The Cloud…what exactly IS it?

Cloud Technology Explained.

By Peter H Le

Peter LeQuestion: “What in the world is the Cloud, besides the one floating in the sky?”

Answer: “The CLUOD!”

I mis-spelled the Cloud above intentionally because that is how I felt when I first heard this term; confusion.

I was saying “Huh? what in the world is that, and what geek came up with this new fluffy term, so he can sound smarter than us common folk.”

I have been working in the Information Technology industry for over a decade as a Marketing Technology consultant, and if I did not get it instantly, how would people like the carpenters, musicians, and farmers, or even stockbrokers and accountants understand this concept?

Like many boring topics, such as finance and economics taught in school, it went over my head like a 747 jumbo jet during takeoff! And after days, yes days, I finally got the answer, which is (can you believe it?) – the Internet!

Someone just renamed the Internet and called it the Cloud. That’s all they did. The Cloud is actually reinventing an old concept, which is outsourcing or having other people or companies manage certain things that you use to do at home or in your own office.

This article attempts to explain basic concepts relating to the Cloud that a 4 year-old can understand it. I always believe in simplicity to any idea or problem I encounter to grasp and solve. Because let’s face it, some people just don’t understand what it is or even admit they don’t know, especially CEOs or Executives who have to put a confidence face all the time, pretending to know what the Cloud is or any other new idea.

I say it’s ok if you don’t understand, because all of us are ignorant in many areas outside what we do and specialize in. For example I don’t know how to compose music or design rocket engines for space, so obviously I won’t get new concepts coming from those areas. Same thing for non-techies, they should not naturally understand things if it’s not in their profession or expertise. So let’s explain the Cloud and 3 related concepts.

1-sentence liners:

“Cloud” is just the Internet doing things for you, that you use to do on your computer.

“Content Delivery Network” is like a FedEx distribution facility for your website, so it can deliver the same information across the globe quickly.

“Content Management System” is like having a newspaper company publish your company information on the Internet instead of actual paper.

“Virtualization” is like a dream within a dream.

Full explanation:

Cloud – To illustthe_cloudrate what it is, let’s say you have so much junk stored in the garage of your house that you ran out of room. Now you take that junk and transport it to a storage company. The storage company assigns you a space with certain sizes in square footage, and will charge you a monthly storage fee.

That is all the Cloud is but instead storing your physical things in the real world, you store your digital things in the Internet world. So instead of junk I have lying in my garage, I have digital photos lying in my computer, but I don’t have enough space any more. I go to a company like DropBox and I move my digital photos to them (like transporting my junk on a truck, I transport my photos on the Internet). DropBox stores my photos with certain amount of space in Gigabytes usually, and they charge me a monthly fee for the service.

So in essence, the Cloud is providing a service done on the Internet, instead of having that same service perform directly on your own computer. Back in the day, remember the many things a computer did with software installed on it.

There is software to store you files, software to do accounting, software to perform marketing analysis, software for spreadsheets or word processing. In the old days, you would have to buy and install all of this software directly on your computer so your computer can perform these specific services or tasks. But now, you can use the Cloud to perform the same services without installing anything on your computer.

As a result, things like billing clients to running complex CRM (customer relationship management) applications can now be done over the Internet, and not installed on your own computer or server.

Potentially you would only need to connect to the Internet and you’re good to go. No worries or technical issues when installing software, or having to update or upgrade to the next version. The Cloud will automatically do that for you so you don’t have to worry about the boring technical issues or headaches, and just focus on your business.

Now imagine looking up at the blue sky on a beautiful day with many clouds. If you notice, not all clouds are exactly the same, some look similar, some look totally different, and some come in all shapes and sizes.

Now look at the various companies that offer Cloud services. Some offer similar services in customer support while others are in the business of accounting and billing. You will soon discover the hundreds if not thousands of companies that are coming into the market for the Cloud.

So the geeks were smart after all and figured out those businesses if frustrated enough, they will scrap the software and find another way to improve and innovate, hence the Cloud.

Below are a few more related concepts to the Cloud and “Cloud Computing” to start your journey into the Internet frontier. Because organizations of different sizes must consider these solutions as part of their overall business strategy and how the Cloud and Information Technology can build their brand and relationships with their customers.

Content Delivery content delivery networkNetwork – It is the same as opening a bunch of Wal-Mart stores in different countries so people can get to your store more quickly within a shorter distance. And when you go to the Wal-Mart, it pretty much sells the same products and services. Another example is Louis Vuitton opening stores in Moscow and Hong Kong. It sells the same products and gives the convenience for people in the local areas to not travel such long distances to get to the main stores in Paris or Rome.

