Understanding cloud computing for nontechnical professionals

Cloud computing with a person using a laptop in a modern gray chair.

In this piece:

“As a non-technical business stakeholder, what do I need to know about the cloud when my organization is choosing cloud-based software?”

It’s a question we often hear when we’re talking with nontechnical business leaders in the wild.

They’re part of their organization’s efforts in adopting cloud-based applications and functionality, but they’re not tech people. There is a need for them to be well versed in cloud computing features, functionality and pricing, as well as the vendor’s history with uptime, compliance and security. However, the need is not for them to become cloud architects, but rather to have a solid technical foundation on cloud basics to be able to participate in cloud conversations and decisions.

We’ve got that for you. Follow along as we tackle the most frequently asked questions about what cloud computing is.

What is the cloud?

“The cloud” is a metaphor for computing resources that can be accessed over the internet, on demand. Those resources can include data storage, processing, networking or applications.

Despite the connotation, the cloud is not a single, nebulous destination. Like a traditional on-premises data center, servers are still used to house data and applications. However, a third party owns the servers and is responsible for tasks such as security and disaster recovery.

Some organizations use a cloud provider only for data storage. Others outsource all data center activities. Most of us already rely on at least some applications delivered via cloud.

How does cloud computing work?

Cloud computing works by delivering computing resources via the internet from a large, cloud-based data center — or from geographically distributed resources. A distributed cloud model may be used to optimize performance or meet specific regulations.

For example, certain computing or storage resources might be located closer to the user for faster performance. Backups may be housed in dispersed locations to ensure continuity in the face of a significant local event, like a natural disaster.

The cloud model lets you “rent” computing resources from third parties. Those resources can be anything from behind-the-scenes computing technology like data storage, networking tools or computing power, to sophisticated data analysis tools or common business software applications like those used for email and word processing.

Cloud computing can free you from having to research, buy and maintain computing equipment and applications.

A programmer uses cloud computing to work remotely from her desk at home.

What are the different models of cloud computing?

When people refer to cloud computing models, they’re often referring to cloud services models. The three core cloud services models are: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

IaaS, or Infrastructure-as-a-Service

IaaS provides fundamental computing infrastructure such as servers, networking tools and processing power that you can purchase and use on-demand. With IaaS, you only get infrastructure — which means you’re responsible for buying, installing, configuring, managing and maintaining any applications and operating systems that you wish to run on that infrastructure.

PaaS, or Platform-as-a-Service

PaaS gives developers a ready-to-use platform for building cloud applications, including infrastructure. A PaaS platform lets developers create complex applications more easily than using traditional methods and offloads infrastructure and maintenance tasks. With PaaS, the third party takes care of the infrastructure and operating systems, but you are on the hook for the applications and data.

SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service

SaaS lets you use software on-demand without worrying about purchasing, installing, upgrading, maintaining and patching that software as well as the infrastructure and operating system. Salesforce and Office 365 are examples of SaaS applications.

PaaS and SaaS solutions have IaaS built in.

> Read more | IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: What’s the difference, and how do I choose?

What are the types of clouds?

Cloud “types,” or “cloud deployment models” describe where the computing infrastructure resides and who has control over that infrastructure.

There are countless manifestations of cloud deployments, so they don’t always fit neatly into a single category. Commercial cloud services providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) offer a public cloud but can also facilitate virtual private clouds and hybrid cloud deployments.

To add to the confusion, you can purchase software and run your private cloud on-premises, meaning you host and manage your own servers, security protocols, disaster recovery plans and software.

Private cloud

A private cloud is limited for use by a specific organization. That organization may not own the servers or buildings where the private cloud lives, but only the specified organization can use that cloud. A private cloud may be required for industries that must comply with specific security requirements for operations and data.

Public cloud

A public cloud offers its services to the public, meaning, anyone can purchase resources from that cloud, and the resources are shared with other cloud “tenants.” A public cloud isn’t necessarily less secure than a private cloud — it just may not meet the specific standards that many private cloud environments serving highly regulated industries must satisfy (such as healthcare or financial organizations).

Hybrid cloud

A hybrid cloud model joins public and private clouds with technology that allows data and applications to flow as needed. This model might be adopted in order to add capacity or balance demand across clouds and physical locations.


A multi-cloud model ultilizes multiple clouds, possible private and public together, using the most appropriate cloud model or cloud vendor for each respective application.

A remote worker uses cloud computing to do her job from the comfort of home.

What is the difference between cloud and edge computing?

Edge computing happens at the “edge” of a network, instead of in the cloud.

