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Cloud computing definition: what is a cloud and how does it work?

Cloud technology continues to advance: According to a survey by the IDC (Institute for Data Communication), 60 percent of those questioned see cloud computing in companies as the most important technology in the field of digitization. This puts it ahead of big data and mobility. But what is a cloud anyway? How does the storage of files and the access management work in the big cloud of the Internet? What problems can arise and how are they resolved? We get to the bottom of these questions and clearly present the most important terms relating to cloud computing.

Most companies today can no longer be imagined without clouds. But how do they actually work? Credits: fotolia | © Jakub Jirsák



What is cloud computing?

A cloud or cloud computing is understood to be the internet-based provision of storage space, computing power or application software as a service. These infrastructures are mainly used via programs on the accessing devices (clients) and via the web browser. The provider takes care of the maintenance and care of the underlying architecture.

Originally, and since the 1990s, the term “cloud” in IT diagrams has stood for parts of an information architecture. This mostly describes areas in which computer systems such as desktop computers, servers and, for example, smartphones exchange data with one another in an unspecified manner. The analogy to the cloud is derived from the fact that it is indifferent and to a certain extent “concealed” for the user on which specific computer and with which underlying hardware the data is stored. The user does not usually notice the software that is used to store and make the data available. They are “just there” and ideally available to authorized persons anytime and anywhere.

The principle of online storage

From the mid-1990s and during the 2000s, many companies were busy renting and managing their own storage space in large IT data centers. This was then connected to the Internet using expensive, leased lines. However, there was a crucial problem: Planned or unplanned maintenance of the components of this system usually resulted in a total failure of the company's website or workstation computer.

When the online bookseller Amazon began leasing computing and storage capacities to companies in 2006, the cloud was born with Amazon Web Services as a bookable information store on the Internet. It is estimated that there are currently more than 1 exabyte (1 million terabytes) of data in various clouds available for retrieval.

Huge data centers store cloud data and distribute it to individual devices. It is often not known exactly where these are located. Source: fotolia | © Sashkin

For some years now, the growing range of cloud services has ensured that companies can increasingly outsource issues such as failure safety and data connections to third-party providers. The relevant data is ultimately still stored on a server architecture - however, in addition to the data, this is usually redundant (i.e. stored multiple times) at several locations. It can also be expanded almost at will and is no longer easily affected by failures. Devices such as PCs, laptops or smartphones and tablets only require an Internet connection and the appropriate access data to access the online storage from anywhere in the world.

With its cloud solution, the company cloudplan from Hamburg has developed a peer-to-peer system that uses the customer's infrastructure and includes all devices in the data backup on which the cloudplan solution is installed. In this way, the data is not only backed up in several places, but also in several ways and in most cases is available for retrieval much faster. If a required file in the cloudplan system is on a device that is also in the current network (in companies this is usually the in-house network with up to 10 GBit bandwidth), it is loaded directly from this client and not through the Internet retrieved.

Cloud history summarized:

  • Clouds have been around as a term since the 1990s

  • The first public cloud was introduced by in 2006

  • Companies save resources by outsourcing the provision and management of storage space in the cloud

  • Peer-to-peer clouds like those from cloudplan enable fast access and redundant storage


In a simple cloud solution, several clients access the same data storage in parallel. Source: fotolia | © YB

When is a cloud worthwhile?

According to a study by the auditing company KPMG in cooperation with the research department of the digital association Bitkom Research from 20162, 74% of the German companies surveyed confirm that the use of public cloud has led to better availability and performance of IT services. None of the respondents reported worsening. Nevertheless, only 26% of German companies still use such a solution at all.

A cloud is basically worthwhile from the point in time when company data is to be available on more than just one computer. This also and especially applies when, in addition to computers and laptops, mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets are used in everyday work.

In times of modern and distributed work environments, it is very often the case that data is not only required at the central location and headquarters of a company. This is especially the case when ...

  • ... a company operates several locations that have a common database (decentralized data storage).

  • ... the company is growing rapidly and has to expand and / or relocate its capacities (scaling requirement).

  • ... certain employees should have access to the database while on the move (Ubiquity).

  • ... in the course of the ever increasing competition for talented specialists, working from home is also an issue (Talent Wars).

The use of a private cloud not only brings a number of advantages over the usual server-side data storage within the company, but also a lot of potential savings and time savings due to immediate availability. This allows the company to scale flexibly if more or less computing and storage capacities are required. The data is simply in the “cloud” and access is only possible in a secure manner by the people who are supposed to have access. According to a study by the US market research company IDC, the investment in a secure cloud solution pays for itself in many cases after just over a year due to the high savings potential

2Cloud computing in Germany - status quo and perspectives: Bitkom study 3Wirtschaftswoche: 60 percent of companies worldwide use the cloud

Summary: When is a cloud worthwhile:

  • Wherever they are already in use, cloud solutions are perceived as being very efficient and useful

  • Nevertheless, the spread, especially in Germany, can still be greatly expanded

  • If you have 2 or more connected computers in your company, a cloud can make sense

  • Clouds bring flexibility and competitive advantages to the company

  • Unfortunately, many private cloud solutions are complex to set up and require maintenance


In common private cloud systems, the data is distributed to the clients via several intermediate stations and protected against failures on the server side. Source: cloudplan

Data protection and security in the cloud

The topic of data protection is very important in Germany. Therefore, there is still a certain skepticism in many companies about the big cloud in which the company's own data is to be stored and whose servers are often located in the USA or other countries. Uncertainties that come up again and again in this context are a lack of security against eavesdropping, encryption problems, hacked server architectures and poor reliability.

So what happens to the company data on the way to the cloud? Where are these actually physically stored? And to what extent does the company retain control over the potentially sensitive data?

