We've all been in meetings where the solution to nearly every problem in IT was "the Cloud," as if placing whatever it might be somewhere offsite is a cure for all ills.
While putting your work into a cloud service might actually be a good idea, it would help a lot to know what that means, exactly. If you only have a general sense, clouds refer to computers that are located somewhere away from your location. Those clouds seem to be able to store data, they may provide computing functions, and they appear to save money. But there's a lot more to it than that.
First, there are several types of clouds. Divide them up by function, and you have clouds that perform computing functions, some that provide storage, and others that provide services. Look at them by access methods, and you have public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds. And just to keep everything interesting, there are also community clouds and multi-clouds. You can even have clouds that never leave your building.
At the most basic level, a cloud is a computer or group of computers that you don't have to manage yourself, except when you do.
Public clouds are resources accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a means of payment. The Dell Cloud, for example, is such an offering. You've also probably heard about Amazon Web Services, Apex Cloud Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. These services can provide compute capacity and storage, so you can run your servers completely in the public cloud.
Private clouds are cloud services that exist for one company or organization. Their architecture is similar to that of public clouds, and they likely run the same hardware and software as public clouds. In fact, they may be operated by the same providers as public clouds, but they're not available publicly. The customer for a private cloud has control over how the services are delivered and what services are available.
Hybrid clouds are part private cloud and part public cloud. In many cases, the private cloud may be located on the premises of the company using the cloud service. This is done for performance or security reasons, because an on-premises cloud will probably have lower latency than one that's located remotely. In addition, some customers feel that locating the cloud in the building is more secure.
Multi-clouds are a mix of several cloud services, some private and some public, that are used in combination to provide the best combination of performance and capability. Dell recently partnered with virtualization provider VMware and graphics processor maker NVIDIA, for example, to provide a new suite of multi-cloud services that use Apex infrastructure-as-a-service and VMware management tools.
Software-as-a-service is probably the most widely used cloud service available. Virtually any application that you run on your phone is really SaaS, because there's a back end supporting that app, providing access to data and most of the computing, and it's in a cloud. Salesforce, Dropbox, Microsoft 365, Slack, Gmail, and your popular voice assistants are all SaaS applications. Most of the web-based applications you use every day are also cloud-based.
Ultimately, the direction of the industry is towards multi-cloud. This will mean, among other things, that you will (or already do) access a variety of cloud services – some public, some private, and some perhaps on-premises – while also making use of commercial cloud services. You may find that you're selling products on Amazon, with the transaction data integrated from your private and public cloud storage, with the ecommerce handled by another web application that's also in the cloud.
The greatest challenge to this cloud-within-a-cloud approach is managing the whole thing. It can get very complex, and latency among multiple clouds adds to the complexity. Then there's the challenge of monitoring the whole environment and optimizing it so you're not overpaying for resources. Dell's Apex is one means of approaching that challenge, giving businesses a self-serve, web-based console where they can manage all their cloud services.
Regardless of where your business is now, its ultimate future is in the cloud.