What Is Cloud Computing? Azure Cloud Computing Services at a Glance
Simply put, cloud computing is storing your data on someone else’s hardware somewhere out on the internet. That may sound a little scary and crazy. But it comes with a lot of advantages. Let’s take a deeper look at what cloud computing is and how you can use it to optimize and improve your organization’s infrastructure.
What is cloud computing?
This is the awesome part: By taking advantage of cloud computing, my company does not have to purchase servers or be concerned about replacing them every few years. If a hard drive in a server fails, that is no longer my responsibility. The cloud provider is completely responsible for all hardware.
But here’s the scary part: I don’t have complete control over the physical architecture. What if breaks? How do I make sure my websites, applications, and data are all still online and accessible? (Keep reading for those answers.)
I think of cloud computing as a farm. I could plant and harvest my food. I could be responsible for every step in the process of food preparation. Or I could order delivery — and trust that the company I am paying has harvested and fully prepared the food.
I pay a fee to the company, and they deliver the food.
In the cloud, I am paying a company to deliver me IT services. I am no longer responsible for the underlying processes and services. The more services and resources I consume, the more I pay.
To get a bit more technical: cloud computing is the delivery of computing services — including operating systems, servers, storage, databases, networking, applications, analytics, and intelligence — over the internet (“the cloud”) to offer faster innovation, flexible resource allocation, and cost control.
You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping you lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.
Common cloud services
Email, storage, video streaming, and on-demand, as-a-service software are all common cloud services.
Let’s take a look at some cloud-based email services like Hotmail, Outlook, Gmail, and Yahoo.
All of these are examples of cloud-based email.
When you check your email, you see the messages in your inbox, but what is happening on the back-end? Where do the messages live? What type of hardware is used to store the messages? Are they always going to be available if there is a hardware failure?
The answer to those questions is the responsibility of the cloud service provider. We don’t specifically know or care what hardware is used. We don’t know the exact physical location where the email messages reside. We simply know it is in a data center in a specific region of the world.
The provider is responsible for making sure the messages are always available by using multiple disaster protection tools.
Email services like Hotmail, Outlook, Gmail, and Yahoo are available for personal use for free. For a company to use cloud email services, they will pay a monthly fee to the cloud provider. The result is that you are not purchasing, managing, and replacing hardware; the cloud service provider is responsible.
Why it’s called cloud computing
Cloud computing is based on the concept that the location of the service, hardware, operating system, storage, and applications are not relevant to the end-user. The “cloud” metaphor was borrowed from public telephone network designs, highlighting that the user’s location did not matter either; they were just connecting to a bunch of services in the “cloud.”
This is oversimplified, but keep this concept in mind as you read on: a user/customer can be at work, home, traveling, or anywhere in the world and access the same services and resources. This capability is what gave many companies the ability to quickly adopt a work-from-home approach during the pandemic.
The most common example of cloud computing is email. We all have personal email accounts like Outlook, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, and so on. All public email platforms reside in the cloud. You can access your email from your home computer or your phone, regardless of your location. If you can connect to the internet, you can connect to your email that is hosted in the cloud.
Examples of a real-life cloud customer
Let’s step away from the technical jargon and discuss an actual cloud customer and an actual cloud service.
Microsoft Azure is one of the most popular cloud services today (although Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Computing both have significant market share). Microsoft Azure is particularly well-suited to environments that already utilize the Microsoft ecosystem (such as Windows 10/11 and Office 365).
Meanwhile, Walgreens Pharmacy processes more than 6 million prescriptions a day across more than 9,000 stores. Each transaction has hundreds of associated data points that must be correlated. It’s a perfect scenario for cloud computing to help — they need speed and resources.
With Microsoft Azure, Walgreens can process, at peak times, around 40,000 transactions per second. Walgreens could probably do this with Amazon Web Services as well (AWS supports technologies such as Netflix), but infrastructure demands may be such that Azure simply fits in better.
Let’s consider the future — next year, Walgreens may double the number of prescriptions they dispense, or they could dispense far fewer. The beauty of the cloud is that the cost they pay to the cloud provider is directly related to the resources they consume. Microsoft will bill them less when they use fewer resources.
If transactions increase, the cost increases, and with any decrease in transactions, the cost will decrease. This level of scalability allows Walgreens to easily grow to meet an erratic level of demand—and it could do the same for your organization.
This level of scalability will allow your company to easily grow its technology platforms to meet all future demands.
The five major benefits of cloud computing
Companies can reduce their expenses by having less hardware and software in an on-site data center. Think about the resources a typical data center requires — racks of servers, disaster recovery solutions, advanced power solutions, dedicated cooling systems, and generators to ensure servers remain online during a power outage.
After you calculate those costs, you have to add in hardware-level administration costs for tasks like replacing failed drives in servers. With a cloud-based solution like Microsoft Azure, the third-party provider will own and manage the hardware, storage, and other data center resources. (More about Azure fundamentals are covered in the Azure Fundamental certification.) You have no up-front costs; you only pay for the resources you use. Spending limits can be set, which allow you to set a dollar amount for services to ensure you don’t overspend.
