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Defining cloud computing is not a simple task. Although everyone talks about it, it seems that not everyone means the same thing. Still, let us try to provide a few basic definitions that could shed more light on what cloud computing is all about.

Cloud computing is basically a new consumer model for IT – it is a high-tech product (server, storage, software, etc.) that is consumed in real-time over the Internet. Instead of investing in expensive hardware to create an IT infrastructure, cloud computing allows companies to delegate IT operations and management to an external provider.

Gartner defines cloud computing as a type of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled resources are delivered as a service using Internet technologies. Different organizations have their own definitions for the term but the most common characteristics that appear across the board include three distinctive features that make cloud computing different from traditional hosting:

  • It is provided on demand, usually sold by the minute or the hour
  • It is elastic — a user can choose as much of the services as they want to and change this according to their needed
  • It is fully managed by the provider — practically, the user needs nothing but a personal computer and access to the Internet.

For those interested in formal definitions, the American National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”