What is the Cloud and How Can You Benefit from It?
AWS, Azure, Google Cloud… what do these mean for your business? Should you jump on the cloud train?
Have you moved your technical operations to the cloud yet? Do you even know what the cloud is? Well, we’re going to dig into that a little. I’ll give you an overview of the cloud and give a few examples of how it can benefit you.
What is the cloud? It’s just someone else’s computer.
That’s kind of a simplistic answer, but that doesn’t make it any less true. When you use cloud computing, you’re paying to rent space and processing power from Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. Sure, there are other players in this space, but these are the leaders.
According to Amazon: “Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 175 fully-featured services from data centers globally.”
It’s not just renting a computer. There are also services you leverage to make your technical challenges easy to solve.
The three big players — Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud — all have very similar offerings. I’m not going to tell you which one you should use, but personally, I have a lot of experience with AWS.
In general, cloud computing gives you:
- Servers. You get computing power, but instead of an old out-of-warranty server sitting in a dusty closet, you get to use equipment kept in a clean and secure building somewhere else. Sometimes you get preconfigured systems that perform some industry-specific task, and other times you just get a blank Linux or Windows server to use as if it were sitting in your closet.
- Storage. The specifics will vary from provider to provider, but in general, you’ll get some type of object storage for documents, images, videos, and basically anything you could call a file on your own computer. Sometimes you get a bill for transferring files in or out, and then you also get charged some small amount per gigabyte stored.
- Web hosting. You can say goodbye to GoDaddy, HostGator, and so on. With the right technical expertise, a cloud platform can also work just like a regular web server. You’ll have a lot more options, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you can easily run up a large bill.
- Databases. Whether you use a licensed or open source database on a cloud server or you use a relational or non-relational database service, you’re covered with the cloud. There is a lot of database functionality to choose from.
- Functionality ready and on-demand. If you know a little something about this, I’m not specifically referring to Lambda on AWS. I’ll need to go more in-depth into that later. I’m talking about machine learning systems ready to go (if you know what you’re doing). Cloud-based transcoding, which is useful for media and entertainment businesses. Internet of Things. Game server hosting for multiplayer gaming. Bulk email sending services.
And so on. There’s a lot, but this is just an overview, so we won’t get too much in the weeds.
How can you benefit from the cloud? There are three primary benefits:
- You don’t have to invest in hardware, networking infrastructure, and then hire people to maintain it. Depending on the size of your operation, running everything in-house can get pretty expensive. You have to lease or buy and then replace every so often. With the cloud, someone else does all that stuff for you and you can just focus on using the systems.
- Only pay for what you use. If you only need to store one small file and retrieve it once per month for some odd reason, your bill is going to be pretty tiny. Instead of putting up a whole lot of cash upfront to lease or buy what you need, it’s just ready to go and you pay for how much you use. How this is billed varies from service to service, but the idea remains the same.
- A wide range of functionality and services ready to help you efficiently do business. At the time I’m writing this, AWS has 175 services. Google Cloud has over 100. Microsoft Azure has over 200. Each of these three is going to offer different versions of the same thing, and each is going to offer something unique to them (or in a unique-to-them way). There are solutions by industry and by use case, so there’s a little something for everybody.
In addition to those three benefits, we should also touch on security. The cloud is secure, generally speaking. If you run a windows server, don’t have any firewall rules, have remote desktop turned on and your admin account password is “password” you’re gonna get hacked. Aside from that bit of nonsense system administration, cloud operations are secure.
All three of the big players hire security experts and pay them a lot of money to lock down operations. Experts…not just some guy fresh out of college with a subscription to 2600.
What’s the catch?
So if it’s so great, there’s got to be a catch, right? Yes. There is a little catch. If you aren’t paying attention or have no idea what you’re doing, you can run up a large bill pretty fast. If you set some process to run and then forget to turn it off, and then oops your next bill is $4000, well…oops.
But don’t worry, because these companies have thought of that, too. In AWS, for example, you can set up spending alarms that will notify you if you’re getting close to your maximum set spend (that you set up). Then again, you have to not only know how to do that, you have to know to do it in the first place. Learn. Listen to experts.
Everything is moving to the cloud, and many if not most of the services you use regularly either run in the cloud completely or have back-end servers and databases running in the cloud behind the scenes. Get on the cloud train.
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