Why is cloud computing a big deal

Cloud Computing - Functionality, Provider, Risks

The cloud is developing into a new standard for decentralized data supply. Not only companies, but also private users benefit from the versatile technology. This guide provides a good overview for a safe introduction to the subject of cloud computing.

The cloud cloud takes industry to a new level.

Photo: panthermedia.net/maximsamos

What is cloud computing?

Clear to cloudy - the weather has fascinated people from the very beginning and is always safe to talk about during small talk. In nature, clouds are symbolic of the accumulation of water vapor in the atmosphere. If the digital world is considered, a cloud is nothing more than a collective of an enormous amount of data. In other words: cloud computing uses the technology of the Internet to access data that is on another device, in another room. Any computer connected to the Internet can send data to a large “cloud”.

Of course, the process looks a bit more complex in reality than it seems at first glance. Depending on which action is planned or carried out, data is sent to the cloud, added, temporarily stored, entered or stored. In certain cases, this information is also processed further by software in the cloud. A stationary system can then call this up in order to reproduce, process locally, re-catalog or synchronize the data. Outsourced computing power, storage capacities, data processing, software and a large number of other services can be easily accessed via the Internet thanks to cloud computing. In this article, we would like to bring you closer to the various aspects that are summarized under the keyword cloud computing.

E-mail as a pioneer in cloud computing

The most widespread application example for cloud computing is most likely email - your own mailbox on the Internet. Various online services, such as social networks, streaming services or online shopping portals, require a verified email address. The entry into cloud computing is leveled by the creation of an e-mail account and is the first necessary step to discover the virtual world. The data typed in on the screen by the user leaves the local computer and is cataloged with the data from other millions of users - in the virtual card index of the respective provider. If a message is received via the inbox, the content is usually not located locally on your own receiving device, but on a server in a data center. This may be on the other side of the world. The electronic mail sent personally to the respective e-mail address is called up by another computer while it is being read and only displayed in the browser window or an e-mail management program (Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, etc.). If the user now writes an email directly in the browser, the document is written directly in the cloud and sent to the recipient via the online provider. This opens the message and reads it without saving it on the device. In this way, all message traffic is centrally managed, delivered and stored in the cloud.

Of course, the use of a cloud is not limited to the e-mail service. The range of possibilities to consider a cloud solution is enormous. They range from business management solutions and communication options to EDP and IT management in the company. This includes, for example, operating an online shop, payment services, document and project management, personnel deployment planning or the optimization of production chains in a factory at a profitable level. The communication channels that the Internet offers take collaboration on projects to a completely different level. In most cases, these are also implemented using a cloud solution. This includes, among other things, IP telephony, sharing a calendar with colleagues or business partners and holding web conferences. Representatives of IT management are, for example, the storage and backup of data in accessible cloud solutions. In the digital age, collections of data are becoming larger and more diverse. With cloud computing, companies open up a lucrative interface (internal and external). Just like private users who benefit from this technology.

Origins of the cloud

The hype surrounding the term “cloud computing” is comparatively anything but new, and yet it is present in the media like never before. The foundation stone for the groundbreaking idea was laid back in the 1950s. The visionary and computer scientist Herb Grosch dreamed of separate data stations in the IBM research laboratory that were supplied by an external data center. At the beginning of the 1960s, John McCarthy - a scientific pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence - developed the idea further. During his research, he realizes that the future speaks for cloud computing. The concept behind the concept is that computing power and storage are distributed centrally and as required. Even then, it was possible to call up the performance of mainframes via a telephone connection. Due to the low bandwidth, this was only possible for simple tasks. Depending on the network structure, this venture was still in its infancy. However, that changes rapidly at the beginning of the 70s. The glass manufacturer Corning from the USA succeeds in developing fiber optic cables. These are able to transport signals over long distances with almost no loss.

The technology of the cloud is celebrating its breakthrough due to the constant further development of fiber optics and the ongoing expansion of the fiber optic infrastructure.

