The cloud computing market has been rapidly growing, thanks in part to the pandemic. But even global diseases aside, the cloud has been making enormous strides for well over a decade.

However, customers can get overwhelmed with the dizzying array of cloud-related terms. That’s why this article is here to provide you with a handy refresher about the types of cloud computing, cloud services, and the benefits of cloud computing.

Don't worry; we won't get too technical; this is more of a refresher for people who've had some exposure to the cloud and an introduction to those who are just joining the party. So let's begin with the fundamentals on the types of cloud computing.

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The Cloud: An Overview

Although the phrase "the cloud" conjures images of puffy, soft things that lack any solid substance, the digital version of clouds is rooted in physical and virtual infrastructure. The cloud consists of a very real, reliable network of infrastructure thats host all the provider's data and services.

Customers use the Internet to access these server-based cloud networks and their resources, including data storage, online streaming content (e.g., YouTube, Netflix, etc.), and infrastructure platforms like Google Cloud, AWS, or Azure. For more in-depth information about cloud computing in general, you can check out online tutorials.

Types of Cloud Services

There are three primary cloud services hosted by third-party providers and offered to customers through the Internet. Each service expedites user data flow from front-end clients via the Internet to the cloud provider’s systems, then back again. However, each cloud service performs these functions differently.

  • IaaS

This acronym is short for Infrastructure as a Service. The cloud service provider manages the entire infrastructure (e.g., data storage, the actual servers, network, virtualization). The customer gains access with a dashboard or API. So, the user handles the OS, applications, and middleware, and the provider deals with the hardware (e.g., hardware, networking, hard drives, data storage, and servers), and takes care of hardware issues, outages, and repairs, much like a landlord takes care of an apartment’s maintenance.

  • PaaS

This acronym is short for Platform as a Service. The outside cloud provider offers and manages hardware and an application software platform, while the user deals with apps that run on top of the platform, and any required data. DevOps specialists and programmers favor this arrangement because it frees them from building and maintaining the needed infrastructure.

  • SaaS

This acronym means Software as a Service. Whether people know it or not, most people use SaaS almost every day. SaaS are web applications and mobile apps accessed through a web browser, offered and managed by the cloud service provider. The user is responsible for maintenance, bug fixes, and software updates. Typical SaaS include Dropbox, ZenDesk, HubSpot, Slack, Salesforce, cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, Adobe Creative Cloud, and MailChimp. SaaS provides a considerable advantage because the software doesn't have to be directly loaded into each user's machine.

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Types of Cloud Computing

Our digital world splits cloud computing into three primary types:

  • Public Clouds

A public cloud is a virtual environment partitioned and redistributed to many customers, often referred to as “tenants.” These clouds are usually created from IT infrastructures that the customers don't own. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Alibaba, and IBM are popular examples of public cloud computing.

Although public clouds are typically run off-site, some cloud providers have begun offering customers cloud services that reside in the clients’ on-site datacenters. This practice has blurred the lines of ownership distinctions and locations.

  • Private Clouds

As the name suggests, private clouds are cloud environments exclusively dedicated to a single group, entity, or user set behind the customer's firewall. Any cloud located in an IT infrastructure isolated from the public and dedicated to one client (one person or a group) is automatically considered a private cloud. Private cloud offerings include HPE, VMWare, IBM/Red Hat, and OVHcloud.

Private clouds aren’t limited to on-site IT infrastructures these days. Clients can build private clouds on off-site, rented, vendor-owned data centers. As a result, private clouds now have two sub-categories:

  • Dedicated Clouds: This is a cloud within another cloud, located either in a public or private cloud. For example, an organization's Research and Development branch could have a dedicated private cloud in the company's private cloud.
  • Managed Private Clouds: These clouds are configured, deployed, and managed by a third-party vendor but created and used by customers. Managed private clouds are ideal for organizations that lack the resources for an entire IT staff to run their cloud infrastructure and services.
  • Hybrid Clouds

Buckle up because this one's a little tricky. Hybrid clouds are a single IT environment consisting of multiple settings linked via application programming interfaces (APIs), virtual private networks (VPNs), local area networks (LANs), and/or wide area networks (WANs).

