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Cloud computing: the comprehensive guide

date: 30 May 2023
reading time: 21 min

Cloud computing is a term that has been trending for quite a few years now, and now it is a technological bombshell – a must-have for every self-respecting software house – even known to serve as client-bait. However, there are a few ambiguities surrounding this phrase, and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of conflicting available information.

In this essential guide, we’ll put an end to any misconceptions you might have and will simply explain what cloud computing is all about, where it comes from, and in which direction it’s headed.

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What is cloud computing: the definition and its significance

Long story short, cloud computing is on-demand access to various IT services and resources over the Internet, typically on a pay-as-you-go basis. It saves you from having to maintain any physical infrastructure in-house (which is necessary with classic client-server architecture) – instead, all you need to do is rent access to applications, databases, computing power, and storage, etc., from a selected cloud provider.

Having a cloud computing strategy translates into accelerating digital transformation and is a necessary step to both achieving and maintaining a competitive advantage.

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The history of cloud computing

Cloud computing sounds like a brand-new concept, but it’s actually older than you might think. In order to explain how it all started, we need to go back in time, as far back as… the 1950s, when the US military created infrastructure that was designed to connect computer terminals within their internal networks.

This was the first wind of changeone that costed a ridiculous amount of money – which turned out to be necessary and is still remembered today.

Other early milestones include:

  • 1969 – the beginning of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) – the first network of four connected computers, utilising the protocol suite TCP/IP.

  • 1972 – the development of IBM’s CP-67/CMS – a virtual machine operating system.

Over the next 25 years, “cloud” technologies were mainly developed and utilised by the biggest tech corporations, military agencies, and the most renowned universities, such as MIT. They only became efficient and affordable enough for other organisations within the public marketplace in the late 1990s, and Salesforce is considered to be the first company to have successfully incorporated cloud computing within their strategy in 1999.

Presently, the global cloud market is dominated by four main providers:

  • Amazon Web Services (31% cloud market share),

  • Microsoft Azure (20% cloud market share),

  • Google Cloud (7% cloud market share),

  • Alibaba (6% cloud market share).

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The mechanics of the cloud: how does cloud computing work?

Cloud computing refers to the delivery of computing resources, including storage, processing power, and software, over the internet. Instead of relying on local servers or personal devices, cloud computing leverages a network of remote servers hosted in data centers.

These servers are owned and managed by cloud service providers (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud) that offer various services to users on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Here are its main components:

The Architecture of the Cloud: Servers, Networks, and Databases

The architecture of the cloud, designed to provide scalable, flexible and reliable computing resources and services to users, involves various components such as servers, networks, and databases, which all work together to deliver cloud services.

  1. Servers are the physical or virtual machines that provide computing resources in the cloud. They host applications, software, and data.

  2. Networks are a fundamental component of cloud architecture, connecting various elements within the cloud infrastructure. Cloud service providers have extensive networks that interconnect servers, storage systems, and other components to facilitate data transfer and communication.

  3. Databases are essential for storing structured data and providing efficient data management capabilities in the cloud. Cloud architecture supports various database types, including:

    • Relational databases, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or Oracle, organising data in tables with predefined schemas and support SQL queries.

    • NoSQL (Not only SQL) databases, such as MongoDB, Cassandra, or DynamoDB, designed to handle large volumes of unstructured or semi-structured data. They provide flexible schemas, horizontal scalability, and high performance for specific use cases like big data processing, real-time analytics, or content management.

Cloud Services: The Shift from Local Storage to Remote Servers

By shifting from local storage on personal devices to remote servers hosted by cloud service providers cloud services have transformed the way we store and access data. Such a shift offers numerous advantages and has revolutionised the way individuals and businesses manage their data.

Some of its key aspects include:

  • Data Accessibility: Cloud services provide convenient and ubiquitous access to data from anywhere with an internet connection. Users can access their files, documents, and applications on multiple devices, such as laptops, smartphones, or tablets, without the need for physical storage devices or local installations. This accessibility promotes mobility, collaboration, and remote work.

  • Scalable Storage: Cloud services offer virtually limitless storage capacity. Instead of relying on local storage devices with finite space, users can leverage the storage infrastructure of cloud service providers to expand their storage as needed, which allows users to accommodate growing data volumes without hardware upgrades.