The cloud - the data center

The user knows that his data is in the data cloud. However, the question arises: Where exactly does the respective provider store the data entrusted to him?

Some service providers claim that the location of the records cannot be precisely physically assigned. However, due to the nature of digital data, this is not possible at all. Each bit of a data set has an exact physical location in server tower x on disk y in partition z.

As a rule, data is stored centrally in your own or third-party server or data centers. These are more or less large rooms in which computers are connected to computers. In order to avoid internal system failures and other technical complications, the information provided is distributed bit by bit to various devices and hard drives. In addition, each data record is saved twice. This makes it easier to reconstruct if one of the devices fails. Often larger amounts of data are processed using clustering. The arithmetic operations are not carried out by a central computer, but rather distributed directly to different computers. In the event of a unit failure, it is then possible to switch directly to another device without the customer even noticing.

New physical limits, infinite possibilities

Every device that is connected to the Internet is basically able to communicate with a cloud. Protected by access data, once this has been entered, the external data cloud and all information stored in it can be accessed from anywhere. It doesn't matter whether it is customer information, important documents or media content.

In the past, everything had to be transferred to another device via storage medium or cable in order to be able to take it with you. Only the cloud enables uncomplicated access to all required data - at any time from any location - via the Internet. A grip on the mobile phone to take a look at the calendar, in which an appointment was previously entered on the laptop. On the way home on the train, you can continue working on a document without any problems and then conveniently forward it. On-demand films and series can be accessed via WLAN from your own cloud or that of the provider. If playback is stopped, the film will continue to run on another device at a different point in time. Photos with friends and relatives can be viewed spontaneously on another computer.

The diversity provided is impressive. Many companies already use cloud computing technology as an integral part of planning, creating and ultimately forwarding their offers to the end user.

A cost-benefit analysis

Keeping in-house systems and software up-to-date manually is slow and cumbersome. It can take weeks to create a number of new company-owned e-mail addresses or to carry out updates. The cloud giants promise a clear advantage when it comes to developing software, updates and infrastructure. A central system that is programmed for all users at the same time and optimized hand in hand with the hardware. The creation of new company addresses can be implemented promptly. The software and hardware are automatically updated every hour. This is only a fraction of the possibilities that cloud computing offers. Providers promise maximum performance and speed. In addition, the software is permanently available in the cloud thanks to constant updates. In the case of internal systems, there is a risk of the software support being discontinued, a problem that cannot be dismissed out of hand.

The cost factor of a cloud can under certain circumstances beat the operation of your own hardware by lengths. The public cloud options in particular, which do not incur any costs for software licenses, save real money. Smaller amounts of data and simple application programs are sometimes offered free of charge or financed with advertising income. Chargeable variants ideally consist of a basic tariff and variable expansion packages. The cloud services are usually updated at no extra charge and the cloud pays for itself in no time at all. Management and cost transparency enable companies with cloud providers to have long-term calculations and security.

Efficiency solution with potential

In general, cloud computing is a multitool that is used in a variety of areas. From e-mail to office systems to the replication of a complete IT landscape in the company - cloud computing forms a complete solution for data storage and supports private individuals and companies with various requirements on a daily basis.

The Internet distributes data streams to servers all over the world, which simultaneously carry out billions of complex computing actions. In large files, customer and company data are easily accessible and retrievable from any location. Well prepared with almost unlimited scalability and storage capacity, practical tools and approaches in the age of digital change.

Often not only details are taken over, but the entire process. The service provider maintains the software and hardware, provides the premises and takes care of the security of its systems. Both in the physical and in the digital sense, he is responsible for complying with and implementing new data protection guidelines. There is no need to keep your own IT up to date and to keep your own costly and maintenance-intensive devices and rooms available. Only the volume that is actually used is paid for. This enables a new, unimagined flexibility, which also has an impact on productivity in the company.

Cloud computing dangers

Of course, there are not only advantages to cloud computing. It is therefore particularly important that companies in particular deal with the potential risks.

