Cloud computing is the reason you barely see external hard drives any more. It's why solid state drives have been accepted even though their storage capacity is so tiny. It's why you don't see CD drives on most desktop computers any more. Most people don't even carry USB sticks these days. Tablets and smart phones don't have inputs for these, and they're even disappearing from laptops.
But storage is just one way cloud computing has influenced our industries. We'll talk about some others as we discuss...
To understand what this new technology is, let's quickly look at how it came to be. Information technology (IT) workers started coming up with all kinds of clever ways to get more mileage out of computers to get past certain shortcomings.
Using a method called cluster computing, many computers could be connected via a local area network (LAN) to become one, more powerful supercomputer. This same technique was then developed into grid computing, where several clusters could be connected at various locations.
The concepts above were eventually combined with distributed computing, where various devices on the network could perform different tasks and communicate with one another. Add the advent of utility computing, where the pricing was based on usage rather than sold as time blocks or packages and you're very close to where we are today.
Today, we in the IT crowd will set up distributed networks locally that connect to a grid of cluster servers at a secure hosting facility, perhaps across the country, and pay for our uses of that system like we would pay any utility company (like a power or water bill). It's here that we store and access our databases, deploy applications, scale computing needs on demand, etc.
This has not only vastly reduced the complexity and start-up time for nearly everything related to the internet and networking, but has greatly reduced our expenditures as well.
Believe it or not, this all started in the 1950's with the idea of "mainframes," a lead computer in a cluster. By the 1960's, personal computers (PC's) were being used in homes and businesses, leading to the creation of the IT field. By the late 1980's companies were moving away from mainframes to decentralized computing. When the dot-com boom occurred in the 2000's, we moved into a client/server arrangement and ultimately virtualization. Now, this cloud architecture and cloud environments are found everywhere.
The cloud industry has matured and evolved, settling on the following types of services:
We covered the topic of the 3 main types of cloud computing services at length if you are interested.
Despite the public's basic understanding of it all (the fault of marketing), there isn't one, pervasive cloud infrastructure. There are tons of individual ones, some meant to be isolated and some allowed to communicate with the web at large. Here are the 3 main types:
We covered the topic of the 3 types of cloud deployment at length if you want to dig deeper.
There are some pretty substantial benefits to using the cloud over traditional hosting and computing methods:
There are many more benefits that we've covered in the main benefits of cloud computing article, if it tickles your fancy.
It should be pretty clear that this isn't just new technology. It's an evolution of existing technology to a logical end, one that uses the tech to its greatest advantage. The question "what is cloud computing" can be explained and understood by walking through the development of networking, basically.
At the end of the day, it has once again become simple enough that people don't need to understand it to use it. But to the curious, I hope I've answered it plainly enough.