Cloud computing analogy

The Cloud explained & why it is good for small business

Part of my job as a small business IT support specialist is to advise my clients on their IT development strategies and help them take advantage of how the latest technologies can help them be more efficient and effective in running their organizations. In this regard, the hottest topic over the past few years has been, hands down,  cloud computing.

Very often, that conversation centres on what Cloud computing does. But what Cloud computing does isn’t really much different from what conventional, in-house computing does – it provides information and communication technology resources.  To really understand why small businesses can benefit from The Cloud, you need to understand what Cloud computing is and why it should be part of your organization’s IT strategy.

If you are a person who struggles with the concept of Cloud computing, this article will explain Cloud computing is a clear, non-technical way that the you can easily understand.

To start off with, let take a look at a formal definition of Cloud computing. This one is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and is as good as any that I have seen. Good… yes!… but laden with technical jargon that average lay-person probably won’t understand so please bare with me for the moment.

Definition of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics:

  • On-demand self-service. A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
  • Broad network access. Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).
  • Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state, or datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.
  • Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.
  • Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth, and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

Now let’s try and put that into a plain English definition of Cloud computing:

Cloud computing is a method of providing information and communication technology resources as a service. Cloud services has five essential characteristics:

  1. On-demand self-service (You decide what you want and get it automatically.)
  2. Broad network access (The cloud resource is accessible from any location that has network access)
  3. Resource pooling (The cloud provider manages all the resources behind the scenes for you and you share those resources with other organisations)
  4. Rapid elasticity (The cloud service can scale up and down very rapidly to meet your needs.)
  5. Measured service (You only pay for what you use.)

 To put it another way, you don’t have to buy, install and manage the hardware and software in order to use a service. Your cloud service provider has already done that and you just use them as needed.

If you’re still struggling with the above definitions of Cloud computing, I have a good analogy that should help to clear it up.

An Analogy for Cloud Computing

Car clubs have become very popular, particularly in cities where parking is at a premium and commuters have good access to public transport and may only have the need for a car infrequently. Car clubs own and maintain fleets of cars that are left at convenient locations around the city. Members of the car club have access to a car when they need it without the hassle and expense of ownership. They don’t have to worry about buying or maintaining a car and insurance and fuel are generally included. The price they pay is dependant on how much they use the cars.

The world’s largest car club, zipcar, uses the strap-line “wheels when you need them”. Cloud computing could equally use “IT services when you need them” because Cloud services are effectively like car club, only for information and communication technology resources. Let’s look at the five characteristics of a cloud service again using the car club analogy:

  1. On-demand self-service: Cars are easy to reserve online or using a mobile app. Once reserved you simply locate the nearest car to you and unlock it using the app or your membership card.
  2. Broad network access: Cars are left at multiple, convenient locations so you have access to them throughout the city.
  3. Resource pooling: The car club manages a pool of cars within any given city to meet demand and cars are shared by club members.
  4. Rapid elasticity: Car clubs move cars into a particular location when there is a large event and they know demand will be high. They scale up and down to meet the demand.
  5. Measured service: You pay only for the time you used the car. No maintenance, insurance, fuel, tires, etc.


I have found the above immensely helpful to my customers because it explains exactly why Cloud computing is so beneficial to small businesses. Small businesses very often lack the funds to deploy advanced IT services themselves nor the internal resources required to set up and manage these services. For them, Cloud computing gives them a convenient, accessible and affordable way to keep pace with and get ahead of their competitors.

I hope that this article has helped you make sense of Cloud computing services and how they can benefit your business. Please feel free to share it with others who may find it useful too.


Posted in Cloud Services.

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