In edge computing, data may be “pre-processed” at the edge before it is sent to the cloud. A common use case involves Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

For example, a manufacturer may use sensors to gather information about equipment performance and send some of that data to the cloud for analysis. Some devices generate such a massive, continual stream of data that sending it all to the cloud would place unrealistic demands on internet bandwidth. The solution is to process some of that data closer to the source, at “the edge,” before moving it to the cloud.

What are the benefits and advantages of moving to the cloud?

The benefits of cloud technology can be sliced and diced in countless ways, but some of the most frequently cited advantages include:

Increased flexibility and agility

The cloud makes you more flexible and agile in a number of ways. Cloud-based software and infrastructure make it easy to adopt new technology faster. Applications remain current. New applications can be deployed quickly across organizations. Your organization can quickly scale as needed to accommodate change — and you can support a more distributed, anytime, anywhere workforce.

Stronger security and disaster recovery

Leading cloud providers run extensive programs across all layers of security, with dedicated staff and a greater body of expertise than would be practical for most businesses. With data securely backed up in redundant locations and applications accessible via an internet connection (and typically usable offline until a connection can be established), operations don’t come to a halt if a natural disaster strikes a data center, or employees must suddenly shift work to a new or remote location.

Cost benefits

A cloud solution removes the costs of an on-premises or self-hosted data centers, and allows staff to focus on IT needs to grow a business instead of procurement, configuration, maintenance and security duties. A key cloud benefit is scalability — you can change capacity without worrying about the expense of over-provisioning servers and avoid the risk of underestimating needed capacity. For businesses without data centers and a large IT staff, the SaaS pricing model is a game changer, providing access to highly advanced software that was once only available to those with vast resources.

In addition to flexibility, security and cost, the cloud opens opportunities to drive innovation. Cloud-enabled organizations can build new solutions faster, optimize business processes and adapt to changing markets quickly, which puts them in a better position to compete.

CAPex vs OPex

When deploying in the cloud, monthly operational expenses (OpEx) are the primary expenditure, and they’re quite predictable. That makes full cloud adoption easier to budget for than on-premises or hybrid setups, and in many cases, the expense is easier to get approved. With an on-premises application, capital expenditures (CapEx) could include buying equipment, paying for software licensing and maintaining the hardware in top shape, which can be both unpredictable and expensive.

A healthcare worker uses cloud computing to deliver quick, accurate care.

What industries benefit most from the cloud?

Organizations of every type, size, and industry are using the cloud for use cases that range from highly scalable, low-cost data storage services to big data analytics, software development and testing, customer-facing web applications and everyday applications like email and word processing.

For example:

How do you migrate to the cloud?

Cloud migration, cloud transformation and cloud modernization are all commonly used when referring to an organization’s general cloud strategy or move of specific applications and related data to the cloud.

Most established organizations are somewhere along their journey of cloud transformation. For larger organizations, particularly those with legacy systems, the shift means prioritizing which applications to move and when, researching new solutions and vendors and retiring — or deprecating — older applications. Regardless of industry, all cloud journeys require an extensive change management initiative.

> Read more | A practical guide to cloud migration

Are there any security concerns for businesses adopting the cloud?

Today’s business is expected to operate anytime, anywhere — in a secure fashion. Moving applications or data to the cloud that were previously hosted only on-premises raises understandable common-sense questions about security. What you may not know is that hosting software in the cloud can dramatically boost security, improve your ability to meet core security and compliance requirements and ensure privacy and confidentiality.

When moving to a SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS cloud model, it is important to learn how your provider:

  • Ensures the security of your applications and data
  • To what extent they can help you with compliance
  • Certifications
  • Data center accreditations
  • What types of controls are offered by the software itself
  • Where your data is hosted and who has access to it
  • Uptime and response time guarantees

> Read more | Mitigating disaster: How the cloud ensures clear days ahead

Content services are a logical place to start with cloud

As the world’s datasphere expands, we need to find new ways to manage the onslaught of information that comes our way in a host of different formats and channels, both digital and paper (yes, still).

We need solutions to help us find the information we need faster, incorporate it efficiently into workflows and processes, and store it in a way that ensures compliance with internal policies and regulatory requirements. For many, the answer is to shift from on-premises content management solutions to cloud content services. When deployed effectively, these platforms prepare your organization for the future-state of content.

Hyland and cloud computing

Learn more about Hyland in the cloud:

Hyland on AWS

Hyland is listed on the AWS Marketplace. Learn more about the benefits of purchasing there, including the ability to:

  • Streamline procurement
  • Implement controls and automate provisioning
  • Manage software budgets with cost transparency

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Jason Bright is the product marketing specialist for the Hyland Cloud.
Jason Bright

Jason Bright

Jason Bright is the product marketing specialist for the Hyland Cloud.

... read more about: Jason Bright