Cloud Computing, explained.

Since the beginning of enterprise IT, computing models have constantly evolved. From mainframes to virtualized servers to hosted systems, companies have looked for ways to make their IT architecture more efficient and cost-effective. Cloud computing is the next step in the evolution, and while it bears several similarities to previous models, there are some unique qualities that open up new capabilities.

In thinking about a cloud computing definition, we have to consider the five characteristics that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) outline as an essential part of any cloud system:

Broad Network Access

This characteristic is common with other models and simply means that cloud services require networked connections between backend infrastructure (such as servers and storage) and frontend clients (such as laptops or smartphones).

Resource Pooling

In many cases, this involves virtualized resources, but in some cases, physical resources themselves are pooled together with a layer of software.

Rapid Elasticity

Here cloud computing services begin to drastically separate from other models. Rather than simply grouping resources into static pools, cloud resources can dynamically grow and shrink depending on the workload demands.

On-Demand Self-Service

In contrast to other models that require significant technical expertise to spin up, cloud services have simple methods that allow users with relatively limited technical skills to create or access resources.

Measured Service

Given the dynamic nature of cloud computing, the final characteristic is the ability to measure exactly how much resource is being used, which leads to the ability to charge for exact usage rather than purchasing or renting for a broad period of time.

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