The Cloud is a general term referred to as the Internet in a broad way. It generally refers to accessing a computer, storage and applications over the Internet. It should be noted that these services involve the use of some extremely powerful machines, mega-scale storage devices in remote locations that the user would not be able to access physically.
Some of the most popular Cloud Services platforms are provided by Amazon, Microsoft, and Google; respectively as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. While the services each of these platforms provide are numerous, they are categorized under three main groups of categories: cloud hosting, cloud storage, and cloud computing.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
There are a number of services offered on the cloud, and Software as a Service (SaaS) is one of them. Saas allows a user to run software applications over the Internet without installing them on their own computer. The benefit of using SasS is that the user doesn't have to deal with the upgrade or maintenance of the software as a user will generally run the application via the web browser. The software provider provides the software application, hosting, and storage of the files on the cloud without a user having to worry about any of those. The popular examples of SaaS are Google Suite (Docs, Sheets, Gmail and Drive), Microsoft Office 365 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook), and much more.
Cloud hosting, like all cloud services, requires the use of a remote server or machine to essentially store a user's information or program and make it usable across the Internet. This is typically used by those who wish to host a website or web application without having the infrastructure to do so. Companies such as HostGator and DigitalOcean offer services such as these through web hosting and shared hosting.
Cloud storage is similar to cloud hosting, but instead of making a program or website visible across the Internet, it provides storage to users (to store photos, videos, or documents) on the cloud for users to access from anywhere. It's commonly used to perform data backups (Apple's iTunes Cloud) and to have an ease of access for a user's information at any time. Popular examples of cloud storage services offered are Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Box.net to name a few.
Finally, cloud computing is when a user needs a lot more computing power to perform some operation or series of operations for some program. This will typically involve the user storing the application on a very powerful machine, optimized for throughput and computation. The program is then reachable via the Internet whether publicly or privately, and then it uses the resources of the machine to perform its costly operations. This is a service that is becoming ever more popular as software becomes even more demanding in the modern world.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Despite the promise of Cloud Services, there are still pros and cons to using these services; the biggest pro of which is how easy it is to get started using them. Because you can avoid the hassle of maintaining and setting up your own machines to do these things, there is a great desire for companies to switch over to cloud services. The biggest con with this, however, is that in exchange for how easy it is to setup a cloud machine and avoid the struggles of maintaining the physical machine yourself; you have now relinquished a deep level of control of the machine for yourself. As a result of this, you must now remotely access the machine which presents a different set of problems (secure connections, slower connections, visibility of all running applications on the machine, etc).
There is also the factor of cost potentially getting exponentially higher while using cloud services than a physical machine if you do not properly do your estimations for what type of machine and service you need for your use. There are cases of users leaving unused machines running and as such, they still incur the cost of these machines, among many other factors to consider with regards to the cost of these services. That being said, it is best you do your due diligence when taking up a cloud service and ensuring you provision the right specifications for the right machine.
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