Cloud computing is made up of three key elements:
- large-scale data centres hosted on remote servers
- services - eg software and hardware resources provided over the internet
- low-cost computers and other web-enabled devices like laptops, netbooks and smartphones
With cloud computing, users are able to access their business information over the internet - 'through the cloud'. Since your applications and data are stored remotely, all you need is a web-enabled device and an internet connection. Businesses can use smaller, more low-cost portable devices, such as smart phones and netbooks, supporting more mobile and remote working practices. For more information, see the page in this guide on the benefits of cloud computing.
There are three main cloud computing services available.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS is the most common form of cloud computing used by small businesses, and involves using software hosted on remote servers. It allows you to run applications through your web browser and save, retrieve or share files that are stored 'outside' your business.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS allows businesses to use virtual hardware resources to build their IT infrastructure. This includes server space, data storage facilities or networking hardware. As with SaaS, you can modify or expand capacity as required. Other benefits include a reduction in your IT costs - by outsourcing your hardware requirements you no longer need to buy it or have the internal expertise to maintain it.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS involves using online application development capabilities to build and adapt applications to suit your business needs. The software development tools and hardware you need to do this - known as 'cloudware' - are all located remotely and accessed through the web.