Most people are familiar with the idea of cloud storage. Remote services like Dropbox let you save files from one computer and recover them later from another. Cloud computing works under a similar principal, only instead of data being stored remotely, computer programs are executed remotely. This is not an old idea. As Leslie K. Lambert of GuruCul Solutions, a security company with a large presence in the cloud computing space, puts it: “cloud computing has been with us for many many years. It’s only the name that is new.”

Clouds come in three basic flavours: private, public, and hybrid.

  • The Private Cloud
    A private cloud is basically a large datacenter with hundreds of computers chugging away on customized code to meet the specific needs of one company. When a salesperson requests a quote on their cellphone, that quote is generated by the cloud. When the CEO types half a memo on his office computer and then finishes it on his tablet at home, it’s the cloud that bridges that gap. “In a sense,” says Lambert, “a private cloud is a very close extension of your company intranet.” The primary advantages are security and control. 

  • The Public Cloud
    Public cloud services are provided by large generalized organizations, usually over the public internet. They are more cost-effective than private clouds, but less customizable and less secure. They do, however, provide one powerful operational advantage. “Public clouds help companies size up and size down very quickly in synch with their need,” says Lambert. Say a business needs a certain amount of computing power for most of the year, but then needs double or triple that during occasional burst periods, such as a Christmastime rush. With a public cloud service they are never paying for more computer power than they use.

  • The Hybrid Cloud
    The hybrid cloud model is simply a combination of private and public clouds. Increasingly companies are turning to hybrid clouds in order to realize the separate advantages of each model. For example, a company might use a private subcloud to store and process sensitive client information, but simultaneously use a dynamic public subcloud to scale processing power up and down as needed. 

The technology may be advanced, but the concept behind it — essentially the outsourcing or insourcing of computation — is a simple one that anyone in today’s connected society can benefit from understanding.