Cloud computing

Understanding what cloud is and what it can do for you.

Introduction to cloud computing

Cloud technology is helping businesses and people weather the ongoing storm caused by the global pandemic.

As companies adapt to become elastic digital workplaces and deal with an increase in online demand and remote working, they're migrating their services and data to the cloud. For businesses that have already begun the move to cloud computing, they're accelerating a transformation that will lead the way forward in the years to come. Others are left wondering, "Why did we wait?"

This guide is here to help people and businesses accelerate their move to the cloud. Now, more than ever, cloud is vital to help businesses reopen, reinvent, and outmaneuver uncertainty.

What does cloud do?

In this short video, we answer the question "What does cloud do?"

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What is cloud computing?

Let's start with the name. Where did 'cloud' come from?

When the internet was in its infancy the word 'cloud' was used as a metaphor to describe how the complex telephone networks connected. Now, many people and organizations refer to it as 'THE cloud' but it's not a single entity, and it doesn't exist in one just place. So, what exactly is it?

Cloud is a model of computing where servers, networks, storage, development tools, and even applications (apps) are enabled through the internet. Instead of organizations having to make major investments to buy equipment, train staff, and provide ongoing maintenance, some or all of these needs are handled by a cloud service provider.

There are five key characteristics of a cloud computing environment, as defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

Internet Access
With a public cloud environment, users "plug into" the data and applications via an internet connection giving anytime, anywhere access.

Measured Service
Cloud is often pay-as-you-go, where you only pay for what you use. Think about how a utility company meters how much water, electricity, or gas is used and charges based on consumption. The cloud is the same.

On-Demand Self-Service
Services can be requested and provisioned quickly, without the need for manual setup and configuration.

Shared Resource Pooling
Cloud often uses the multi-tenancy model. This means a single application is shared among several users. So, rather than creating a copy of the application for each user, several users, or "tenants" can configure the application to their specific needs.

Rapid Elasticity
Cloud platforms are elastic. An organization can scale its resource usage levels up or down quickly and easily as needs change.

What is cloud?

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Why is cloud computing important?

With worldwide "whole cloud" spending predicted to reach $565B by 2021, it's never been more vital that businesses understand and fully embrace the possibilities this tech can unlock.

Before cloud computing, companies had to store all their data and software on their own hard drives and servers. The bigger the company, the more storage they needed. This way of treating data is not scalable at speed. For example, if word started spreading about your business and you suddenly had a lot of online orders, your servers would probably crash. Good business meant hard work for the IT department.

It's not just businesses that benefit from cloud computing. The cloud has transformed our lives as individuals as well. Many of us use cloud services every day. When we update our status on social media, binge a new streaming series, or check our bank accounts we're most likely using applications that are hosted by cloud services. These apps are accessed through an internet connection rather than installed on our hard drives or devices.

Today, cloud technology means that companies can scale and adapt at speed and scale, accelerate innovation, drive business agility, streamline operations, and reduce costs. Not only can this help propel companies through the current crisis, it can lead to increased, sustainable growth. According to our Future Systems research, companies that are more strategic in their approach to technology are doing better financially. They're achieving more than twice the average revenue growth of companies slow to implement and use their tech. In fact, 95 percent of leaders have adopted sophisticated cloud services.

Why does cloud matter?

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What are the types of cloud computing?

We've established that most of us are already using cloud technology in some form or another. But where does all this data actually live and who runs it?

Cloud computing can be deployed in different ways depending on what services a business needs. The first thing to consider is the deployment model—public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud. The next element is the service category—Saas (Software as a Service), Paas (Platform as a Service) and Iaas (Infrastructure as a service). When a company is considering its cloud migration strategy, it must consider both factors. Here's a primer on how they work and what they mean for your business.

Deployment Models

Public Cloud
Connecting to a public cloud means using an internet connection to access computing resources hosted on data centers managed by a third-party cloud service provider, rather than owning and maintaining these resources on-premise. A shared public cloud has many organizations (or tenants) sharing the same infrastructure.

The largest cloud service providers with data centers that enable massive scaling are called hyperscalers. The big four hyperscalers, collectively referred to as MAAGs, are: Microsoft (Azure), Amazon (Amazon Web Services or AWS), Alibaba (Alicloud), and Google (Google Cloud). Other cloud providers include IBM and Oracle.

Private Cloud
This cloud model is great for organizations concerned about sharing resources on a public cloud. It is implemented on servers owned and maintained by the organization and accessed over the internet or through a private internal network.

A private cloud environment gives you complete control over data and security in order to meet specific regulatory and other compliance requirements (e.g., HIPAA for healthcare, GDPR, GxP for Pharma, etc.).

Hybrid Cloud
Many organizations actually use a combination of several cloud environments. This is referred to as a hybrid cloud approach. Hybrid cloud often includes a combination of public cloud and private cloud, frequently in combination with some on-premise infrastructure. To create a true hybrid cloud architecture, you must set up communication or orchestration between the various deployments.

Hybrid cloud eliminates reliance on any single cloud provider and allows for additional levels of flexibility in terms of capabilities, security compliance, etc.