An example of this are possible complications when integrating data or software into the cloud. You should ensure in advance that your own IT systems are compatible with the service provider's platform. Subsequent adjustments may involve a lot of effort. Therefore, the offer of the cloud provider should be checked for existing interfaces and, in general, for integration capability.

Not only technical problems can make getting started difficult. Just changing the user interface can mean a drastic change in everyday work for the user. If there are also ongoing updates - in the form of functional expansions and adjustments - staff must be trained on a regular basis.

The high degree of networking of data harbors another risk that should not be underestimated: The human source of error. There is a possibility that employees gain access to important documents and unknowingly delete them or change them permanently. In cloud computing, it can be difficult to restore or regain lost data. When choosing the provider, care should be taken to ensure that user rights can be adjusted at different levels within the software. Additional functions such as versioning (which means that an older version of the data records can be restored in an emergency) and the creation of backups offer additional options for data protection.

The prerequisite for cloud computing is an internet connection, which, depending on the requirements, requires a higher bandwidth. This is not available at every location. In addition, fatal connection errors sometimes confuse the transmission (of course, usually exactly when the backup is being updated). This makes it difficult for the cloud system to process and / or save data.

Cybercrime and legal loopholes are also major issues in the cloud solution. Leaked data sets, malware that infects customers' end devices with viruses or industrial espionage - a hacker attack can cause enormous damage. In the worst case, the cloud software provider can pass on all claims for damages. Therefore, information about compliance with the security regulations of the data protection law of the European Union should be obtained before the selection of the cloud provider. If the company or the plants are located abroad, completely different laws and safety regulations may apply. One potential danger that arises here is that sensitive data could fall into the wrong hands.

There is not yet a uniform safety certification. The ISO standard 27001 according to the IT-Grundschutz of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) offers a guideline for this. Appropriate certificates from the provider and advice from a company specializing in data protection can better secure the project and minimize any risks.

An interim balance sheet - advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing

Globalization requires more and more flexibility and availability at all levels in every respect. With the help of cloud computing technology, the flow of information in the digital world is continuously being advanced. The networking and outsourcing of services and data result in various advantages and disadvantages.

The integration of the data in a cloud enables potential savings in hardware, software and administrative effort. Overall, there is an increase in productivity for the entire company. The costs are based on the basic fee and the additional requirements. Compared to a location-dependent solution, the effort can be traced more transparently. In addition, attention must be paid to individual national regulations and the associated legal requirements, especially in the area of ​​data protection. The data is available to authorized users in a cloud at any time around the world. This results in potential security gaps. External attacks also threaten local devices, provided they are connected to the Internet. The connection speed also depends on the location, as the infrastructure is developed to different degrees.

The benefits of cloud computing have a lasting impact on user behavior and corporate structures and have long ceased to be a dream of the future. However, the change will still take some time.

Types of cloud services

The transfer to so-called cloud services can take place in different ways and is offered in different models. Interested parties can opt for integration, fully or partially. Depending on which requirements and needs have to be met. The availability of the provided components is determined by a so-called service level agreement. This also includes an agreement for the fault clearance time. This specifies how much time the service provider has to rectify a reported fault before the system has to be available again. In cloud computing, a distinction can be made between three services that build on one another:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS),
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

IaaS describes the relocation of the IT infrastructure to the cloud.It is simulated virtually, which can include, for example, computers, networks and even operating systems. The implemented systems are freely scalable and can therefore be adapted as required. Here, fluctuations in performance can be absorbed much more easily than with conventional systems.

The administration of the infrastructure can be completely taken over by the service provider. This includes hardware-related updates - but software must be managed and maintained by the customer himself.

This form of the cloud solution is particularly interesting for smaller companies. Larger projects can be implemented cost-effectively despite a small or completely missing IT infrastructure.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

PaaS is the next step in cloud computing and, in addition to IaaS, relocates the entire development environment for software to the cloud. The various components are fully managed by the service provider in terms of maintenance and updating.

A development environment is the basis of all the necessary functions that are required to develop applications such as apps, websites or even operating systems. This includes services for programming, testing of the developed software and the organization of the development steps.

