What Is Cloud Computing? Definition, Benefits, APIs And More

Cloud computing is a lot more than you may have ever heard. Cloud computing offers several possibilities about efficiency gains and the scalability of IT landscapes. Cloud computing can pay off, especially for small and medium-sized companies and research institutions – provided that security aspects are also taken into account.

What is cloud computing, and what do you need it for?

Cloud computing is the provision of appropriate (and remote, remotely accessible) computing services. For example:

  • Storage
  • server
  • Intelligent functions
  • Analysis functions
  • software
  • Databases

These services are offered via the “cloud.” So over the internet.

What are the advantages of cloud computing?

The advantage of individual cloud services relates to flexible resources, faster innovations, and economies of scale. As a user, you generally only pay the various providers for the services you use to connect with the cloud.

Your advantage: operating costs can be reduced significantly!

But cloud computing offers even more advantages because your infrastructure can be run more efficiently, and you also have the option of scaling about non-constant business requirements. The main benefits of cloud computing are changing the traditional way of thinking for many companies regarding IT resources.

There are essentially six advantages that make so many companies choose cloud computing:

The cost

There is no requirement to spend money on buying hardware and software purchases. This also applies to the establishment of local data centers and their operation. There are also no costs for cooling and power supply, which would have to be ensured by using IT experts. Without cloud computing, managing the infrastructure would add up to a lot of costs.

The speed

Most services in the field of cloud computing are offered as “self-service” and “on-demand.” In this way, it can be ensured that even vast amounts of computing resources can be made available within a few seconds. And the provision is already made with a few clicks of the mouse. This gives you a high degree of flexibility in the company. Ultimately, there is no pressure when it comes to capacity planning.

The global scaling

Another advantage of cloud computing is defined by elastic scaling, which can be made possible with it. To describe this in the cloud context, the right amount of resources can always be provided precisely when needed. This concerns, for example:

  • The bandwidth
  • Computing performance (whether higher or lower)
  • The storage capacity

And this amount is not only made available at the right time, but also from the correct location.

Productivity

If you want to manage a local data center, this involves a lot of effort. Both in terms of the administration itself and the facility. This applies, for example, to setting up the software or installing appropriate software patches. The security of the IT systems is the responsibility of the operator. However, there are many other administrative tasks in the IT area that are very time-consuming. If you choose cloud computing instead, you can save yourself doing these tasks and leave your IT team free to focus on your business’s more critical goals.

The performance

The current, most extensive cloud computing services are carried out globally, consisting of secure data centers. And these are continually being developed to offer the latest generation and update the computing software more quickly. This structure provides numerous advantages over individual data centers. These include the cost savings already mentioned and the lower network latencies for different applications and global redundancy in the event of locally limited disasters that can affect or destroy individual data centers.

The security

The individual providers of cloud computing services provide numerous control elements, technologies, and guidelines that strengthen your security environment, with which your apps and data, as well as the entire infrastructure, can be protected from possible threats.

Cloud computing has disadvantages!

As is the case with any technology, however promising, cloud computing also has disadvantages.

For example, you need a high-speed and, above all, stable Internet connection, as the service can usually only be used online. However, the bandwidth required for this is not available at every location. This can mean that the work processes may slow down. Another disadvantage is that you have to familiarize yourself again and again when the service provider has updated or further developed its application – as a rule, these processes cannot be time-controlled, as would be the case with your infrastructure. And while the security of these services is a top priority, it is more necessary because cloud services are particularly interesting for hackers.

What forms of cloud computing are there (SaaS, IaaS)

If you get lost in the confusing acronyms of the individual computing services in the jungle of cloud computing, we would like to provide you with a three-part glossary below.

SaaS – software as a service

The abbreviation stands for “Software as a service.” This service defines the path of the software that is brought to the end-user via the web. In principle, the application was designed with the end-user in mind to use the application – often via the web or some other remote technology.

Often, the service is typing a URL into the browser. And this URL is the same for all of your customers.

“Software as a Service” also offers significant advantages for software manufacturers: As a rule, monthly fees allow a constant cash flow.

IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service

This abbreviation means: “Infrastructure as a service. In contrast to SaaS, the end-user does not come into contact with the IaaS. This means the architecture is directly below it. This application is dealt with by DevOps and System administrators. The hardware is not installed locally or in a data center. Instead, infrastructure is used in the context of the cloud and then delivered as SaaS. Amazon is the leading company in this area, which ultimately made this possible revolution AWS – Amazon Web Services, whose original ambition was to monetize amazon.com’s surplus infrastructure as the primary business – an impressive success!

PaaS – Platform as a Service

And then there is the plat (t) form as a service (PaaS). The application is somewhere between SaaS and IaaS. PaaS primarily describes how to enable individual developers to create an environment to carry out their work without restrictions. The underlying staff is, therefore, of no interest to the developers. There is no need to create databases, install servers, or optimize web servers. The PaaS approach has established itself well over time, which can probably be attributed to the complexity of the application.

Which cloud computing providers are there, and how do they differ?

The question here, of course, is what characterizes a typical cloud computing provider. Which provider is an essential player in the still young market? And what are the differences between them? Even professional market observers find it difficult to provide adequate answers to such questions. The currently leading providers include:

  • Microsoft
  • IBM
  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Salesforce

Although SAP is currently catching up with Salesforce insignificant steps, overall, the technology giants’ dominance from overseas can be stated.