  • Data Backup and Recovery: Cloud services provide built-in data backup and recovery mechanisms. By storing data on remote servers, users benefit from automatic backups, reducing the risk of data loss due to hardware failures, accidents, or disasters. Cloud service providers typically maintain multiple copies of data in geographically diverse locations, ensuring data resilience and facilitating quick data recovery.

  • Cost Savings: Cloud services eliminate the need for purchasing and maintaining physical storage devices. Users can leverage the pay-as-you-go pricing model offered by cloud service providers, paying only for the storage resources they consume.

  • Collaboration and Sharing: Cloud services enable seamless collaboration and file sharing among individuals and teams. Multiple users can access and edit shared files simultaneously, promoting real-time collaboration, version control, and efficient workflows. Cloud-based collaboration tools, such as document editing, project management, or video conferencing, enhance productivity and streamline teamwork.

  • Data Security and Privacy: Cloud service providers invest heavily in security measures to protect user data. They employ robust encryption, access controls, firewalls, and compliance frameworks to ensure data security and privacy. Cloud infrastructure often offers higher levels of security than individual local devices, providing protection against data breaches, theft, or physical damage.

    Read more about: “The complete guide to cloud security management

Cloud types: understanding different forms of cloud computing

Customers’ needs may differ, thus providers offer various cloud architecture models, types, and services to match solutions with the requirements. A type of cloud deployment and architecture to implement cloud services must be determined initially.

There are 4 main types of cloud services to choose from: public, private, hybrid, and multi-cloud.

  • Public cloud – includes freely available cloud systems, such as Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure.

  • Private cloud – a cloud solution based on local resources, dedicated specifically to a person or company.

  • Hybrid cloud – a mix of on-premises infrastructure with cloud storage and computing services.

  • Multi-cloud solution – a combination of multiple cloud providers; a solution that allows companies to cherry-pick the best features of many different cloud systems to optimise their needs.

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Breaking down cloud computing models: an in-depth look

When you keep everything on-site and off the cloud, this means you also have to manage everything on your own. In cloud models, the service provider takes a lot off your plate:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Infrastructure as a Service in Cloud is a good alternative to expensive and labour-consuming on-site infrastructure. Examples are AWS and Microsoft Azure. It delivers fundamental compute, network, and storage resources to consumers on-demand, over the Internet, and on a pay-as-you-go basis.


  • Easily accessible cloud with wide cloud services offer.

  • Lower costs of acquiring, managing, and maintaining IT infrastructure.

  • Increased speed of development on a ready-to-use platform. Applications deployed with a predictable and cost-effective pricing model.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service is a set of time and cost-effective tools (both hardware and software) to build, run and manage applications. Examples are Magento Commerce Cloud and Heroku.

It provides customers with a complete cloud platform (hardware, software, and whole infrastructure) for developing, running, and managing applications without the cost, complexity, and inflexibility of building and maintaining that platform on-premises.


  • Accessible cloud with wide range of cloud services.

  • Lower costs of acquiring, managing, and maintaining IT infrastructure.

  • Increased speed of development on a ready-to-use platform.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service is a platform designed to make apps available to users, smoothly and reliably, without having to engage your IT department. Examples are Salesforce and Dropbox.

It goes a step further towards fully managed solutions. It is a ready-to-use software accessible online via a subscription, thanks to which IT teams don’t have to install it on their systems.


  • Easy access to the software from anywhere, anytime, all you need to have is an Internet connection.

  • Possible access to more advanced tools and capabilities (e.g. automation, optimised workflows and real-time collaboration from different locations).

Function as a Service (FaaS)

Function as a Service (FaaS), also known as serverless computing, is a cloud computing model where developers can write and deploy code in a form of individual functions without the need to manage the underlying infrastructure.

FaaS abstracts away the complexities of server management, scaling, and resource provisioning, allowing developers to focus solely on writing the code for their application logic.


  • Simplified development, deployment and scaling of applications.

  • Pay-per-use pricing, scalability and event-driven architecture make it an attractive choice for modern application development and deployment in the cloud.

Guide for successful cloud adoption

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Benefits of cloud computing: why businesses are making the move

This all sounds impressive, but also pretty general. The benefits of cloud computing are however quite tangible.

They include:

Combined, all of this leads to cost savings, increased work productivity and larger economies of scale. It also reduces the need for individualised hardware, allowing companies to focus on business operations.

As computer technology continues to become more accessible and affordable, the cloud is quickly becoming an essential service for both businesses and individuals alike.

