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What is Cloud Computing?

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When you stream your favorite album online, shop at an e-commerce store or answer your work email from your home computer, you’re reaping the benefits of cloud computing. But what is cloud computing, really?

Cloud computing is a form of computing in which networks, data storage, applications, security and development tools are all enabled via the Internet, as opposed to a local computer or an on-premise server in your organization.

“Companies can use these services without having to purchase or house the physical infrastructure. They can get exactly what they need, when they need it, and expand or reduce services as the needs change,” said Dr. Scott Overmyer, associate dean of information technology programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

The field of cloud computing has been growing rapidly for years, as more companies seek to work remotely, boost efficiency through automation and save money on IT infrastructure. According to a 2021 report from Gartner, global end-user spending on public cloud services is projected to grow 23.1% in 2021 to $332.3 billion – up from $270 billion in 2020.

With this growth comes evolving career opportunities. If you want to get started in this dynamic field, it’s important to understand the different types of cloud computing and what you can do with them.

Types of Cloud Computing

From global brands to tech start-ups, organizations are finding new ways all the time to use cloud computing to offer services, protect data and run their businesses.

Currently, there are three primary types of cloud computing models:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS provides users access to hosted computing resources, such as networking, processing power and data storage, said Adam Goldstein, an adjunct instructor in STEM programs at SNHU.

IaaS provides the basic building blocks for cloud-based IT, offering infrastructure like firewalls and virtual local area networks. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are two common examples of IaaS.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS provides access to a platform within which users can develop and build custom software and applications, said Goldstein.

With PaaS, developers can focus on the creative side of app development, without having to manage software updates and other infrastructure. Magento Commerce Cloud is an example of PaaS commonly used by e-commerce companies to build and manage custom online stores.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS allows users to subscribe to a fully functioning software service that is run and managed by the service provider, said Goldstein.

With SaaS, the end-user only has to focus on how they will use that particular piece of software within their business. They don’t have to think about how the service is maintained or how infrastructure is managed. An example of SaaS is Microsoft Office 365, in which all MS Office applications are available in a browser without installing them on a local computer.

What is Cloud Computing Used For?

Among the different types of cloud computing services, there are many different uses of cloud computing across virtually every industry. As of 2020, 61% of businesses moved their work to the cloud, according to a 2021 report from Flexera. And this trend is likely to continue in the years ahead.

“Many organizations big and small are migrating at least some of their IT infrastructure to the cloud,” said Overmyer. “In many cases, it can allow the organization to focus more on their core business by reducing the need to manage their own data center.” 

So what are examples of cloud computing uses? According to Overmyer and Goldstein, cloud computing drives many of the popular personal and enterprise services consumers use every day. This includes collaboration suites like Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 as well as learning management systems used by schools, streaming services and Internet-hosted video games.

With music streaming services, for example, instead of accessing music files on a local computer, users can stream them from a cloud service over the internet, said Overmyer.

Another example of cloud computing in action is Amazon’s AWS, said Goldstein. AWS provides cloud services to run Amazon.com, one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world.

The use of cloud computing doesn’t end with shopping and music streaming, however. Most people are likely engaging with cloud-based services in some way throughout their daily lives.

“E-commerce, software services and applications, large and small database hosting, gaming, data warehousing and internet of things are just a few of the things that people are doing in the cloud,” said Goldstein.

Who Uses Cloud Computing?

Because there are so many applications for cloud computing across a range of industries, there is also a wide variety of jobs that use cloud computing on a daily basis.

“Almost all IT jobs will have some interaction with the cloud,” said Goldstein. “System administrators, network engineers, software developers, IT architects, database administrators and cybersecurity engineers all may use cloud services on a regular basis.”

Opportunities in these fields are growing, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs for database administrators, for example, are projected to grow 10% by 2029. Software developer jobs are expected to grow 22% and jobs for computer network architects are projected to grow 5% over the same time period

In addition to these more traditional roles in computer science and IT, there are also a rising number of job opportunities within the field of cloud computing specifically, said Overmyer.

“You could get a job as a cloud practitioner, a cloud solutions architect, a virtual network engineer, a cloud cyber security specialist, and just about any other job you can think of in computer science, information technology, or business computing,” he said.

An entry-level employee might start as a cloud administrator or cloud developer working in existing cloud architecture, said Overmyer. With additional experience and certifications, they could eventually work as a chief cloud architect, providing technical direction to the platform and application development teams.

Experienced cloud administrators could also take on more specialized roles such as cloud security analysts or API developers, said Goldstein.

With the right experience, cloud computing careers could even lead as far as a chief information officer position for an organization, said Overmyer.

If you want to get started on any of these fast-growing career paths, getting the right education and training will be key.

“Based on the rapid growth of cloud computing there is definitely a demand for trained individuals to work in the field,” said Goldstein.

How to Get Into Cloud Computing

The first step toward landing a job in cloud computing is to focus on professional training and education.

Get Cloud Computing Education

Because cloud computing is becoming a core part of most technology fields, a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, information systems or cybersecurity is an important step toward a cloud computing career.

Goldstein said that many of the technical skills needed for success in cloud computing jobs can be gained through IT and computer science degree programs, including:

  • System administration and networking
  • Scripting and coding
  • Application programming interface (API) development
  • Data storage and management

“A degree or higher education certificate program focused on those applied technical skills with hands-on learning is really beneficial to acquire a variety of skills,” said Goldstein.

For students who know they want to specialize in cloud computing, online training programs focused on those specific technical skills can be a valuable addition to a degree program. SNHU, for instance, offers the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Foundations course, which helps prepare students for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam.

Get Professional Experience

Because cloud computing is constantly evolving, getting hands-on industry experience is another important step toward a career.

Cloud computing internships are a great way to start working in the field and gain key technical and soft skills, said Overmyer.

Students studying computer science can also work on their own cloud-based projects building websites, games or other applications to add to a portfolio of work and gain experience with specific cloud technologies.

“Experience with a cloud vendor’s products is the quickest path to a career in cloud computing,” said Overmyer. “In addition, anyone can open an account with AWS, Google, MS Azure, Oracle, or other cloud vendor, and just start experimenting and building.”

Get Certified in Cloud Computing

Earning professional certifications in cloud computing is another important step toward working in the field.

Many cloud computing companies, such as AWS, Microsoft and Google, offer their own certifications covering a variety of skills, said Overmyer, who is also an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and certified to teach the AWS Academy Cloud Foundations course.

AWS, for example, offers an entry-level Cloud Practitioner certificate and the more advanced AWS Certified Solutions Architect (CSA) – Associate and AWS CSA – Professional certificates.

Additional certifications from AWS, Microsoft and Google focus on other more advanced skills, including cloud architecture, cloud development, systems administration, cloud security and machine learning.

“These are all useful and in varying degrees of difficulty,” said Overmyer. “A good start are the foundation certificates for AWS, (Microsoft) Azure or Google.”

No matter what path you take to land a job in cloud computing, you’ll gain key skills that can help you start and grow a successful career in technology and prepare you for industry changes ahead.

“There are many job opportunities, and the field is fast growing,” said Overmyer. “Anything you can envision as a profession in computing you can add ‘cloud’ to and it becomes a new field.”

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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