However, there isn’t a single accepted “hybrid” definition. The requirements and characteristics are as varied as the number of people you ask. Here’s a list of possible traits:

  • Two or more private clouds
  • Two or more public clouds
  • At least one private cloud and public cloud
  • A virtual or bare-metal environment connected to at least one private or public cloud

But whatever definition you use, it is safe to say that any type of cloud system gets classified as a hybrid when applications can move between different yet connected environments. Some of the environments must be derived from scalable, consolidated IT resources. Furthermore, all the environments must be managed through a single environment via an integrated management and orchestration platform.

  • Multi-Clouds

Multi-clouds consist of more than one cloud service taken from more than one cloud vendor (AWS, Azure, etc.) — public or private. All hybrid clouds are multi-clouds, but the reverse isn't true. But multi-clouds become hybrid clouds if multiple clouds connect through a form of orchestration or integration through third-party tools.

It involves patching together various SaaS, Iaas, PaaS, and other services from multiple providers (or internal IT) to fit current business objectives.This is being hyped as a “new” type of cloud computing. But it’s really just a another way companies can develop a cost-effective cloud strategy while cloud service providers keep creating competing products and services and then consolidating those offerings.

 In other words, this type of cloud computing is kind of like the “Wild West”.

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How Are the Various Cloud Computing Types the Same?

Regardless of the type of cloud computing you use, there are common characteristics in each. Here's a list of features usually found in every type of cloud computing:

  • On-demand self-service: Organizations can provision without involving the provider.
  • Broad network access: Cloud services are available through a network such as the Internet or a local area network (LAN), and can be accessed by many different customer platforms.
  • Multi-tenancy and resource pooling: Multiple customers access the same physical resources.
  • Rapid elasticity and scalability: Cloud computing resources can be quickly scaled up or down rapidly and, sometimes automatically, in response to the business’s demands.
  • Measured service: The service provider monitors, measures, and reports cloud resource usage, reflecting the "pay for what you use" pricing model.

How Do the Cloud Computing Types Differ?

A chart is the best way to highlight the differences between the types of cloud computing:

 

Public Cloud

Private Cloud

Hybrid Cloud

Advantages

  • Cost-effectiv
  • Highly scalable
  • The cloud service provider manages it
  • Not bound by geographical restrictions
  • Best level of security
  • Greater autonomy over the servers
  • Very customizable
  • No risk of sudden potentially disruptive changes by provider

 

  • More secure than public cloud
  • Very secure
  •  Very flexible
  • Cost-effective

Disadvantages

  • Users have fewer customization options
  • Users are at the mercy of changes made by provider
  • Lesser server autonomy
  • Less secure due to shared server

 

  • Comparatively expensive
  • Organization needs experienced IT personnel to run things
  • Possible communication conflicts between public and private cloud elements
  • Higher startup costs for private cloud elements
  • Potentially complicated to implement

FAQs

Let’s tackle a few of the Frequently Asked Questions about cloud computing.

1. Is the cloud safe?

Since the cloud accesses the Internet, there is always a risk of cyber-attacks. However, many providers have security measures of some form in place. After all, this is their livelihood! However, public clouds, with their countless points of entry, are likely the least safe, but that’s in relative terms

2. Is the cloud market really that huge?

In 2020, the cloud market was valued at around $371 billion. Experts predict that it will hit a mind-blowing $832 billion by 2025.

3. What’s the largest cloud computing provider?

That would be Amazon Web Services (AWS), followed by Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

4. What’s the largest SaaS company in the United States?

Salesforce, with a market capitalization that exceeds $200 billion, although Zoom, the video conferencing service, has attracted a lot of notice thanks to a skyrocketing market value of over $90 billion due to COVID-inspired remote workplaces.

5. Which cloud service is cheaper?

It varies by provider and how much you use.

6. Which cloud service is best for me?

Sorry for the cop-out answer, but it depends on your needs. If you have high-volume workloads with constantly shifting demands, you should opt for a public cloud. But if your workloads are more predictable, go for a private cloud option.This is just one general example. Each company will need to evaluate their needs and options when crafting a cloud strategy.

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About the Author

John TerraJohn Terra

John Terra lives in Nashua, New Hampshire and has been writing freelance since 1986. Besides his volume of work in the gaming industry, he has written articles for Inc.Magazine and Computer Shopper, as well as software reviews for ZDNet. More recently, he has done extensive work as a professional blogger. His hobbies include running, gaming, and consuming craft beers. His refrigerator is Wi-Fi compliant.

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