The role of cloud computing in the Internet of Things

A brief guide to Cloud Computing

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to networks of interrelated physical objects around the world that are equipped with software, sensors and processing power, making it possible to collect, share and exchange data over the Internet – without any human intervention required.

Examples of IoT include:

  • driverless vehicles,

  • smart city/home/factory equipment,

  • fitness and health wearables,

  • preventive maintenance systems,

  • biometric security scanners, etc.

When paired with a catalyst like cloud computing, IoT receives a powerful boost: increased connectivity, accessibility and scalability, better collaboration, and more efficiently utilised resources. This is to the benefit of everyone involved: business owners, governments, developers and users.

With such a large-scale application of cloud computing, there are also many security challenges of a growing cloud ecosystem. But there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” kind of solution, and we can observe at least a few different trends in cloud computing.

Mitigating risks: best practices for cloud decurity

Cloud security is a critical aspect of effectively utilising cloud services. While cloud service providers implement robust security measures, it is essential for users to follow best practices to mitigate risks and ensure the security of their data and applications.

Ensuring Data Protection in the Cloud: A Multi-Layered Approach

Ensuring the right level of data protection in the cloud requires a multi-layered approach that combines a variety of security measures and best practices, including:

  • Data encryption, meaning using encryption techniques to protect data both at rest and in transit, encrypting sensitive data before storing it in the cloud, using encryption protocols, such as SSL/TLS, for secure data transmission, employing strong encryption algorithms and keeping encryption keys secure.

  • Cloud Infrastructure Entitlements Management and Access control, meaning implementing strong authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), to ensure that only authorised individuals can access cloud resources and data; and enforcing the principle of least privilege, granting users the minimal permissions necessary to perform their tasks. It is also of paramount importance to regularly review and update access control policies.

  • Network security, meaning using firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), and virtual private networks (VPNs) to secure network communications and control access to cloud resources. It also covers implementation of network segmentation to isolate sensitive data and limit the exposure of critical resources.

  • Security monitoring, meaning employing robust logging and monitoring systems to detect and respond to security incidents in real-time. It also includes utilising security information and event management (SIEM) tools or cloud-native monitoring services to collect, analyse, and alert on security events.

  • Security patching and updates, meaning regular application of security patches and updates to all cloud resources, including operating systems, applications, and software libraries, to protect against known vulnerabilities. It also covers establishing a patch management process to ensure timely deployment of updates.

  • Data backup and disaster recovery, including implementing regular and automated data backup procedures to protect against data loss and facilitate recovery in the event of system failures, data corruption, or malicious activities. It also covers testing of data restoration processes periodically to ensure the integrity and availability of backed-up data.

  • Employee eduction and training meaning providing comprehensive security awareness training to employees to educate them about cloud security risks, best practices, and their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding data, as well as promoting a security-conscious culture and encouraging employees to report any security incidents or suspicious activities promptly.

  • Compliance and Regulatory requirements, meaning understanding and complying with relevant data protection regulations and industry-specific compliance standards applicable to your organisation and choosing cloud service providers that offer compliance certifications and attestations relevant to your industry.

  • Vendor management and due diligence when selecting cloud service providers, ensuring they have robust security measures, data protection mechanisms, and appropriate certifications in place. It also covers reviewing and understanding the cloud service provider’s security policies, data handling practices, and incident response procedures.

  • Regular Security assessments, including vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and security audits, to identify and address any vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your cloud environment, as well as engaging independent security professionals to perform regular assessments and validate the effectiveness of your data protection measures.

Choosing a Cloud Provider: Factors to Consider

When choosing a cloud provider, it’s important to consider several factors to ensure it aligns with your specific needs and requirements.

Some of the key ones include:

  • Security measures used by the providers, such as data encryption, access controls, network security, vulnerability management and incident response capabilities.

  • Reliability and avaliabilty – look for providers that have redundant infrastructure, geographically distributed data centers, and backup systems to minimise the risk of service disruptions and data loss.

  • Scalability and performance – look for flexible resource allocation, automatic scaling options, and high-performance infrastructure to accommodate growth, handle peak workloads, and deliver optimal performance for your applications.

  • Pricing and cost structure – consider factors such as upfront costs, ongoing operational expenses, data transfer costs, and any additional charges for specific services or features. Ensure that the pricing aligns with your budget and usage patterns.

