Introduction to Cloud Applications
February 6th, 2024 - Today's technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate, and one of the most significant advancements is the development of cloud-based applications. These applications, hosted on public or private cloud services, provide businesses with easy, scalable access to tools and resources on demand, revolutionizing the way we approach computing.
The concept of cloud computing has been around since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the advent of the internet that it became a practical reality. Today, we see cloud computing as a major part of everyday life, from email services and streaming media to IoT for industrial facilities.
Types of Cloud Services
Cloud services are typically divided into three categories: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Each offers different levels of control, flexibility, and management:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) contains the basic building blocks for cloud IT and typically provide access to networking features, computers (virtual or on dedicated hardware), and data storage space.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) remove the need for organizations to manage the underlying infrastructure (usually hardware and operating systems) and allow you to focus on the deployment and management of your applications.
Software as a Service (SaaS) provides you with a completed product that is run and managed by the service provider. It allows the end user to use the software without thinking about the underlying development and maintenance of it.
Understanding the Benefits of Cloud Applications
Faster Time to Market
Quick development is a product of the flexibility of accessing computing resources without the need to acquire new hardware. It also reduces the complexity of deploying these resources by abstracting some of the process. Finally, it facilitates automation pipelines (CI/CD) that reduce development and build times.
Scalability and Flexibility
Cloud applications provide businesses with the ability to easily scale up or down their IT requirements as needs change. This level of agility can give businesses a significant competitive advantage.
For example, if you have an application that has high usage between 8AM and 5PM from Monday to Friday, you could scale down your deployment during nights and weekends, which reduces the operating costs of the application.
Similarly, if there is a sudden spike in traffic, you can have scaling rules that allow automatic scale up by adding servers to your deployment, which would allow you to handle the increase in traffic without downtime. This capability to quickly and temporarily acquire computing power as needed is only possible though cloud services.
This benefit is tightly related to flexibility, as the ability to pay only for the resources you need will significantly reduce the cost of operations; however, there is more to it than that.
Using cloud resources, businesses can avoid the upfront cost and complexity of owning and maintaining their own IT infrastructure, and instead simply pay for what they use. Many of the maintenance headaches are offloaded to a third party, and you only have to worry about your application.
At first, it might seem like having your computers moved off-premise would negatively affect security; however, many times it may be more secure to run your services through a cloud service provider.
The truth is, when using reputable cloud service providers, you are offloading the need to keep your servers maintained, updated, and secured to a third-party that is specialized on these processes. Many cloud providers hire security experts to continuously improve their security practices, providing a robust protection. As for physical security, their premises are usually highly surveilled and protected from physical entry.
Finally, using cloud services allows you to utilize solutions that abstract the complexities of configuring and monitoring your servers, which help ease the process to hardening servers and monitoring any activity that occurs.
Limitations of Cloud Applications
Although there are many benefits to cloud computing, as any other technology, it also has its own issues that you need to consider when deciding if cloud is the right solution for your application. Some of these limitations are:
Possible vendor lock-in which makes it more difficult to migrate later on to other providers. If you built your application solely on Microsoft Azure but decided that you wanted to use AWS instead for cost savings, it could be an enormous undertaking to re-structure and program your application to use the new provider.
Less control over your servers as you are basically renting these resources, you might be limited on what you can do with regards to the actual infrastructure.
Security Risks: Although most applications would result in an increase in security, it also depends on the service and your current policies. As you have no control over the physical resources, you take the risk of being compromised without knowing. If there are special compliance that you must follow, or your data is specially sensitive, you might want to opt for an on-premise solution where you can better control access. Finally, there might be concerns in relation to data privacy, and it might be a deterrent if you do not have the need to expose your application to the public.
Integration Complexity: It might increase the complexity of integrating your applications with your existing infrastructure or existing software; however, this depends on the implementation and use cases.
Unforeseen Costs can arise if we do not carefully review the cost of the resources you plan to use, and there might be less control over the costing of operations. You could also inadvertently incur high costs if you allow unlimited scaling, as a high spike in resource usage could cause a deployment of many extra, and expensive, servers.
Cloud Computing is an emerging technology that has taken the limelight as the importance and prevalence of the internet becomes greater. The benefits of economies of scale allows reduction in cost that benefits companies by allowing temporary acquisition of affordable computing resources in a flexible manner.
Similarly, the use of cloud computing can allow applications to benefit consumers by allowing resource usage that might not be realistic or practical on consumer hardware. For example, the recent rise of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, and Generative Image Generation with DALLE or similar models can benefit from cloud computing by remotely computing text and image generation on applications hosted on the cloud.
These are only some of the benefits of cloud computing services, and new technologies are becoming available to improve on legacy cloud infrastructure to make more scalable and flexible applications that run virtually anywhere. This is the case with the emergence of microservices, which breaks applications into smaller units that can be scaled up and down, granting the application more flexibility to provide high availability to its consumers.
As cloud technologies continue to improve, it will allow applications that are more responsive, cheaper to maintain, and more secure.
Introduction to Cloud Applications