Okta – Defining Cloud Computing: Systems, Architecture, and Uses

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Cloud computing holds data and services on the internet as opposed to directly on the hard drive of a computer. In short, cloud computing is another term for the internet. The concept has been around for several decades, but more and more data is being stored “on the cloud” instead of directly on servers and mainframes. Cloud computing can provide cost-effective solutions rather than purchasing and running hardware and software. It also allows more room on the physical computer hard drive, which can mean faster processing times and better performance. There are various types of cloud computing models, types, and services to choose from. And cloud computing has a multitude of uses, ranging from email, data, and picture storage to eCommerce and streaming services. There is a set of procedures, policies, controls, and technologies that work to keep cloud computing secure, and to protect against internal and external cybersecurity threats. The cloud computing market is growing exponentially with the global market projected to be worth over $832 billion by 2025.

What is cloud computing?

With cloud computing, hardware and software services run through a provider on the internet instead of locally on your physical hard drive. Still, the question remains “what is the cloud?” The image of a puffy cloud was previously used in flowcharts, depicting the internet as floating around while accepting connections and meting out information. Today, cloud computing is defined as anything that is stored or accessed over the internet. Personal and company computers no longer house this information locally, or directly on the physical hard drive of a computer. Cloud computing can be extremely flexible. It can be done anytime from anywhere with an internet connection.

Benefits of cloud computing

Cloud computing can offer several benefits to both consumers and organizations alike.

  • Cost effectiveness: Cloud computing can save money on physical software and hardware as well as the expense of running and maintaining large data centers.
  • Productivity: Cloud computing can leave room for IT personnel to work on more pressing matters than the management of physical software and hardware.
  • Speed: Services are regularly on-demand and self-service. They can often be accessed in a matter of seconds or minutes.<  
  • Performance: Most cloud computing services are continually being upgraded to ensure the most efficient and fast hardware. Using cloud computing frees up space on personal hard drives and networks, which can allow them to run faster and more efficiently as well.
  • Reliability: Data is often mirrored at multiple locations, making data backup, continuity, and recovery easier and faster with cloud services.
  • Global scale: The cloud can be accessed from anywhere and at any time, as long as there is internet service. This allows for a more global presence.
  • Security: Cloud service providers use technology, policies, and controls to protect against potential cybersecurity threats from both the inside and the outside.

Examples of cloud computing as a consumer

Cloud computing is used for many things today, including storing pictures and data from your smartphone somewhere else, like with Apple’s iCloud. This allows you more storage space and computing power in your hand to easily share files through services such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Cloud computing also employs hybrid strategies where users have local software on the computer directly but also have web-based apps, such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft OneDrive. Ecommerce is another large user of cloud computing, with companies such as Amazon doing the majority of their business online. Streaming services like Netflix also rely on cloud computing technology.

Types of cloud technology

There are several different services, models, and types of cloud computing to choose from. There are four main types of cloud computing:

  • Public cloud: These services are operated by a third-party cloud service provider, generally created from IT infrastructure that is not owned by the end user. While they are typically off site and owned by a third-party, this is not always the case. A public cloud can house multiple tenants using partitions, which makes it become public.
  • Private cloud: A private cloud is exclusive to one organization or business. It can be housed on site or managed by a third-party vendor. Private clouds are maintained with a private network for enhanced security.
  • Hybrid cloud: As the name implies, hybrid clouds can combine the use of both private and public clouds using WANs (wide area networks), LANs (local area networks), VPNs (virtual private networks), or APIs (application programming interfaces). These clouds are more complex and flexible, as IT systems can move between differing and separate environments that are still connected.
  • Multi cloud: These clouds are made up of more than one cloud service as well as more than one vendor of cloud computing. These clouds can be connected, making them hybrid clouds, and can offer enhanced security and performance features.

Cloud computing architecture

The architecture of cloud computing has two main components: the front end and the back end. The front end of the architecture is what the client uses and sees. This will include web services and client-side interfaces and applications. The back end is what is used by the service provider, which manages the necessary resources for cloud computing services, from data storage to security, traffic control mechanisms, servers, deploying models, and virtual machines. Cloud computing architecture contains both the hardware and software needed to support the cloud model.

Cloud computing services

The cloud computing “stack” builds. The majority of cloud computing services or models fit into one of four main categories:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This involves renting IT infrastructure — either virtual or physical servers, operating systems, networking, and storage — from a cloud provider, generally on a pay-as-you-go basis.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): The next layer of the cloud “stack,” PaaS adds the on-demand environment, software, and tools to develop, test, deliver, and manage applications and software on top of the underlying infrastructure.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Cloud providers manage and host the infrastructure, software, and hardware. The software application is delivered over the internet on demand, often on a subscription basis.
  • Serverless computing: The cloud provider manages the servers, setup, capacity planning, and maintenance, allowing clients to focus on building app functionality. These are event-driven, meaning that they only use resources when triggered by a specific action to do so.

Security issues

Cloud computing hosts data online or on outside servers, so security is essential. Cloud computing security uses a variety of techniques to keep information safe and secure. This is often more secure than housing data on site, as cloud computing service providers employ security experts and use the latest security measures. Examples of some of the resources and technologies used to protect cloud computing include:

  • Employees who undergo rigorous background checks and hold high security clearances
  • Use of security tokens
  • Employing two-factor authorization (2FA)
  • Advanced firewall services
  • High level of data encryption
  • Use of VPNs

Cloud computing history

Non-local computing has been around since the 1950s when military mainframes were developed to connect computer terminals. The late 1960s saw the advent to what was to become the precursor to the internet. In the following decades, VPNs entered the marketplace. Actual “cloud” computing as a term was first used in the mid-1990s. The end of the 20th century saw the first SaaS and applications being offered over the internet. By the early 2000s, people were able to “rent” virtual computers. Cloud services and cloud computing really began to take off.

The future

Cloud technology and computing are constantly evolving and growing. The use of cloud computing services has skyrocketed in recent years, and even more so as a result of the pandemic. This growth will probably continue. The future of cloud computing is likely vertical, according to Forbes. This means that specialized cloud technologies will continue to be stacked on top of one another to provide focused solutions and advantages to a variety of companies and industries. This is likely to include the following:

  • Improved data and user experiences
  • Enhanced reliability and security features
  • Provision of enhanced business insights
  • Critical compliance operations

While there is no way to predict exactly how cloud computing will evolve, there are some noticeable trends to follow that indicate cloud computing will continue to change and become more integrated and useful.<

Uses for cloud computing

There are various uses for cloud computing, both for organizations and consumers. Cloud computing can increase productivity and allow companies to focus on things other than managing IT infrastructure, which can be a big job. Cloud service providers often offer the highest level of security. They are regularly upgrading hardware and software to provide the most efficient experience. Uses for cloud computing can include the following:

  • Storing, backing up, and recovering data
  • Streaming video and audio
  • Data analyzation
  • Embedding intelligence to provide insights from captured data
  • Reducing the cost of app development, allowing time for testing and building
  • Building, deploying, and scaling operations that are cloud-native
  • Delivering the latest software versions and updates on demand


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The Future of the Cloud Is Vertical. (March 2021). Forbes.