Cloud Computing Definitions

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 15, 2012

Cloud Computing Definitions

The new technology known as cloud computing is on the rise. Businesses of all sizes, including entrepreneurs, are turning to cloud platforms to power part or all of their IT infrastructure, and millions of people use personal cloud applications in their everyday lives. Hundreds of companies offer cloud-based services for a wide range of uses and applications.

If you'd like to keep up with this brave new world of technology, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with some new cloud terminology. Cloud computing has arrived with its own set of vocabulary, and knowing what you're dealing with can help you make better decisions for your cloud needs.

The Definitions

Here are some of the more common terms used in cloud computing, along with their explanations.

The Cloud: This is the virtual space that houses all data and applications used in cloud computing. The collective “cloud” is comprised of distributed and connected data managed by hundreds of service providers from a vast array of physical locations.

Cloud Computing: This form of computing uses shared resources to power many different clients and deliver software, applications, operating systems, storage, or network infrastructure via the Internet. Cloud computing allows users to avoid using local servers or local machine software installation.

Virtualization: Using a bank of servers to share the available workload, virtualization has abstraction capabilities that conceal system complexities from the end user, showing only the application interface while permitting administrators access to the system. Virtualization is often a critical component of cloud computing.

Software-as-a-service: Abbreviated as SaaS, this form of cloud computing allows users to access fully functional software applications through a web browser, rather than installing the software on a local machine. The most common and widely used type of cloud computing, SaaS includes services like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365.

Platform-as-a-service: Abbreviated as PaaS, this type of cloud computing uses virtualized servers to provide and maintain operating systems. A PaaS provider also hosts the server hardware and maintains load balancing and computing capacity, enabling the end user to run existing applications or develop new applications without additional IT tasks. Examples of PaaS providers include Windows Azure, Salesforce, and Google App Engine. PaaS is also sometimes referred to as Cloud OS, for cloud operating system.

Infrastructure-as-a-service: Abbreviated as IaaS, this form of cloud computing allows users to support or replace the functions of an entire data center through virtualized servers, storage, networks, and systems software. A few of the current key providers for IaaS include Rackspace, AppNexus, and Amazon's Elastic Compute Clo thiud (EC2).

Cloud App: Short for cloud application, this term is used to describe the software offered by SaaS providers.

Cloud Service Provider: A cloud service company offers cloud-based storage, software, platform, or infrastructure services for businesses or individuals.

Cloud Provisioning: This refers to a company's decision-making process regarding cloud services, such as defining which services and applications will be moved to a cloud environment, and which will stay housed in on-site servers. This process also typically involves spelling out who will use the cloud services and how they will be accessed.

Cloud Migration: This term refers to the process of a company moving to partial or full cloud-based solutions, which involves transitioning data, applications, and services from behind the firewall of the company's on-site premises to the cloud service provider's servers.

Storage Cloud: A broad term for the collection of resources, such as servers and Internet relays, a storage cloud is responsible for the online storage and management of data in the cloud.

Cloud Storage: Not to be confused with “storage cloud,” this term simply means the act of storing data online in the cloud.

Personal Cloud Storage: This typically refers to non-business cloud storage applications, or drives, that enable users to access documents, photos, and audio/video files through multiple devices, including PCs, mobile phones, and tablet computers. Examples of personal cloud storage applications include Dropbox, Microsoft Sky Drive, and Google Drive.

Private Cloud: A relatively new development in the field, a private cloud is a cloud-computing platform that operates from behind a company's firewall and is controlled by the IT department. Private clouds are designed to meet some of the common challenges of cloud computing, such as security concerns and control over customer and enterprise data.

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