What is the cloud and how to choose a provider
Travel to the cloud! So, where exactly?
What is the cloud?
The cloud is, in short, a network of servers made available by cloud service providers, answering the needs of storing data (and many other building blocks making up the robust environment, but more on that later). It’s a phenomenon with many, often vague definitions, which tend to confuse users. To say even shorter – the cloud is what the internet is. All the things that are available for remote online access, stored on external servers instead of on individual physical computers’ drives.
The victorious march began in the 90s when the first widely available online platform for file storage was launched by AT&T. Since then, millions of users have benefited from cloud advantages, often without second thoughts on the magic behind e.g. files accessed on Google Drive, allowing collaborative work continued at the same line where previous changes were made hours ago, from a different location, by a different user. No more hassle with sending amended documents back and forth, checking previous versions, and troubles with access to necessary files. They’re in the cloud, prepared and waiting.
There’s in fact more to the cloud than just virtual data storage, made popular by e.g. Dropbox or iCloud, and it’s nowadays managed services, delivered by various cloud providers.
These may include:
- Network management
- Datacenter management
- Infrastructure management
- Backup and recovery management
- Security management
- Communication management
The combination of managed services, being now more than solely storing extensive data sets, offers the opportunity to build own applications freely with delivered libraries, runbooks, and configurations. Less inconvenience with managing operations, no need to maintain own servers, freedom to cooperate safely, and unrestricted potential for projects’ growth.
What motivates companies to use cloud services?
Why do enterprises move from on-site servers to the cloud, apart from the already obvious opportunity to conveniently store data?
Reasons to move to the cloud include:
- The ability to scale projects, either down, when workloads decline or up, when the traffic heats up
- Stability of processes, as the above point ensures efficient operations under greater workloads
- Cost efficiency – with scalability comes the option to reduce costs of used resources, instead of paying fixed prices for resources temporarily unused
- Prompt, efficient, and reliable implementation of fixes to the cloud-stored product, improving overall business performance
- Real-time monitoring and supervision of executed processes
How to choose cloud service providers?
The cloud market is dominated by 3 giants, ruling the significant market share – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, followed by other providers including Salesforce, Oracle, IBM Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, ServerSpace, and many others.
The abundance of the available options may be confusing to first-time users, but once you take a closer look you may get an impression it’s similar to choosing between cars from the same price range. At some point, all providers will offer roughly the same benefits and quality, and it’s up to you whether you prefer BMW or Mercedes. Yet still, knowing crucial features helps to make an informed decision on the cloud provider.
What features and characteristics are important when choosing a cloud service provider?
Choosing the right cloud provider requires ensuring the technology is compatible with the company’s environment and comes with the desired architecture and standards. The less customization is necessary to move to the cloud, the better for the process efficiency, yet sometimes, support from third-party partners is beneficial. In such cases, the cloud provider might recommend a partner, experienced with the target platform and particular technologies.
Certifications, good practices, and standards bind cloud service providers to operate in a consistent, reliable way. Depending on needs and locally imposed requirements, assessment of accreditations (including ISO 27001) helps to shortlist the company to entrust with digital assets.
Data centers are located around the world, and their seats are related not only to legal matters but can greatly affect service efficiency. Choosing a cloud provider with a nearby data center contributes to faster, more reliable synchronization and delivery.
There is a complex and extensive legal and regulatory environment regarding the cloud. Laws differ from country to country, or even from state to state, imposing the need to consider legal issues, particularly around data storing and processing. Before choosing a cloud provider companies should check for the applicable country law and providers’ compliance.
Some of the cloud service providers publish information on their performance, while others will share it upon request. There’s no miracle technology immune to downtimes, but it’s crucial to find a company with a transparent and responsible approach to handling disruptions and the means they take to guarantee the least possible harm to customers and their operations. And speaking of downtimes, one of the ways to ensure continuity, disaster recovery, and backup in the cloud is server mirroring. Ensuring two servers remain in constant synchronization allows securing a copy of data from the primary server at all times.
Each provider describes their approach to security and the scope of responsibility taken. Depending on the needs, decisions on a particular provider usually include assessing the features available out-of-the-box, additional paid options, or the need to supplement the chosen offer with third-party solutions for the desired protection level.
Cloud providers charge customers by the hour, gigabyte, instances per second used, without the need to pay a fixed price upfront. The price and exact scope of offered services differ between providers, and on the operational level customers need to take into account additional costs of the personnel necessary to operate the cloud-related matters.
A walk in the clouds
The popularity of cloud solutions is self-explanatory, and there’s no indication it might change anytime soon. Quite the contrary, our observations confirm that the market sees a growing interest and demand for cloud among companies, regardless of their size. In the upcoming years, the public cloud computing market is forecasted to see a worth growth of up to $800 billion, and nearly ¾ of companies already benefiting from the services are planning to extend their usage.
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