The main interested parties for the service model Platform-as-a-Service are primarily software and web developers as well as business users. Fees for the use of software can be adapted to actual consumption as required.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

SaaS is the final step in the service package for application developers to make developed software available to the end user. The provider takes over the complete management and maintenance of the application.

If an update is due, the entire process of introduction is supervised by the cloud provider. This includes, among other things, user administration, the updating of functions and the provision of content on the users' end devices.

Application developers can concentrate on the further development of their software, while the organizational tasks are covered by the cloud service provider. Customers only have to bear the actual costs, as license models are billed by the provider depending on the resources used. This is why Software-as-a-Service is suitable for companies of all sizes.

Everything-as-a-Service (EaaS)

EaaS includes the full and sequential use of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. There are advantages when booking a full-service package. Because confidential content is only passed on to one cloud provider, fewer security gaps arise. In addition, the administrative effort may be reduced many times over, since technical components and development environments are coordinated with one another.

Cloud types

In addition to the technical implementation, it should be clarified which target groups should have access to the content in the cloud. It is roughly divided into three categories and their subtypes:

  • The public cloud,
  • the private cloud and
  • the hybrid cloud.

Public cloud

As the name suggests, the public cloud makes its services available to everyone. Users and companies have their data processed and stored together. Storage and computing capacity are freely scalable and are billed, if at all, on a billing or subscription basis. Thanks to the shared infrastructure and resources, this is the cheapest variant of cloud computing. In this, the data records of the individual users are neatly separated. Everyone only has access to their own private data set - but the data is all in the same cloud.

The practical examples to illustrate the public cloud are: social networks, email services, streaming and shopping providers, browser games, most Google services, Amazon web services, Microsoft Office 365, SAP Business ByDesign and many more.

The community cloud is a subtype of the public cloud. In this form, several end users and / or companies come together to form a large whole in order to use the cloud services as a collective. Access is granted to a larger group, but only this group has access to the cloud and its contents. Priority users include municipalities, research centers or neighborhoods.

Private cloud

The private cloud is mainly about managing your own resources at your own location. An IT system structure is required for this, because the private cloud is only used from the on-site system. This can then also be implemented as required via IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), provided by the cloud provider or through your own IT landscape. The physical storage location of the data is therefore at the company's own location. For those who are skeptical of the cloud concept, some advantages of the technology can be used, while important data remains exclusively in the hands of the company.

The most common form of application of the private cloud is therefore primarily the establishment and provision of a virtual computer structure using so-called virtualization software. This means that IT resources can be efficiently allocated to the required application areas. This applies, for example, to the optimization of production chains, the management of all company resources, such as personnel and equipment, and the use of analysis tools.

A modified concept of the private cloud is the virtual private cloud. The users are provided with their own separate area within a public cloud. These can only be reached via the corresponding login data. The communication between the virtual memory and the end device is also encrypted.

Hybrid cloud

The hybrid cloud combines the advantages of the private cloud with those of the public cloud. Sensitive data remains at the local location. With temporarily higher requirements, less sensitive processes can be outsourced to the public cloud.

This combination is often taken into account in the event of seasonal or project-related additional work, if your own IT infrastructure can no longer cope with the load. In this way, a company can absorb performance peaks promptly and inexpensively and book additional resources as required. With this cloud solution, the company's internal IT and external services can be flexibly and securely linked.

If different cloud types are connected to one another, we speak of a multi cloud. This is based on the concept of the hybrid cloud. In addition, numerous cloud computing services are combined in a heterogeneous system architecture that can be used simultaneously.

The world's largest cloud computing provider

The competition never sleeps - corporations and companies all over the world are trying to open up the cloud market. There are four counterparties, but they already claim more than half of the total market share. We are talking about global corporations known by name:

  • Microsoft,
  • Amazon,
  • Google and
  • IBM.

Microsoft Corporation

Microsoft became known primarily for the development of the Windows operating system. It all started with a small team in a garage. A handful of computers and an idea marked the beginning of computer use as we know it today in the 1980s. The story of Bill Gates and his team is not just the beginning of personal use of the computer in the records. Microsoft is the unbeaten standard on the market to this day.

