The cloud is gaining widespread adoption. For many organizations, cloud computing has become an indispensable tool for communication and collaboration across distributed teams. Whether you are on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, or Azure. the cloud can reduce costs, increase flexibility, and optimize resources.
If you have spent your career in buzzing server rooms full of cable nests, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. In this article, we will examine the top eight uses of cloud computing for you to consider. Once you learn more about what cloud computing can do, you might become a fan too.
1. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
One of the most obvious advantages of the cloud is that you do not need your own hardware for applications hosted in the cloud. You can spin up virtual machines (VMs), Kubernetes clusters, domain name system (DNS) services, storage, queues, networks, load balancers, and plenty of other services without lugging another giant server to your datacenter.
Cost reduction is the most common argument for switching to IaaS. You do not need your own servers; you only pay for the cloud services you need. You also save on overhead when you are not installing and maintaining your own hardware.
Even better, you can create and configure these cloud services using scripts or infrastructure as code (IaC). You can create complete environments automatically and easily clone an environment by filling in some variables. Although you can do this to some extent on your on-premises servers, it is easier in the cloud.
One potential pitfall is that most of these services still require maintenance. For example, you are still responsible for installing software and keeping both your cloud VM and the software up to date.
Also, while you can completely customize your own VMs, you can only pick a set of predefined VMs in the cloud. Although you have some choices, there is a chance you may not find what you need.
All in all, IaaS can save you time and money, but if you are only moving some servers to cloud VMs, you may not get as much value for your money. Examine your needs, such as scalability, and your expenses, such as overhead, when deciding if IaaS is right for you.
2. Platform as a service (PaaS)
PaaS is a step up from IaaS. While IaaS moves your hardware to the cloud, PaaS goes further by also moving most of your maintenance.
For example, say you need to run a service and a database. A VM can replace a server, but you still need to install the service and maintain the database yourself. PaaS solutions create a resource that runs your service, as well as a resource that runs a database. With only a few button clicks (or IaC), you have a service and database at your disposal. There is no need to install it or keep it updated, as the PaaS handles that for you.
With PaaS, you have less control of the system and hardware running your services. There are still plenty of plans to choose from, though, so compute power likely will not be a problem.
However, keep in mind that some applications need low-level system access, which is not possible in most PaaS solutions. After all, you cannot access the system or hardware. Also, if your application depends on a specific program installed on the server, PaaS is not for you.
While it is fast and easy to get started with PaaS solutions, there are some limitations on what you can run. When you need to install specific software on a server running your application, consider switching to a PaaS solution for those as well.
One cloud offering that does not exist on premises is serverless. Serverless is a bit of a misnomer, as it definitely involves servers. However, from the perspective of a user, like a programmer or an administrator, there is no server to interact with or manage.
You simply create some (short running) code with a trigger, such as a timer, HTTP request, or message on a queue. Whenever the code triggers, it is placed on a server managed by a cloud provider. After the code is executed, the virtual server disappears.
Serverless is cost-effective (often free), and scales easily. So, if you need to process a queue with millions of messages, you can process these messages in parallel on different, automatically started instances.
The downside, of course, is that you have absolutely no control over how and when the code executes. Serverless often has some startup delay, too, but it is still a powerful tool in your cloud toolbox.
4. Hybrid cloud and multicloud
Most serious environments, especially in well-established businesses, still need to access on-premises resources like files or services. With a hybrid cloud model, you can allow cloud resources secure access to your on-premises servers through, for example, a virtual network. This makes the cloud an extension of your on-premises systems.
Another option to extend your cloud is a multicloud environment. There are two ways to maintain a multicloud environment:
- Running some services in one cloud platform (such as Azure) and other services in a different cloud platform (such as AWS or GCP)
- Running the same service in multiple clouds simultaneously
The benefit of running the same services on multiple cloud platforms is that when one cloud has issues (unfortunately, that still happens), the other can take over. That way, your services are highly available. Another benefit of multicloud is that you avoid vendor lock-in.
The downside, of course, is that running two clouds doubles your costs. You will want to think about your need for redundancy versus your need to keep your budget in check when considering multicloud.
5. Testing and development
Cloud computing is great for quickly spinning up development, testing, acceptance, and production (DTAP) environments. You can create and configure cloud resources quickly using IaC. To create a new environment, you will only need to change some variables.
You can run your scripts automatically from your DevOps environment. You no longer need to create more VMs (or worse, buy servers) for additional environments and then hope they exactly mirror the production environment.
Your cloud environments will always be the same. Even when you pick a less expensive tier for some services, you can be confident everything will work as expected.
6. Big data analytics
The cloud offers plenty of solutions for big data analytics. You can store and process your structured or unstructured data, with various tools for data warehousing, data lakes, as well as extract, transform, and load (ETL).
Even if you are not yet ready to do anything with your data, cloud platforms offer unlimited storage to gather everything now that you might need later. This includes things like customer shopping habits, search and site navigation routes, sensor data, images, and more. As a constant stream of data flows in, cloud services scale so that you can collect it all.
Various cloud offerings for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) help you find patterns in your data and generate business value from huge quantities of data. These insights can help drive business growth, equipment and cost optimization, and customer experience and marketing improvements. The computing power available on cloud services can help you analyze data in real time to make quick business decisions.
The unlimited storage and computing power available on the cloud is an advantage; however, this can also turn into a disadvantage as costs rise. Monitoring helps keep these costs in check.
7. Cloud storage
You can store data and files in the cloud, making them available everywhere you want to whomever you want. This is especially helpful as employees and contractors work from home during health-related shutdowns, and as global offices coordinate their efforts around the planet.
Cloud providers often store files redundantly, so you automatically have some backups in place. You can synchronize files from your on-premises environment, ensuring you always have a backup in case of an equipment malfunction, fire, or natural disaster. You pay only for the storage you use, and your storage scales as your business grows.
Cloud storage is fast, accessible, and secure. Most cloud breaches are caused by errors that cloud users make while setting up services, such as failing to lock down containers with user permissions, and not by cloud platforms being insecure.
8. Data backup and disaster recovery
Backing up data can be a pain. Cloud providers back up many resources by default, and you can add additional backup services relatively easily.
You can choose a backup strategy for various services and keep those backups in various places in your region, continent, or even in locations around the world. For example, you can store critical files on three servers in each of three data centers located on three different continents, giving you 3 x 3 x 3 backups, or 27 copies of the same file.
Restoring a backup might be as easy as picking which backup to restore and clicking a button.
This makes disaster recovery fast and cost effective. You can quickly mitigate a disaster at one datacenter, or even across an entire region, by turning over to another datacenter in another region. Some services, like databases, have default failover regions, often on a primary backbone. This makes data transfer fast. Those failover instances can even serve as read-only copies to minimize request delays.
The cloud is great for many things. You can quickly spin up additional resources and complete environments using IaaS, PaaS, and IaC. You pay only for what you use, which may be cheaper than your on-premises environments.
The true power of the cloud is not that its resources may be cheaper. It reduces development time and bugs between environments, it has great IaC support for DevOps environments, and it requires less maintenance overall, especially for SaaS solutions.
The cloud may not cover all of your team’s needs. For some organizations, a hybrid solution works best. But whatever your use case, now that you know the cloud’s potential, you are well equipped to harness the power of cloud computing for your own organization.
To learn more about how you can use cloud computing to accelerate your engineering team’s build, test, and deploy processes, sign up for your CircleCI free trial today.