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Cloud computing is a big business that continues to expand rapidly. Revenues increased 21% to $110 billion in 2015 and are expected to double in two to three years. If you use a personal computer, you are likely to be utilizing cloud computing every day, even if you’re not quite sure just what cloud computing is!
In very simple terms, cloud computing is using somebody else’s computer equipment. When the Rolling Stones were rising to the top of the hit parade, computers took up an acre of floor space and weighed multiple tons. The expensive, scarce equipment was shared across an entire business or military installation over a local network. Today’s new riff on that old idea shares remote computing resources over the internet. Sketching out a diagram of a large, complex network of computer equipment is now often abbreviated by using a nondescript image of a cloud – leading to the term “cloud computing.” Like many industries, information technology outsourcing is evolving at a frenetic rate.
Information technology (IT) terminology and acronyms can be somewhat baffling. Cloud computing is often divided into three broad categories. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) means you’re buying access to computing hardware, such as storing pictures and data files on iCloud, OneDrive or Google Drive. Software as a Service (SaaS) means you use a program running on someone else’s system; web-based email (i.e. Gmail), Google Search and Office 365 are familiar examples. Platform as a Service (PaaS) means you write, test and develop new software programs on specialized computer systems provided by another company; this is a valuable resource for programmers, but not so exciting for the rest of us.
The rising use of cloud computing is attributable to simple economics. If you can rent expensive equipment instead of purchasing, supporting and maintaining it at a much higher cost, the choice becomes obvious and practical, especially if the equipment or service would not be needed 24 hours a day. One limiting factor to the rapid growth in the USA is the availability of experienced IT support staff – there just aren’t enough well-trained people available. Once again, outsourcing is the answer; remote IT support services can reach every location with access to a reliable internet connection.
Cloud services do have their own set of negative aspects. Technical problems can make the services abruptly unavailable, sometimes for days. Huge stores of data make attractive targets for hackers and ransomware. As competition increases, smaller companies are often acquired; others may fail abruptly and customers can lose data or timely services as a result.
Just how widespread is cloud computing? Ninety three percent of businesses now use cloud technology in some form or another. Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo mail and Outlook mail each have over a billion active users each month. YouTube viewers watch more than a billion hours of videos – every day of the year!