The hardware and software giant regularly achieves milestones in computer and software development. Of course, the trend towards more activity in cloud systems does not escape a company like Microsoft. That is why Microsoft is going to the virtual start in 2010 with Microsoft Azure, their in-house cloud solution. Azure offers a varied range that works on all service levels. From simple storage to complex virtual computer solutions, programming tools and security applications, which comprises a total of over 100 applications. Not only own services are sold via Azure. To round off the offer, third-party services are also available in the Marketplace.

Amazon.com, Inc.

With the simple idea of ​​an electronic book store 24 years ago, Jeff Bezos achieved a stroke of genius with Amazon. Today the online giant is listed on the stock exchange with its gigantic range and regularly achieves record ratings. The online marketplace is no longer limited to books. A colossal range of products, from A for AAA batteries to Z for cylinders, makes the shopping giant appear like a monopoly in this branch. In addition, there are various subscription functions for different situations and devices, fast delivery and product suggestions. All of this makes Amazon the market leader in the online shopping segment. Other services and branches of the company, such as Amazon Vine, which deliberately allows products to be tested, and Amazon Go, a store without a till, expand the group.

Since 2006, the large American corporation has also been offering a comprehensive cloud computing solution with its subsidiary Amazon Web Services. Starting with simple storage space to complex virtual IT solutions for large companies. Well-known names such as the streaming service Netflix or the data sharing portal Dropbox use Amazon's cloud technology. Every commercial customer will find what they need on Amazon. An integrated streaming offer, e-books, specially developed hardware solutions and extensive IT offers for private consumers also make Amazon an all-round provider when it comes to cloud matters. In 2013, Gartner, a renowned provider of market analysis, rated Amazon as a leading international provider in cloud computing.

Google LLC

Google, the largest search engine on the net, was founded in a garage in 1998 and has seen steadily increasing user numbers ever since. In the course of digitization and the growing importance of the Internet, the group grew and expanded its range. The search engine itself has been expanded to include many options and filters. News and route planning complete the portfolio. The in-house major project Google Maps has digitized the globe with digital maps and navigation. With specially developed payment options, analysis tools and patented hardware, Google is making itself indispensable in both the entertainment and marketing segments.

Google's cloud sector is so flexible and constantly expanding that it is impossible to keep an overview. Mobile and stationary solutions overlap and / or work hand in hand. The operating systems of most smartphones are owned by Google and are irrevocably linked to other web applications of the group. Organization tools that can be shared with other users, photo applications, e-mail, video platforms and development tools are only mentioned briefly here.

IBM Corporation

As one of the world's leading companies in IT consulting and development, IBM has played a key role since it was founded in 1911. Starting under a different name in 1896, the Tabulating Machine Company developed special machines for evaluating punch cards, commercial scales and clocks. The company grew steadily in the course of the following decades and every now and then sets decisive technological and technical milestones. The words Thomas J. Watson, at the time CEO at IBM, from 1943, that there might be a global market for five computers, are refuted only a few years later. The company turns into a global corporation. The product range is constantly expanding and, in addition to hardware and software, also includes services such as e-business hosting services, business analytics or point-of-sale as well as kiosk systems and associated peripheral devices.

Already started in 1960 with the development of virtual machines and experienced in the areas of mainframe systems and virtualization technologies, IBM gave the go-ahead for cloud computing in 2007. The aim is to offer business customers cloud services and to fill gaps in existing cloud environments. The IBM Smart Cloud, also known as the IBM Cloud, emerged from these efforts. It includes IaaS, SaaS and PaaS, each as a public, private and hybrid cloud model. Through the targeted provision of hardware and software modules, IBM offers a scalable cloud solution with virtualization-capable servers and software-as-a-service that meets all corporate requirements.