In principle, there is the same rights management and encryption mechanisms in the cloud as in a conventional server architecture. It is not only possible to provide all traffic to and from the cloud with extensive encryption. The entire database itself can also be stored in such a way that it is completely worthless for possible attackers or third parties. However, it is assumed that in some countries, due to lower data security standards, eavesdropping problems may well arise - not to mention slow access times.

If you want to be on the safe side, your cloud should be located in Germany if possible and, especially against the background of revised data protection laws from 2018, should be operated according to the latest EU standard. As long as you rely on the right provider for your cloud infrastructure, you don't take any risks. Since cloudplan only runs on the customer's infrastructure and only backs up data here, you determine where the server is located.

What needs to be considered for data protection in the cloud:

  • Due to uncertainties in data protection, many companies shy away from migrating data to a cloud

  • The data transmission should always be encrypted

  • More recent European directives on data protection stipulate that cloud providers have to orient themselves towards the whereabouts of the users when it comes to data protection

  • If the right cloud services are selected, there are no additional security risks that this causes



What should go into the cloud and what shouldn't?

According to IDC, over 60% of companies worldwide already use cloud services and around 26% are intensively involved in the topic.1 These are often so-called public clouds such as Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox. These services are accessible to everyone and already offer a wide range of access options. However, it is not always clear here who has what access to the data, and especially company-critical information should of course not be transferred unthinkingly to a third-party public cloud by responsible administrators.

When companies provide their employees with typical cloud services for more efficient work, but provide and operate the infrastructure themselves, they have a so-called private cloud. The advantage is that the data is still on the company's own computers. The disadvantages, however, are a sometimes complex infrastructure and possibly high maintenance costs. Such a solution also requires a stable and fast internet connection for external access. As in the case of cloudplan, a private cloud is usually obtained from a third-party provider and continuously developed by them. In this way, you can combine the advantages of being largely maintenance-free with those of a secure, in-house solution.

A hybrid cloud combines both approaches: some non-sensitive data and volatile information is in a public cloud, while other more confidential information is in a private cloud. Ultimately, this is a compromise between the two approaches. In addition, cloudplan offers the option of connecting independently working locations to a cloud so that they can work around the clock on the same database. All that is required for this is the Private Cloud Node add-on, in which the data is also encrypted, so that maximum data security is also guaranteed decentrally (for example with different time zones of the locations).

Which data you ultimately transfer to the cloud should be decided on a case-by-case basis or we should advise you.

In a nutshell:

  • Publicly available so-called public clouds have the reputation of not being particularly careful with customer data

  • A private cloud ensures that critical files remain in the company without having to forego the advantages of being available anywhere

  • With a third-party solution, the company saves a not inconsiderable amount of maintenance and care costs

1 (Source: Ponemon Institute State of Data Centric Security survey, 2015)


Data exchange in the event of failure of individual components

The possibilities of a cloud and its advantages are obvious. Anytime access from anywhere enables collaboration from home and collaboration at different locations. But what actually happens if the internet connection fails at any point?

If you create a document on your workstation computer and store it in the cloud, other employees can access the data from their device with the appropriate permission. However, if the connection to the Internet is suddenly lost, there is no longer any data exchange with the cloud. This is particularly problematic in rural areas or with occasional provider failures as well as with time and security-critical processes.

As a provider of a largely fail-safe, so-called peer-to-peer solution, cloudplan does not necessarily use the connection to the other possible cloud participants on the Internet (e.g. clients or server systems at other locations), but first checks whether the required data is on a nearby one device may be available more quickly. This can be, for example, the computer of a colleague who is in the same WLAN or LAN as you. In case of doubt, you not only save mobile data volume and transmission bandwidth, but you also benefit from significantly faster data exchange.

The intelligent distribution of data between the participants in the cloud ensures greater reliability and particularly fast availability of the required data. Source: fotolia | © Julien Eichinger


What happens in the event of a component failure:

  • A failure of the Internet connection can result in lost work and data in conventional cloud solutions

  • The transmission of data through the Internet is almost always slower than in the local network

  • With cloudplan, this fact is automatically and efficiently taken into account, since files available in the local network are not downloaded from the Internet



Which cloud for which requirement?

The type of cloud that comes closest to your needs depends on the level of distributed infrastructure and redundancy you need. With so-called IaaS offers (Infrastructure as a Service), the cloud provider only provides an archiving and backup system and server for the customer. The offer therefore only includes the infrastructure and possibly software components for the administration of this system. PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings, on the other hand, comprise a combination of hardware and software that provides an environment for developing and using your own applications.

If you are skeptical about the possibilities, why not try our free introductory offer for business customers first. Here you get

  • 2 x Basic Free unlimited workstation licenses

  • 4 x Business Pro 14-day trial workstation licenses

  • 1 x Enterprise 14-day trial server license

In this way, you will gradually get to know the advantages of storing data in your own cloud infrastructure and making it available on multiple devices, and you will be able to better assess your own needs and future work with the cloud.


Conclusion on the subject of cloud solutions

Cloud solutions make sense as soon as several employees access the same database in the company and change it. They make the existing data available to authorized persons and enable access at any time and from anywhere. However, you should consider a few points when choosing a suitable solution:

  • The cloud servers should be located in your company if possible, but at least in Germany

  • When using external servers, the data should only be stored and transmitted in encrypted form

  • If your company's Internet connection fails, access to the data must be guaranteed

  • Only that which cannot be made available locally should be transmitted over the Internet

  • The solution should be very efficient, because time is money and nobody likes to wait long for an urgently needed file to be downloaded

The cloudplan solution not only works in a highly redundant and particularly secure manner - it also provides the required data extremely quickly thanks to multiple storage in the local network.