Cloud Computing's History and Impact

Although the premise of cloud computing became mainstream within the past decade, it was hovering behind the scenes for quite some time. In fact, its roots trace back to a time long before “the cloud” was a household term.

In the late 1960s, computer pioneer J.C.R. Licklider, who funded ARPANET, envisioned an intergalactic networking of computers on which people could run applications and manipulate data on any computer anywhere in the network. Licklider was, like many tech innovators, far ahead of his time. Now, cloud computing is a common business practice, but understanding it can be confusing.

The trouble is in the definition of the cloud. What is it? Where is it? And should it matter to all businesses?

What Is the Cloud?

It’s helpful to start by envisioning the cloud as a curtain between the problems you worry about and the ones you don’t. Traditionally, companies with data centers worry about the health and well-being of bare metal servers. If those servers malfunction, fail, or otherwise go haywire, the business must scramble to recover information, make repairs, and order replacements.

With cloud computing, organizations add a barrier between their entities and the space where their information is stored and manipulated. The cloud becomes a protective, flexible barrier that eliminates some of a company’s hardware worries. Issues are transferred from the company to the cloud vendor.

As for where the cloud is located, the answer is everywhere and nowhere specific. The cloud is a combination of computers and storage supported by a good application program interface (API). It can be a bare metal server, it can be a dedicated server, or it can be a VM. As long as it still has the “curtain of separation,” it can be considered cloud technology.

Types of Cloud Computing

Although there are many different reasons a company may turn to cloud computing, there are three general models:

1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS involves a business renting out servers and hardware to perform everything from mission-critical responsibilities to storage solutions. Clients can still do what they want with their rented infrastructure, but they don’t have the problems associated with maintaining compatible equipment.

2. Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS is one of the most common models, and most people use it quite often without realizing it. Perhaps the best example is Gmail, an email version of SaaS. Your emails are hosted remotely, and you can access them utilizing Google’s proprietary software and related programming.

3. Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Finally, PaaS comes into the picture. Developers who need to build applications and don’t want to deal with operating systems tend to reach for PaaS.

For instance, if you write an application but just need a place to run it and don’t want to worry about servers, you’ll want a PaaS provider. You’ll still have to package your application in a certain way and upload it to the provider, but it’s far easier than managing the operating system yourself.

The Downsides of the Cloud

As with all processes, cloud computing includes a few concerns. The most talked about is vendor lock-in.

When you choose cloud computing partners, you tie your company into theirs. But what happens if you aren’t happy with them or want to move to another vendor for a reasons? Will your data be held hostage? And if not, how will you seamlessly move it? Currently, there are no standards of how to deal with this reality or the related reality of working simultaneously with multiple cloud computing providers. The market is ripe for a startup to disrupt this aspect of working in the cloud.

Another concern is whether to keep data in one place or to duplicate it. If you have all your eggs in one basket and the basket breaks, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, you can easily buy secondary cloud-based storage to use as a basic, raw backup. Even owning a small onsite server with just enough memory to store your duplicate information may be enough to recover data in the event of a disaster.

Bare metal servers have incredible power and memory, and if you just have one, it takes less time and energy to keep it safe, secure, and running properly. Plus, you always have a second place for your most important data when you have everything in two places at once.

Despite these challenges, cloud computing has grown into a must-have resource for businesses. From its humble start as the brainchild of a computer genius in the 1960s to its use as a buzzword around boardrooms, the cloud has added incredible breadth and abilities to what companies can do remotely, securely, and efficiently. No doubt its applications will continue to expand as we test and experiment the next generation of cloud computing models.