Cloud services are application and computing resources made available on the Internet and managed by third-party providers. Through a subscription-based system, organizations can make use of infrastructure, platforms, technologies, software and more without requiring physical hardware.
Since their introduction in the early 2000s, cloud services have become an increasingly common technology solution. Many major tech B2B and B2C companies have launched their own cloud services, enabling customers to be more agile, cost-effective, and competitive. Cloud service providers (CSPs) offer cloud services to many different customer segments, ranging from individual developers and small businesses to large enterprises and government organizations.
Using cloud services instead of buying and maintaining private and on-premises infrastructure can boost an organization’s flexibility, cost efficiency, innovation and scalability while reducing the burden on IT teams.
Without cloud services, organizations must build and manage costly and complex multi-cloud architecture including data centers, storage, networking equipment and application platforms. Security, compliance, and data protection measures are also critical to ensure the confidentiality of customer data and protection from threats. For these reasons, it’s often easier for an organization to use cloud services from other providers.
With cloud services, a third-party provider manages and maintains the software, allowing customers to use the infrastructure without having to worry about upkeep. This frees up time and resources, keeping the focus on core business operations.
Some common cloud services use cases include:
- E-commerce: Businesses with fluctuating workloads, such as e-commerce during holidays or event-driven marketing campaigns, can use cloud services and a pay-as-you-go model to adjust resources during peak demand and scale down during quieter periods, optimizing costs.
- Email: Users across the globe access email without installing software. Instead of storing emails and associated data on individual devices, cloud email services store the data on remote servers managed by the email service provider.
- Big data: Businesses like Amazon and Meta collect and analyze their own customer data to understand human buying behavior. Processing this massive amount of information is a large undertaking that may exceed the capacity of traditional on-premises infrastructure. Through cloud services, businesses can store their data and access data analytics and AI/ML tools to gain insights on customers.
- Small business: Cloud services have opened the door to tech that was once only available to enterprises with a large IT budget. Startups and small businesses often have limited capital and resources, and data centers are a large expense that take up space. Moving to the cloud allows companies of all sizes to quickly launch their operations without significant upfront expense. Using cloud services, costs that are usually allocated for the purchase of hardware and software can be saved for other initiatives.
- AI/ML: Cloud services also support data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning use cases. Organizations with resource-intensive computing needs can use the high-performance abilities of cloud services without the need for managing a complex and costly infrastructure.
- Software development: With an application platform as a service (PaaS), APIs and open-source technologies, developers can build, test, and iterate applications quickly and cost effectively.
- Disaster recovery: Cloud-based disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) provides IT resiliency with a pay-as-you-need capacity model at scale.
Cloud services can be categorized into three primary types:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Offers users fully functional applications running on cloud infrastructure. SaaS covers a wide range of applications, from email and office productivity tools to customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. SaaS providers deliver and maintain applications and software over the Internet, thereby eliminating the need for end users to deploy the software locally.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Empowers developers to build applications without dealing with the underlying infrastructure. Users can focus on writing code while the PaaS provider handles scalability, security, and maintenance. Users gain access to a framework from the operating system up.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Provides users with fundamental computing resources, such as compute, storage, and networking, over the internet. Users can rent virtualized hardware from IaaS providers, eliminating the need to own physical servers and data center infrastructure.
In addition to these three primary models, other cloud service types address more specific needs. These include:
- Function-as-a-Service (FaaS): Allows users to execute individual functions in response to events without managing the infrastructure.
- Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS): Provides managed database solutions, enabling users to deploy and scale databases without administrative overhead.
- Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS): Offers users managed container orchestration platforms for deploying containerized applications.
- Internet-of-Things (IoT) as-a-Service (IoTaaS): Delivers cloud-based services for managing and processing IoT data, enabling IoT applications and analytics.
When using cloud services, businesses can take advantage of a wide range of benefits, including:
- Cost predictability and flexibility: Instead of investing upfront in hardware, businesses can pay for the resources they consume. Cloud services can also accommodate fluctuations in workload, ensuring optimal performance during peak times and cost savings during periods of lower demand.
- Business continuity and redundancy: Reputable cloud service providers operate data centers with built-in redundancy, enhancing the reliability of services and ensuring business continuity—even in the face of natural disasters.
- Innovation: Providers continuously update their services with new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT. Businesses using cloud services can implement these innovations without the need for significant upfront investment in new hardware and software.
- Security: Cloud providers invest heavily in security measures and compliance certifications, offering businesses access to robust security solutions and expertise that would be challenging to implement individually.
- Expertise: Cloud service providers have areas of expertise that organizations can employ for specific business needs. Outsourcing can boost efficiency and quality instead of attempting to address the need with on-prem hardware.