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What Is This “Cloud” Thing?

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Over the last few months, since the “cloud” term started appearing in advertisements, the internet, iPhones, etc. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion; what is the “cloud” and why are people making such a big deal out of it?

Here is my quick and non-technical response to these two very good questions.

The simple answer is the internet and the cloud are the same thing. Let me explain this a bit further. So right now you probably, like the diagram below illustrates, have a mobile phone, laptop or desktop computer and use it to access services that run on the internet. Some obvious examples being Gmail, Facebook, Apple’s App Store, Dropbox etc. These services are all running somewhere out in this massive electronic space which some people, mostly marketing people, prefer to refer to as the cloud – it sounds more catchy. You and I have been referring to it as the internet for quite some time so it’s nothing new. However what is new is the delivery of services within the cloud referred to as “cloud computing”.

What is “cloud computing?” It’s a service which is offered from within the cloud that can perform a number of tasks from storing and sharing data, running personal or business websites, processing information, hosting software solutions etc. Like most services on the internet we don’t really need to know where these services are physically located in the world, just that they’re out there on the internet, ready to be used by our phones and computers when we call on them. We also don’t want to be troubled with these services failing or running slow and one of the major benefits of cloud computing is that it has an inherently horizontally scalable structure that addresses these problems. What do I mean by “horizontally scalable“? Imagine you have a website which lets people book concert tickets. For a better part of the year, when bookings aren’t being made, you don’t get a lot of visits to your website. However when the tickets are released you get thousands of hits every second and you want to make sure you can respond to them all, quickly. A website running in the cloud can be configured to go from running on 2 or 3 computers to running on 20 or 30 to deal with the demand.

So if someone says “cloud” think the internet, and if someone says “cloud computing” think about a place in the cloud where IT developers can, only until a few years ago, build really cool services to make everyone’s life easier.

This article skims the surface of what the “cloud” is all about, what you can do with it, which companies offer what options etc. There are whole articles written about these aspects, i.e. SaaS, PaaS, CDN, geographic redundancy, page and block blobs, multi-tenancy etc. So if you’re interested in reading further then do some Googling, or start from the sources I’ve listed below.

I’ve been architecting and writing software that runs within the cloud since late 2009, with a particular focus on Windows Azure.


Author: Bernie

I currently live and work in the UK, just outside of London. I've been working in IT for 15+ years and in that time have solved many technical problems via blogs, forums, tutorials etc. and feel like I should be giving something back. This blog post is my way of contributing and I hope it proves just as useful to others as their contributions have to me.

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