  • Service offerings – assess the range of services and features offered by the cloud provider, considering the specific services you require, such as compute instances, storage, databases, networking, analytics, machine learning, or serverless computing.

  • Data location and compliance – determine where the provider’s data centers are located and ensure that it complies with data protection regulations and privacy laws relevant to your geographic region. If you have specific compliance requirements, such as GDPR or HIPAA, ensure that the provider offers appropriate compliance support and contractual guarantees.

  • Support – evaluate the level of support and customer service provided by the cloud provider. Look for providers that offer 24/7 technical support, account management, documentation, and self-service resources. Review the provider’s SLAs regarding support response times, issue resolution, and escalation processes.

  • Customer feedback – look for reviews, case studies, and customer testimonials to gain insights into their performance, reliability, and customer satisfaction.

Emerging trends and the future of cloud computing

Cloud computing continues to evolve and shape the IT landscape – its future will be defined by new trends. It’s important to remember that none of them is isolated from the world: they all emerge as a result of innovation, advances in technology, and evolution of customers’ needs.

The Rise of Edge Computing: The Next Evolution of the Cloud

Edge computing is considered the next evolution of the cloud and is rapidly gaining momentum in the IT industry. It brings computation, data storage, and analysis closer to the edge of the network and near the data source, rather than relying solely on centralised cloud data centres.

Some of its key aspects include:

  • reduced latency by processing data closer to where it is generated.

  • bandwidth optimisation – by processing and analysing data at the edge, edge computing minimises the need to transfer massive amounts of raw data to the cloud.

  • enhanced privacy and security – edge computing enables sensitive data to be processed locally, reducing the risk of transmitting it over long distances and potentially vulnerable networks.

  • scalability and agility – edge computing provides scalable and agile computing resources at the edge of the network. It enables dynamic allocation of resources based on demand, allowing organisations to scale their edge infrastructure according to workload requirements.

While edge computing offers indisputable benefits, it is also linked to some challenges, such as managing a distributed infrastructure, ensuring data consistency across edge devices, and maintaining security at the edge. However, with the increasing number of connected devices, the proliferation of IoT, and the need for real-time data processing, edge computing is set to play a crucial role in shaping the future of the cloud and enabling innovative applications across industries.

The Cloud and AI: A Symbiotic Relationship

The cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) have a symbiotic relationship, where each complements and enhances the capabilities of the other. The cloud provides the infrastructure and resources required to support AI initiatives, while AI leverages the cloud’s scalability, flexibility, and computational power to deliver advanced capabilities.

Here’s how the cloud and AI interact and mutually benefit each other:

  • Computing Power: AI applications, particularly those involving deep learning and complex algorithms, require significant computational power. Cloud computing provides access to high-performance computing resources, such as GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and TPUs (Tensor Processing Units), which are well-suited for AI workloads. The cloud’s ability to scale resources on-demand allows AI applications to leverage massive computing power for training models and performing complex calculations.

  • Data Storage and Management: AI relies on vast amounts of data for training, testing, and inference. The cloud provides scalable and cost-effective storage solutions, allowing organisations to store and manage large datasets required for AI training. Additionally, the cloud’s data processing and analytics tools enable efficient data preprocessing, transformation, and analysis, which are crucial for AI workflows.

  • Data Sharing and Collaboration: The cloud facilitates data sharing and collaboration among AI practitioners and researchers. By storing data and models in the cloud, teams can easily access and share resources, enabling collaboration on AI projects regardless of geographical locations. Cloud-based collaboration platforms also facilitate version control, model deployment, and knowledge sharing, enhancing the productivity and effectiveness of AI development teams.

  • AI as a Service: Cloud providers offer pre-built AI services and APIs, making AI more accessible to developers and organisations. These services, such as natural language processing, computer vision, speech recognition, and recommendation systems, can be readily integrated into applications without the need for extensive AI expertise. AI as a Service offerings in the cloud democratise AI capabilities and accelerate AI adoption across industries.

  • Real-Time and Edge AI: The cloud enables real-time AI capabilities by processing and analysing data in near real-time. Streaming data from various sources can be processed in the cloud, enabling real-time insights and decision-making. Additionally, with the rise of edge computing, the cloud and AI work together to perform AI inferencing and analysis at the edge, closer to the data source, ensuring low-latency responses and reducing dependence on cloud connectivity.