So a content delivery network (CDN) applies this same principle to websites. Basically your are opening your website in different countries, hence distributing your website content. So when people hit your site from China or Australia, they get to it much faster and will not have to go across the globe to hit your site headquartered in Canada. But it is the same website when people hit it from whatever location. Just like going to the Louis Vuitton store, it’s pretty much the same everywhere.

The advantages of the architecture is reaching more people in less time for them to pull up the site, quicker interactions and responses, giving them a better experience, and increase the likelihood of them converting into customers. The last thing an ecommerce business wants is a customer in the middle of the shopping cart purchase, and the response to the site slows down to the point where the site cannot complete the transaction because the customer is overseas.

cms logo'sContent Management System – It is like making a newspaper in which you organize your articles and news so that people can find their interests like sports or food. So basically a content management system (CMS) is making a newspaper on the Internet (i.e. making a website). It organizes articles, categorizes subject areas, assign pages numbers, and give you a table of contents.

So instead of doing all these tasks on a real paper newspaper, it performs this task on a website. It can be properly organized in a certain way for people to navigate and easily find what their looking for. I did not realize that a CMS was using newspaper concepts until I built a website using a CMS called Joomla. In this system, you create articles, sections and categories, assign page locations, and menus (which is basically a table of contents).

Virtualization – Think of it as a “Dream within a Dream” (based on the movie Inception by Chris Nolan), thus it would be a “Computer within a computer”. Or let’s think as a business owner instead of a dreamer, and say he/she owns a large company like the automobile manufacturer, Toyota Motors Corporation. Some people to this day don’t realize the Lexus is a subsidiary company and owned by Toyota. Lexus is a company within another company called Toyota.

Just like Toyota, Lexus runs and operates on its own, meaning it has its own customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and employees, which are separate from the parent company. However it performs the same mission in terms of selling a similar product and service, which is making cars.

That is exactly what Virtualization is, in which you have a Virtual Computer or Virtual Machine (VM). It performs the same goal of a real physical computer. A Virtual Machine has its own software, operating system, programs, and configuration, separate from the “parent computer” or real physical computer. Virtualization is creating a subsidiary computer within a parent computer.

By the way, I am not too ashamed to admit that it took me awhile (I won’t say how long though) to get this, even though I have been in the Information Technology industry for many years. It was Greek to me, like a heart surgeon explaining a new cardiovascular concept to a brain surgeon for the first time. Both are in the medical industry, but they each have their specialty and “special language” within their core disciplines. However the brain surgeon would grasp the new concept a lot faster than someone outside the industry.

Conclusion – I hope you learned something and had a light bulb click on or got that “ah-hah” moment. Because I wish someone explained these flighty concepts to me as if I was a 4-year-old. When starting on a journey of learning and discovery, I always advise clients to “KISS” (keep it simple stupid) and “learn to walk before you can run”, or as the movie starring Bill Murray in “What About Bob”, “baby-steps.”

One final note: if you intend to use the Cloud for certain services, you may want to consider diversifying your vendors of choice. Just like diversification is usually good when investing your money, diversification among different Cloud companies that offer similar services will allow you to be in control of your business, more leverage at negotiating rates, and prevent your business to be beholden to a vendor that you totally depend upon, such as customer service support.

I would go so far as to say use 2 or more vendors for customer service support, if feasible, to diversify, and also you will discover what each company specifically does well and what it lacks. Of course this is easier said than done but something to consider.


Peter Le is director of Qollage, a Singapore-based company specialising in consulting and concierge services for Ripple & Bitcoin technology. Born in Vietnam and raised in California, he consulted over 15 years in Business Development & Technology Services, working internationally from Hong Kong to Silicon Valley to Central America.

His core expertise is being the liaison between the worlds of Finance, Marketing, and Technology, creating real-world solutions for institutions. His past clients include industries in Banking, Health Care, Tourism, Gaming, Retail, and Telecommunications. He holds bachelors degrees in Marketing, Finance, and Management Information Systems at the University of Arizona.

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4 thoughts on “The Cloud…what exactly IS it?”

  1. Loved the concept of making it simple. However, thus article and my ability to understand the concepts could be improved if he took a very simple (real or fictional) business and gave concrete examples of how to use the cloud. He did it with the excess pictures stored on a PC, but a lot of the rest –well, it is still foggy like a low lying cloud.


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