers with network security and firewalls, a data center, and some servers and storage. Everything else is down to the consumer to provide, build, and manage. IaaS is the preferred method by organizations who want to cut the costs and time commitments of maintaining their own on-prem data center, while having greater flexibility, customization, and reliability.

In brief, IaaS providers supply the infrastructure and manage it (as well as making sure the infrastructure stays secure), while customers buy, install, configure, and maintain all of their own software–including apps, systems, and middleware.

Types Of Cloud Environments 

In cloud computing, there are four types of cloud environments, public, private, hybrid and multi. Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail.

Public Clouds

Public clouds are clouds that are exclusively managed by a third-party provider and serve and manage numerous organizations and their cloud networks. Notable third-party public cloud vendors include Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Public cloud vendors provide scalable and on-demand services, which are available to users on a monthly or yearly subscription. The availability, scalability, and pay-as-you-go/pay-for-use options make the public cloud an attractive, cost-effective option for a lot of businesses. Public cloud providers also supply customers with infrastructure to host workloads in the cloud, along with any additional tools needed such as security, data centers, and more.

Private Clouds

Private clouds are instances of cloud environments where the infrastructure is a single, private environment that is dedicated to one singular organization. Private clouds are either hosted on-prem at the company’s site, through a cloud service provider that offers private services, or at a third-party colocation server. In instances where an organization uses a private cloud, the organization will be in charge of its management, maintenance, day-to-day running, and pretty much all operations and costs.

Private cloud environments may be favored by organizations for generally providing better security, more extensive control over their servers, and greater visibility into their network activity. However, running your own private cloud can be costly and often needs a highly advanced and dedicated IT team. Often, private clouds are used by larger organizations or organizations that have strict compliance guidelines to meet.

Hybrid Clouds

A hybrid cloud is a single environment that is built from multiple cloud, software, and hardware environments. The connection between these environments is established through local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), virtual private networks (VPNs), and—sometimes, but not always—APIs. They also can be a blend of private and/or public clouds. Technically, hybrid clouds also include IT systems that have apps that operate in and out of connected environments. 

Hybrid clouds have to be made of at least one public cloud and one private cloud to be classed as a hybrid model. They provide a single model of operations that manages workloads in the hybrid cloud environment.

Multi Clouds

Multi cloud (or multicloud) environments are exactly what they say on the tin. ”Multi cloud” refers to IT environments that are made up of two or more cloud networks that operate independently of each other but are connected. 

Multi cloud differs from hybrid in the sense that multi clouds can be multiple public cloud services delivered by different cloud providers, which have been configured to work together. On the other hand, hybrid clouds are often a blend of a company’s own data center and public cloud services. In brief, a hybrid cloud has to include a private cloud and is often managed as one environment. Multi clouds, on the other hand, can be entirely public, both public and private, or entirely private. 

These different clouds often perform different functions. Companies can choose to have a range of apps on public, private, and edge clouds (edge referring to computing that aims to bring data storages closer to the data source to improve speed and bandwidth) depending on what is needed or preferred. Multi clouds are especially useful in delivering data to users on the edge.

Summary

Cloud computing is defined by how it offers on-demand computing as a pay-as-you-go service. Cloud computing and cloud environments have become a no-brainer for a lot of organizations that want the customization, scalability, and flexibility the cloud can provide. 

Not every company has the budget or the manpower to build, manage and maintain their entire network, from infrastructure to applications, so cloud computing services help companies achieve the security and flexibility they need—without the added headache of costly maintenance and installation and steep learning curves.