What is the Cloud…Really?


Every mid to large-sized organization that I work with has either moved to the cloud or plans to in some fashion, but they all define and view the cloud differently. Because it’s practically impossible to know everything about the cloud given the pace of innovation, it’s easy to assume that more organizations might be able to leverage it better than they are today.

To help understand the myriad of ways to utilize it, let’s look at what the cloud really is.

A Brief History

Not too long ago, data and applications lived only on PCs and servers within the boundaries of an enterprise system. There are some great movies from that time, when criminals had to break in to a building in order to steal sensitive company data.

While the Internet was growing in the mid-1990s, organizations started to centralize their client-server technology, some even creating their own onsite data centers. Employees began to “tunnel” into applications and data stores remotely via Virtual Private Networks and the Internet. From this point, innovators began to evolve data centers into external structures that could host multiple organizations’ data and applications (co-location data centers). Then, starting about seven years ago, enterprises began to ditch their onsite servers and data centers in favor of these outsourced “cloud” solutions.

This is how I define the cloud to my clients: outsourced access to data and services that are available anytime and anywhere.

Why is it called the cloud? Many old diagrams that outlined an organization’s data and application structure would include an outline of a cloud that represented the telephone network, and later the Internet, and it’s widely believed that’s how the cloud got its name.

Startups and technology organizations were the first to leverage the cloud, while traditional and more risk-averse brick-and-mortar and manufacturing firms were wary of it. A prime reason for many organizations to start to move to the cloud was the end of a hardware lifecycle in their organization — do they purchase massive amounts of new hardware or “lease” the hardware from a third-party cloud provider? These decisions were essentially no-brainers when organizations realized the true resource savings at hand, and thus began a rapid evolution in the structure and usage of the cloud.

Cloud Models

The evolution of the cloud has followed four basic models:

  1. The most simplistic model is called a lift-and-shift, where you replicate your on-premises virtual machines and server infrastructure in the cloud. You have easy and secure access, but it is in someone else’s data center running on their servers but with your application workloads.
  2. The next step was to make cloud services more elastic and scalable by applying smart metrics that allow services to scale up and down with variances in volume. Thousands of manufacturing and e-commerce businesses have seasonal sales spikes. With the cloud, they can increase and decrease their computing capacity automatically as demand increases and decreases. This alone is a big benefit for many organizations that in the past would have had to purchase infrastructure and resources for ‘peak load’ but otherwise have an over-allocation of resources.
  3. A third step in the evolution of cloud computing involved breaking applications into building blocks called containers. If a massive enterprise application has three front-end web servers, mid-level indexing servers, and an application server in the middle and a back-end database, they all can be separated into containers to enable the updating of only the pieces that need it. Because of these numerous small incremental changes, painful major application releases are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
  4. The last step (so far) in cloud evolution involves microservices. Now applications are much more focused on the application programming interface (API) layer, where you have the option to leverage third-party APIs instead of having them be part of your application if it’s not core to your business function. This splits applications apart even more and further simplifies updates and releases.

Businesses are mixing and matching all four of these models to best meet their needs. The most cloud-mature organizations utilize server-less microservices extensively, but many organizations still operate in a hybrid model because they have strong needs for on-premises applications and services. Determining the right fit for cloud services in your organization can be a difficult task, particularly when the cloud has evolved into practically every niche service imaginable.

How Can AIM Consulting Help?

AIM Consulting provides cloud consulting services to help you develop a roadmap to understand the greatest benefits of the cloud for your organization. We can help you navigate the investments you should be making in cloud technologies, help you migrate to cloud platforms, plan for business continuity and disaster recovery, and leverage cloud-based automation tools like AWS Pipeline for CI/CD.

Our flexible engagement model allows us to partner with clients to the degree that makes the most sense for them. Larger consulting firms tend to want to control the show, bringing in entire teams to run things from cradle to grave, or else delivering strategies as reading materials while leaving you without resources to implement them. While that might work for some engagements, AIM’s clients appreciate our flexibility to deliver from strategy to implementation to maintenance in ways that make the most sense for you and your business.

If you want to discuss your specific situation and unique needs further, contact us today!