What is the Cloud?

The Challenge of the Century: Defining the Cloud

The Fluid team and I recently attended a “cloud” event with technology executives and the wide range of questions — even at a basic, fundamental level — was staggering. The topic of “defining the cloud” is a bear trap waiting to spring.

Trying to define the cloud in one book would be difficult, much less a single blog. So we will take this step-by-step and address all things cloud in a series of blogs. I would like to define the cloud from a holistic approach with business usage in mind.  We can dive into greater detail in future blogs, so I will start at a 50,000-foot level.

Personally, my definition of the cloud is based on my experience using the cloud and providing cloud services to businesses for years. My definition is also colored by feedback from clients, vendors, colleagues, etc.  As such, it is not intended to be a prescriptive definition found on many wikis.

The Cloud Isn’t in the Sky


At the most basic level, “the cloud” means using computing resources outside of your premises, place of work or home. It is true that a guy could put a computer in his living room, call it a server, have users access that server from other locations and call it a cloud service. I think we would all agree, though, that we would not be very comfortable signing up for that type of scenario.

So I would define any cloud service as housed in an offsite datacenter somewhere around the globe. Any business would want the peace of mind that comes from knowing their cloud services, data, security, etc. are housed in a reliable and secure facility that was purposely-built to house and host computing services.

The Cloud Saves You Money, Space and Maintenance Costs

Since cloud services are computing resources and services housed in an offsite datacenter that the users access from other locations (office, home, hotel, mobile, etc.), there is no need for the user or the user’s company to purchase and run computing resources (servers) on their own premises. By definition, when you use cloud-based services, you are using computing resources running in and managed by an offsite datacenter.

This means you, as the cloud service user, no longer have to buy and maintain servers at your own office. The cloud service provider takes care of all of that on their end. You just access it over the network. Imagine the cost savings if you no longer had to buy and maintain your own servers. Now you see the biggest benefit of the cloud!

That said, I should mention that larger enterprises that have sufficient capital and resources can create their own cloud. They could purchase and create their own cloud infrastructure in a datacenter they own and rent out. It is still a cloud resource because the hardware is housed in a dedicated datacenter and users access it through the network.

The Cloud Stretches and Lets You Pick and Choose

Another generally accepted attribute of a cloud service is that it is elastic, meaning it has the ability to rapidly change and scale at minute levels.

One of the primary benefits of cloud services is the ability to quickly get in, get out, move up, move down, whatever the user’s needs dictate, in real time. There is no need to build-in days or weeks of lead time or schedule weekend downtime to add, change or remove services. Modifications of any type can be done in seconds, minutes or hours based on the need. The key benefit to any user or business is not having to worry about how this happens, when this happens or who is doing it. The management is done by a third party, and is no longer have to be concerned with.

The cloud also gives users the ability to use services specific to business needs, rather than having all business solutions under one roof. Each specific business need is aligned to one or many software solutions.

Basic needs for most businesses are sales/marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, business-specific software, and file storage and collaboration. Each of these business needs may be met with a single cloud-based software solution, often called an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, or they can be met by individual cloud solutions specific to the software.

Here are cloud service solutions for a home builder, for example:

Business Need

Sales & Marketing


File System

Builder Software







Whether you use a single cloud provider for an all-encompassing ERP solution or multiple cloud providers, the responsibility for managing and maintaining the technology lies with the vendor.

The only exception to this is in the case of a private cloud where the cloud provider is hosting software owned by the customer. In this instance, the vendor is responsible for all the infrastructure hardware, management and maintenance, but the customer is responsible for software license compliance, upgrades, etc.

The Cloud Still Requires Equipment

So with all the software and systems now handled by a cloud provider, the user doesn’t have to worry about any technology, correct? Not quite. The customer must still have the equipment necessary in their office locations to connect to the Internet and provide a secure environment.

Connection and security is typically handled with firewalls, network switch equipment and Internet service from a telecom provider, such as AT&T or TW Telecom. This is all critically important because it is your lifeline to all your cloud services. All hardware should be protected (e.g. battery backup), maintained and refreshed at end-of-life, just as you would do with traditional server hardware if you owned everything yourself.

Even with these in-office hardware and connectivity requirements, the cloud saves businesses a lot of money, space and maintenance because they no longer have to worry about owning servers. The cloud provides more flexibility, more control over using what you want when you want it, and more mobility as you can use cloud services from anywhere on any device at any time.

Check back next Tuesday for a video of Fluid's employees defining the cloud in their own words.