All these providers have to jointly provide complete application and infrastructure platforms instead of just limiting themselves to individual cloud services. On the other hand, small service providers find it difficult to boost public awareness and survive against the market power of Silicon Valley.

Amazon.com – a pioneer since day one

The pioneer among cloud providers is Amazon. A few years ago, the online retailer realized that not only books could be marketed. Because meanwhile, Amazon can sell its own IT infrastructure. This knowledge resulted in AWS, i.e., Amazon Web Services. This gives customers the option of combining their desired services in a modular way. The “Amazon E2” provided by Amazon, i.e., the Elastic Compute Cloud, enables the infrastructure, i.e., the entire computing capacity required, to be mapped.

The resources are calculated down to the minute according to the billing model – you only pay for what you sum up.

Linux – One hour for 10 cents

AMI’s applications, i.e., Amazon Machine Images, can be stored on the Linux platform. The relevant data is located in S3, i.e., the Amazon Sample Store. Amazon offers “SimpleDB” so that the user can access the data in a structured manner. The best part is that users only pay for the services that have been used. The cheapest option costs just 10 cents for one hour of computing power. Amazon marketers chose the name “Elastic” because the required computing power can be adjusted within a few minutes.

Cloud computing, security, and data protection – what should be considered?

Choosing the wrong provider – or careless use of the technology – can entail serious risks. In the meantime, the number of offers for infrastructure is continually growing. The offer includes word processing programs, virtual servers, and even CRM suites. As already mentioned, these services can be obtained from the World Wide Web with just a few clicks. A distinction is made here. However: Either it is a specific private cloud offer that is open to a defined group of users (e.g., members of the company) or a service utilized by all involved members.

Especially against the background of the GDPR, which has been in force since 2018, the risk of data loss, drainage, or misuse must be minimized, as otherwise severe penalties are threatened.

These are threats to the cloud.

Due to its exposure to the network, the cloud is exposed to numerous dangers and attack options. This can be reached publicly and is usually operated by third parties. Both aspects represent a specific security risk.

The seven greatest dangers from the CSA, i.e., the “Cloud Security Alliance” when using cloud computing services, we would like to present to you below:

Malicious use and misuse of the cloud

The interest of attackers is favored by the fundamental properties that a cloud infrastructure brings with it (for example, the fast and straightforward retrieval of new resources with an excellent network connection). These mostly have in mind to host malware or to carry out a “denial-of-service attack,” which is abbreviated as DoS.

Insecure APIs and interfaces

The providers’ cloud services and management interfaces are not only easy to access, especially about public cloud offerings, but also easy to attack. There are also programming interfaces that users can use to configure and control services in the cloud. Such interfaces or weak points could potentially open potential gateways to risk unlawful third-party access to sensitive customer data.

Malicious insiders

If the attackers manage to access the infrastructure, security measures are often ineffective. This is especially the case with malicious insiders. These are insidious employees of the company who take advantage of their employment to misuse the data.

Risks from shared technologies

So-called “pooling” is also one of the typical properties of cloud computing. This means that all users have access to the physical resources of the cloud. This could mean that the user data can no longer be separated appropriately if all users have shared access. This point becomes incredibly exciting when errors occur in the hardware that removes the individual user processes (e.g., through so-called sandboxing).

The Specter and Meltdown gaps in x86 processors are particularly noticeable.

Data compromise and loss of data

As many users have access to data stored in the cloud simultaneously, the security requirements are also higher. In the past, the various providers’ problems have shown that the data can also be lost if technical difficulties arise.

Therefore, ALWAYS is advisable to create an additional backup of essential data on separate systems of other service providers.

Theft of users’ accounts

Many providers use a straightforward registration process so that the user can access the cloud quickly and easily. Suppose an attacker succeeds in acquiring the data of a user or his account. In that case, he has the option of misusing resources under a false name, accessing the data, and thus causing significant damage.

Not only is it dangerous to read the access data from the client computer by viruses. So-called social engineering can also lead to the access data being stolen from an authorized user.

New risks of an unknown nature

The risks can be better assessed in the context of the cloud. Users must familiarize themselves with the security precautions. Also, your perspective must be included. Anyone who cannot carry out this risk analysis because the provider does not provide it adequately exposes himself to a risk that cannot be assessed.

Cloud infrastructures and their requirements

A reliable security architecture is required when it comes to the essential security requirements placed on the cloud. It also includes secure client separation, which applies to all levels in the infrastructure.

For example:

  • platform
  • network
  • Data
  • Visualization

The user should also ensure that the provider has defined a process model according to which he works for the IT processes when it comes to management. For examples like COBIT or ITIL. Only in this way can the numerous tasks in security management be tackled in a structured manner. This includes, for example, the power of:

  • Changes
  • Configurations
  • Systems
  • Patches
  • Applications

Additional emergency management is required to protect the cloud from disruptions or total failures in an emergency. For example, certifications can signal to the user that the provider has established itself within the framework of such processes. For instance, with ISO 27001.

Conclusion – Faster but not more secure access to the infrastructure “by default.”

Like everything in life, cloud services have their advantages and disadvantages. A variety of sensitive data continues to attract attackers with deceitful intentions. And it will probably always stay that way. Last but not least, you should also keep your eyes open when choosing the provider. Because it is precisely in this area, that provider’s info, fortunately, cannot guarantee the necessary security regulations.

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