IT professionals and private consumers of technology alike will no doubt be aware of the term cloud computing. A term and a concept that appears to be consuming everything in its path as the future of the IT industry. The following article looks at one incarnation of the technology that offers great potential for enterprise, that of cloud hosting.
The concept of cloud computing is one that manifests itself in many ways and covers a broad array of applications and functions. In its simplest sense, it refers to end-users accessing computing resources they need from a cloud, i.e., a shared pool of IT resources from a remote location made available through the internet. Cloud services are characterized by the fact that they do not require data to be stored on, software installed on, or configuration and preferences to be set on the end-users’ devices. Instead, users access resources that are maintained and managed in remote centralized locations by a specialist provider. They are therefore free of physical, geographical and technological constraints and can access the same cloud service wherever they are, across any device – mobile, desktop or tablet – as long as they have an internet connection.
The concept can also be thought of, and indeed referred to, as utility computing. The fact that computing resources, be it hardware or software (see below), are available as a service that can be tapped into on-demand rather than requiring local installations, is akin to a household utility. Indeed, a commonly used analogy is that of electricity. Electricity is generated in a series of centralized locations by specialist providers using advanced equipment and techniques (pooled with wider electricity resources) and accessed through the grid in contrast to a system whereby each consumer builds, installs and maintains their generator, with each having a finite capacity. In cloud computing, the internet is analogous to the electricity grid and the user accesses the computing utility rather than build, install and maintain their computing resources. Therefore, as with centralized electricity production, it delivers economies of scale for the provider, and consequently cost savings for the user, as well as the ability to access what you need, when you need it; providing solutions that are scalable and responsive to demand.
Generally, the end-user has no involvement (or need to invest) in the installation and maintenance of the hardware and infrastructure underpinning a cloud service, which is all controlled by the third-party provider, but they can have input into software installations and configuration depending on which service they sign up for. These cloud services can be broken down into three tiers:
IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service – offers access to physical computing resources, including disk space on virtual servers and networks whilst leaving the installation and configuration of operating systems and software to the client.
PaaS – Platform as a Service – a platform including physical resource and operating systems together with the software (e.g., a solution stack) required to run a particular computing environment.
SaaS – Software as a Service – the user simply has access to applications running on a cloud platform.
Cloud Hosting is a form of cloud computing, more specifically either IaaS or PaaS, whereby the end-user can get access to shared physical resources – servers, networks, bandwidth and supporting infrastructure (plus solution stacks on PaaS) – without the need to purchase, rent or install specific hardware themselves. Typically cloud hosting is employed to serve websites but it can support other enterprise functions and networks.
In essence, it is a variant of the wider concept of shared hosting but instead of multiple websites, for example, sharing a single physical server (including a software installation), those multiple sites are hosted across a network of shared servers (and computing resources) managed using software partitions. Cloud Hosting, therefore, provides scalable on-demand hosting capacity (as the appropriate level of physical resources can be accessed following demand), where the client doesn’t have to worry about the specifics of hardware installations and need only pay for what they use.
VDC – Under the banner of cloud hosting a VDC or a Virtual Data Center, is again an IaaS which offers enterprises the opportunity to utilize their networks of servers from the cloud using servers which are defined by software partitions rather than being physically distinct (although the underlying hardware resource is ultimately located within physical data centers).
Whatever demands a website and a business’s propositions create, there is always a hosting solution to fit the purpose. For many that will be cloud hosting due to its ability to offer cost efficiencies alongside unparalleled flexibility.