There has been much hype about cloud computing, especially amongst techies and geeks, but the rest of us have been left wondering: what is it, and what has it got to do with clouds?

Cloud computing is, in fact, quite a hazy concept that includes many new technological developments. In general, it involves moving all aspects of computing (including software, applications, and even operating systems) away from local hardware to remote hardware maintained by external providers. You can then access your applications and data through the Internet. This is a particularly significant development for businesses because it frees them from the need to spend large sums of money on acquiring, setting up and maintaining costly hardware. All the computing power needed for their day-to-day operations can be carried out on remote infrastructure, and be accessed on basic, user-friendly local terminals (e.g. laptops, tablets, smart phones etc.). Most cloud services also allow users to pay only for the computing and memory resources that they have used, which significantly reduces costs previously involved in maintaining local hardware that might not be fully utilized.

Just to give you an idea of what cloud computing is about, here are a few examples of cloud computing that have crept into our lives:

Google Docs is a good example of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud computing model. The basic idea is that the software and all related data are stored in a central cloud which can be accessed through a web browser. So, with Google Docs, you can just create an online word document which is stored in Google’s cloud computing resources, and edit it wherever and whenever you like as long as you have Internet access.

Another type of cloud computing service is the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model. Google App Engine is a neat example of this service. Say you have made a software application and want it to be accessed by everyone on the Internet. You only need to upload it to the platform prepared by Google and everyone who needs to use the software will be able to access it through the Internet.

The third and most basic type of cloud computing service is the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model. As its name suggests, you basically have access to a remote computer and have control over all aspects of computing, including the operating system, software applications and so on. The online retail giant Amazon has come up with its own IaaS, the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (AEC2), which seems to be quite a comprehensive service for various business types.

So, there you have it, cloud computing in a (very small) nutshell. As Internet access gets cheaper and more prevalent, cloud computing will probably overtake local computing and local hardware will get leaner and simpler.

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