In the past, choosing a hyper-scaler meant picking public over private. This is no longer the case. To support regulatory, performance, and data gravity requirements, the hyper-scalers are now offering private cloud carveouts in public environments. VMware on AWS (VMC), Azure VMware Services (AVS), and Google’s SAP, Oracle and Bare Metal solutions are good examples. Similarly, the hyper-scalers have been working on private cloud extensions. This blurring of public and private under a hybrid cloud umbrella is likely to accelerate in the future. Over time, we will no longer see a delineation between "public" and "private" but instead, between "dedicated" and "shared."

A multi-cloud approach is a particular case of hybrid cloud in which an organization uses services from multiple public cloud providers.

Service Categories

Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS is the most commonly used cloud application service and is becoming a dominant way for organizations to access software applications.

With SaaS, an organization accesses a specific software application hosted on a remote server and managed by a third-party provider. On a subscription basis, the application is accessed through a web browser, reducing the need for on-device software downloads or updates. Popular SaaS products include Salesforce, Workday, or Microsoft Office 365.

How is cloud applied?

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Your cloud migration strategy needs to consider the deployment model and service category.

Businesses should use SaaS if they're looking to quickly and easily enable cloud system access with minimal database management, development and/or service provider interaction. SaaS is suitable for applications that require web and mobile access, short-term projects requiring quick collaboration, and startups that need to quickly launch ecommerce websites without server issues or software development.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is a popular choice for businesses who want to create unique applications without making major financial investments.

With PaaS, an organization accesses a pre-defined environment for software development that can be used to build, test, and run applications. This means that developers don't need to start from scratch when creating apps. PaaS allows the developer to focus on the creative side of software development, as opposed to tedious tasks such as writing extensive code or managing software updates or security patches. Examples of PaaS products include Google App Engine, web servers, and SQL servers.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS is the simplest option for businesses. With IaaS, an organization migrates its hardware—renting servers and data storage in the cloud rather than purchasing and maintaining its own infrastructure.

IaaS provides an organization with the same technologies and capabilities as a traditional data center, including full control over server instances. System administrators within the business are responsible for managing aspects such as databases, applications, runtime, security, etc., while the cloud provider manages the servers, hard drives, networking, storage, etc.

The three building blocks of cloud are Saas, Paas, and Iaas.

Is the cloud secure?

Security plays an important role in cloud technology and providers take it extremely seriously. Their business depends on it. Plus, there are many regulatory bodies and compliance requirements from industries of all kinds driving the need for the cloud to be both as accessible as possible, while also being as secure as possible.

The fact is that the data stored in the cloud is probably safer than data on your hard drive. But this doesn't mean companies and people shouldn't be vigilant. Providers have robust methods of securing the cloud and they keep a laser focus on encryption and cloud security. Users of the cloud, however, need to be responsible for application security and securing the environment they create.

There are a few key things companies can do to minimize cloud security risks. Jonathan Roz, Managing Director, Accenture Cloud & Security, recommends taking these steps to become secure from the start:

  • Define new security policies and procedures. The procedures you have already most likely don't address cloud infrastructure.
  • Configure to the appropriate framework. Make sure the cloud environment is automated and configured in a way that's compliant with the security framework relevant to industry and country regulations.
  • Identify the relevant controls needed to monitor policies and procedures to make sure they are compliant on an ongoing basis.
  • Create a cloud-specific security reference architecture. This is critical because securing cloud environments is substantially different from securing on-premises environments—including tools, processes, and even skill requirements.
  • Move to a DevSecOps model where infrastructure gets treated like application code and gets scanned before being deployed to check for misconfigurations or non-compliance.

A one-size-fits-all approach isn't the answer to cloud security. But with the many tools and practices now available, security shouldn't provide an obstacle to effective cloud migration and management.

A one-size-fits-all approach isn't the answer to cloud security. But with the many tools and practices now available, security shouldn't provide an obstacle to effective cloud migration and management.

What’s next for cloud?

At the beginning of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, businesses began to accelerate their digital transformations to cloud to help navigate the human and business impact. It is clear that working from home and business continuity have been made possible by cloud computing.

The importance of cloud technology is even more apparent when we look at the performance gap that already exists between enterprise technology leaders and laggards. Almost overnight, the gap has widened. Leaders who invested in cloud technology as part of their digital transformation journeys have been able to adjust their supply chains and ways of buying at speed. They carry less fixed IT costs, making it possible to cut expenses far quicker than laggards who have been slow to migrate to the cloud. These laggards are now aggressively partnering to re-focus, control costs and catch up.

What happens next?

The crisis is still evolving. The rules of business are changing and the scale of uncertainty is without a doubt, at times, overwhelming. Slowly, around the world, businesses are reopening. As they do, they're realizing that the way to outmaneuver uncertainty is through reinvention and a new view on how to both provide and achieve new value.

This reinvention presents an opportunity. Now is the time for organizations to build and expand the capabilities they wish they'd invested in before the crisis. The agility and flexibility that cloud technology enables means opening up new ways of working, operating, and doing business.

We are now at a crucial point. Now, more than ever, cloud computing is vital to helping businesses and people deliver on and realize the promise of digital transformation.

The way to outmaneuver uncertainty is through reinvention and a new view on how both to provide and achieve new value.

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