Most cloud resources can be deployed within minutes with just a few simple steps. This level of speed helps organizations become more agile. For example, I am able to deploy a virtual machine running a Windows or Linux operating system in less than five minutes from start to finish. And you are able to share a file that is accessible from anywhere in the world in about a minute. We have demonstrations of creating a new virtual machine in less than five minutes and creating an Azure file share in less than five minutes.
A challenge that all businesses have faced at one time or another is dealing with an increased workload. Imagine that your company rolls out a new application and that this application requires additional storage, additional memory, and also consumes more CPU resources than are currently allocated.
Cloud computing offers you the ability to scale up quickly and efficiently. It allows you to automatically have additional storage capacity, additional memory, and CPU resources assigned when demand increases. And when demand decreases, those resources will be released, reducing your operating costs because you only pay for resources that you consume.
Our website must be online for us to make money. How does Azure make sure my site is always available? Cloud computing in Azure makes backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity easy to implement with minimal planning.
When you configure resources, you can choose the level of reliability you require. Data can be mirrored across multiple data centers, which will provide redundancy from hardware failures, data center failures, natural disasters, or any event that would disrupt the operating environment.
Imagine this — you have a database in the Eastern US region. You have been tasked to make sure the database has been configured to be reliable. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can have an instance of your database run in the Western US region.
If a natural disaster disrupts the Eastern US operations, your database will continue to run in the Western US and will be continuously available to your customers.
Cloud security is a top concern for businesses, with new threats constantly emerging. One of the best reasons to use Azure for your applications and services is to take advantage of its wide array of security tools and capabilities natively available. The Azure Security Center is a collection of tools and capabilities that help make it possible to create secure solutions on the secure Azure platform by giving you the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to threats to Azure resources.
Microsoft employs threat experts whose job is to detect and respond to real-time threats as they are discovered. You can also consult with Microsoft threat experts about security concerns that you have about your environment.
Let’s take a look at a security scenario. A user has logged in to an Azure application from an infrequent location. An alert was triggered as a result of this login. Administrators can see all activity related to the user that triggered the alert. Administrators can also view all information related to the IP address associated with the login and to the device that was used, including details such as the operating system and device type.
Administrators can even obtain the longitude and latitude coordinates to the exact location of the login. By viewing an Azure security alert demo, you can see how the Azure system can help organizations maintain their security:
For those who want to focus on security, an Azure Security Associate certification can help.
What types of clouds are available?
Public cloud (provider-owned)
Public clouds are owned and operated by a third-party cloud service provider, which delivers their computing resources, like applications, servers, and storage, over the internet (“the cloud”). Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Services (GCS), and Microsoft Azure are examples of public clouds.
With a public cloud, all hardware, software, and other supporting infrastructure is owned and managed by the cloud provider. You access these services and manage your account using a web browser, regardless of your location. Public cloud resources are available to anyone that pays for a subscription. There are various pricing levels, but typically customers pay for the resources they use. When your resources are being heavily utilized, they will consume more resources; in turn, your cost increases based on that increased usage.
Private cloud (customer-owned)
A private cloud refers to cloud computing resources used exclusively by a single business. A private cloud can be physically located on the company’s on-site data center, or you could pay a third-party company to host your dedicated private cloud. The company purchases all hardware and software and performs all administration and management. This differs from the public cloud because your company is the sole tenant within your private cloud.
Hybrid cloud (provider-owned combined with customer-owned)
Hybrid clouds combine public and private clouds, bound together by technology that allows data and applications to be shared between them.
By allowing data and applications to move between private and public clouds, a hybrid cloud gives your business greater flexibility, more deployment options, and helps optimize your existing infrastructure, security, and compliance.
Some environments may have regulations that require certain types of data to be stored on the premises and not in a public cloud. Other types can be stored in the public cloud. As a company, I could simply have a combination of on-premise data (private cloud) and public cloud (provider-owned) data — the best of both worlds. Either way, to manage one of these systems, you’ll want to take a course like Azure Administrator.
Types of services in the Azure cloud
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the most basic category of cloud computing services. With IaaS, you rent IT infrastructure servers, virtual machines (VMs), storage, networks, and operating systems from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis. It’s an instant computing infrastructure, provisioned and managed over the internet.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides an environment for building, testing, and deploying software applications. The goal of PaaS is to help create an application as quickly as possible without having to focus on managing the underlying infrastructure.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) is software that is centrally hosted and managed for the end customer. It allows users to connect to and use cloud-based apps over the internet. Common examples are email, calendars, and office tools such as Microsoft Office 365.
Administrators benefit from the cloud by being able to deploy nearly 300 resources in minutes. Users benefit from the cloud because they have the freedom to work from anywhere, untethered from their office, with the same level of access to data and applications that they would have if they were in the office.
But it does take some work to learn more about the cloud. By going through an Azure Administrator course or an Azure Security course, you can both learn more about the technology and boost your career.
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