What is cloud computing?

13 March 2018

Interview with

Dr Chris Folkerd - UKFast

When talking about computers, the internet, and data storage, we really can’t fail to mention “the cloud”. Storing data out in the ether of the cloud is becoming much more more popular, but what actually is it? Chris Smith spoke to Chris Folkerd from UKFast. First up, Chris S asked Chris F what is meant by "the cloud"...

Chris F - “The cloud,” in its simplest form, is really just a way of utilising someone else's resources on their computers across the internet. Things like “icloud” and “dropbox” enable you to access someone else’s storage on their computers. Some of the more infrastructure based systems where you’re accessing physical servers, cloud computing for example, you’re accessing someone’s web pages, someone’s services across the internet on a big shared pool of resource.

Chris S - Is this more efficient then? Because, basically, what you’ve got running in the cloud are a massive sea of computers, or a cloud of computers all connected together providing processing power and you, for the time you need it, get that chunk of computers to do your job for you, send the results back so that you get what you need, but you haven’t had to invest the energy and the infrastructure in running all of that, you just get the results?

Chris - Yeah, exactly that. The cloud is very beneficial in terms of efficiency because you’re only using it when you need to. So if you’re running a large simulation you don’t have to pay for the infrastructure, you can run the simulation then you’re finished. Businesses find it quite useful because if they’re busy over Christmas, they can immediately start using more resource over the Christmas period and then give that back without paying for any resource that they need.

You also get access to a lot more technologies on the cloud because someone else has already invested in that and you can access that immediately rather than having to go through the process of acquiring it all, working how it all works, and then setting it all up.

Chris S - What are the practicalities then for someone who wants to have a website or something, rather than having a physical computer these days? Could they just have a website that doesn’t really exist apart from in the cloud? It’s just a thing which is there because someone else’s computer is running their website for them?

Chris F - Absolutely! It’s very very common these days, and it’s one of the most common use cases we see at UKFast. You can be as simple as buying a slice of a server for just your website, which works out much cheaper than having the physical infrastructure. And you can just, within a few minutes, go onto a portal and say I’d like space for a website, get access to a control panel, upload your files and off you go. It makes computer provision really quick.

Chris S - Is that what drove this in the first place? Because it seemed to suddenly appear out of nowhere this cloud. There were clear skies and then suddenly everyone’s talking about the cloud. So where did it come from in the first place?

Chris F - It’s got its origins in a couple of technologies that have come around. The internet is the principle one, without that we wouldn’t be able to talk to people’s machines and it’s critical to the way the cloud’s developed. Especially on the computing front, there’s also technology called “virtualisation.” That started emerging in the 90s and it lets you slice up a computer into different chunks. Computers aren't using all of their resources in one go. So, if you can provision that out in small slices, more people can use the same machine and it makes it a lot cheaper.

From there really it just span out; things were cheaper so people could launch websites a lot quicker than having their own infrastructure in place. Then more people came to those websites, more functionality built out from there and, as it does with popular technology, it just scaled from that point onwards.

Chris S - What about security, Chris? Because, if, say I’m running my website in a cloud along side a whole bunch of other people so it’s all sharing one big computer, how do I make sure that my data that’s going through my website, say I’m taking people’s credit card numbers or something, can’t be say stolen by Tim’s website sitting next door to mine in the cloud?

Chris F - It’s one of the biggest questions we get and the honest answer is that there are a lot of security precautions that are put in place. Hosting with the cloud is very very secure because we have the expertise of working with all of these devices all of the time. There’s a lot of very secure barriers that prevent you from accessing other people’s resource, be it compute, storage or networking, and it makes it very difficult for anyone to bridge between those.

Chris S - Can you just, in the last 60 seconds or so Chris, just look over the horizon, to stay with our sky analogy, and tell us what you think the future of this is, where’s it all going?

Chris F - From a consumer perspective it’s the growth of IoT or the cloud services that back that up.

Chris S - This is “internet things” isn’t it?

Chris F - “Internet of things” yes. Will give people a lot more of a tailored service to the devices they’re putting into their home. From a business perspective it’s shortening the time it takes to go to market because you can access all of these services very quickly and they’re called “microservices” - small bits of technology that you can rapidly add into your product portfolio. We’re seeing things being released in months now rather than years, and that will get quicker and quicker until you’re seeing functionality being released in the week or days time frame and really accelerate people’s ability to adopt new technologies.

 

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