  • Cost Optimisation: The cloud provides cost optimisation opportunities for AI initiatives. Organisations can leverage cloud resources on a pay-as-you-go basis, eliminating the need for upfront infrastructure investments. Cloud providers also offer cost management tools and instance types optimised for AI workloads, allowing organisations to maximize resource utilisation and minimise costs.

The cloud and AI’s symbiotic relationship is driving innovation across various domains, including healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and customer experience. As AI continues to advance, the cloud will play a critical role in providing the infrastructure, tools, and services necessary to support AI development and deployment.

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Lessons from the field: overcoming cloud migration challenges

Conducting cloud migration is a complex process that comes with its own set of challenges.

Here are some lessons from the field to help overcome common cloud implementation challenges:

  1. Planning and strategy

    Invest time in thorough planning and cloud strategy development before starting the migration process. Understand your organization’s goals, assess the existing infrastructure, and define a clear roadmap for the migration. Identify the applications and workloads that are suitable for migration and prioritize them based on their importance and complexity.

  2. Application Assessment and Compatibility

    Conduct a comprehensive assessment of your applications to determine their compatibility with the cloud environment. Some applications may require modifications or refactoring to function optimally in the cloud. Understand the dependencies, integration points, and potential challenges associated with migrating each application.

  3. Data Migration

    Data migration is a critical aspect of cloud migration. Ensure you have a well-defined data migration strategy that addresses the security, integrity, and availability of your data. Assess the volume, structure, and sensitivity of your data to determine the most appropriate migration approach, such as bulk transfer, incremental sync, or streaming data replication.

  4. Security and Compliance

    Cloud migration involves considering security and compliance requirements. Evaluate the security controls and features offered by your chosen cloud provider and ensure they align with your organisation’s security policies. Implement encryption, access controls, and monitoring mechanisms to protect your data and infrastructure in the cloud. Consider compliance regulations and ensure your migration strategy adheres to them.

  5. Performance and Scalability

    Evaluate the performance and scalability requirements of your applications. Understand the performance characteristics of your existing infrastructure and determine how it translates to the cloud environment. Optimise your applications and infrastructure to take advantage of cloud scalability, elasticity, and resource provisioning capabilities.

  6. Training and Skill Development

    Cloud migration requires a skilled workforce with expertise in cloud technologies. Invest in training and skill development programs for your IT staff to ensure they have the necessary knowledge and capabilities to manage and optimise the cloud environment effectively. Leverage vendor-provided resources, certifications, and external training programs to enhance your team’s skills.

  7. Change Management

    Cloud migration involves significant changes to infrastructure, processes, and workflows. Implement effective change management practices to ensure smooth adoption and minimise disruption. Communicate the benefits of cloud migration to stakeholders and involve them in the planning and decision-making process. Provide training and support to users to facilitate a smooth transition.

  8. Performance Monitoring and Optimisation

    Establish robust monitoring and performance optimisation mechanisms in the cloud environment. Leverage cloud-native monitoring tools to gain visibility into application performance, resource utilisation, and be aware of overall cost of cloud migration. Continuously monitor and analyse performance data to identify bottlenecks, optimise configurations, and improve the overall efficiency of your cloud infrastructure.

  9. Vendor Management

    If you are working with a cloud service provider, establish a strong relationship with the vendor and engage in regular communication. Understand the provider’s support channels, service-level agreements, and escalation procedures. Collaborate with the vendor to address any challenges or issues that arise during the migration process.

  10. Continuous Improvement

    Cloud migration is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey. Continuously evaluate your cloud environment, optimise configurations, and leverage new cloud services and features to enhance performance, security, and cost efficiency. Stay up to date with industry best practices and emerging trends to ensure your cloud environment remains optimised and aligned with your business objectives.

The transformative potential of cloud computing services

Cloud computing services have a transformative potential that extends across various aspects of business and technology. Some of the key areas where cloud computing can bring significant change include:

  • cost efficiency,

  • accessibility and collaboration,

  • agility and time-to-market,

  • data analytics and insights,

  • business continuity and disaster recovery,

  • innovation and experimentation,

  • global reach and scalability,

  • integration and interoperability,

  • security and compliance.

To sum up, cloud computing services offer organisations the opportunity to transform their operations, enhance agility, drive innovation and improve cost-efficiency. The time to make use of it has come. Don’t hesitate to use it your advantage!

And if you want to know more about cloud ecosystems, deployment, and cloud-based solutions, take a look at our services:

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