The largest cloud provider in Germany

Trends show that interest in cloud computing solutions is becoming increasingly important in Germany. So far, however, the possibilities have mainly been exploited by large companies. The most common reason against transforming your own IT landscape are concerns about data security. The largest cloud providers in Germany are also the best-selling in the EU.

Deutsche Telekom AG

Deutsche Telekom AG is the largest German telephone provider. It emerged in 1995 in the course of the privatization of Deutsche Post from the field of telecommunications and telecommunications. Today, Deutsche Telekom has subsidiaries and holdings on five continents.

With a free Telekom e-mail address, you can access both the free Open Telekom Cloud offer and the chargeable version of its cloud services. The data of private and corporate customers are processed and stored 100 percent in Germany. The range includes e-mail, storage, servers, computing power, office applications, virus protection as well as developer and app tools. In cooperation with the entertainment services Sky and maxdome, Deutsche Telekom also delivers streaming services and Internet television.

1 & 1 Telecommunication SE

1 & 1 is known for using non-company-owned lines to deliver inexpensive DSL connections to end customers. Founded in Montabaur in 1988, the 1 & 1 Group, in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom AG, became the second largest Internet provider in Germany. The takeover of some companies, such as Schlund + Partner, Web.de and GMX, in cooperation with major players in telecommunications such as Vodafone, E-Plus and Telefónica, resulted in 1 & 1 having around six million DSL customers so far. In 2017 Drillisch AG, whose main shareholder is United Internet, took over 100 percent of 1 & 1 Telecommunication SE.

1 & 1 has recognized the trend towards the cloud and offers a comprehensive cloud concept for business and private customers. Some services are even included with the contract. For German customers on German servers and therefore on the safe side in terms of data protection law. With your own apps, music, pictures and documents are accessible online and offline and automatically updated at the next opportunity.

Strato AG

Strato AG, whose headquarters are in Berlin, is owned by the United Internet group. It has existed since 1997. With servers that are 100 percent positioned in Germany, Strato AG is also subject to German data protection guidelines.

The cloud offer covers all areas, attracting private customers with subscriptions and corporate customers with optional prepaid tariffs. With over two million customers and around four million domains, Strato AG is one of the largest providers in Germany. The scope of services includes office applications, accounting software, security packages, web hosting services, storage, server and computing power. With HiDrive and HiDrive business, Strato AG strictly divides according to use.

The future of basic services

The cloud is not only a complex system on several levels, but also one of the most important factors of digital change. The technology is a successful solution with potential due to ever increasing demands in the field of IT - not only for small companies. Nevertheless, the cloud as an all-rounder would be a cost-effective alternative, especially for these and medium-sized representatives. Of course, it is also important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages, clarify security measures in advance and calculate the cost factor precisely.

An established company that has to cope with a constant flow of IT over the long term without major peaks or innovations may be better advised to have an in-house IT infrastructure. However, if peak loads occur, a hybrid cloud solution can be considered as a short-term bridge. If, on the other hand, companies need a high level of physical and virtual flexibility and the latest IT products, an external cloud can be just the thing. The concept absorbs high investment and maintenance costs. In addition, real-time access and volume changes are made possible. A cloud solution offers the all-round service you need to concentrate on your core business.

In the private sector, the cloud is less a question of cost and more a personal approach. For private use, cloud computing is essential if the user wants to keep pace in the digital world.

Clouds are unconsciously used with e-mail, social networks and video platforms. Which data and settings are saved in the cloud depends on the use. Having an email address does not mean that the end user also has to use options for storing photos, documents and account information. If such offers are deliberately avoided, the risk of data misuse is reduced to an absolute minimum.However, if all accounts are linked, it is possible to enjoy the benefits of the cloud. The option of being able to access pictures, music and important data from anywhere offers full convenience.

Cloud computing is therefore a groundbreaking technology and essential for digital change. Because everything is networked with one another and resources are efficiently delivered to exactly where they are needed, a new era begins with the cloud in the age of IT services.

A contribution by:

  • Silvia chicken

    Silvia Hühn is a freelance editor with a technical focus. Among other things, she writes about the records in the world.