CloudJanuary 12, 2024

Cloud computing architecture: Breaking down its components and more

An overview of what makes up a cloud computing architecture, the different types of cloud, and the benefits that cloud computing delivers.
Avatar Alice Chambers

People have become well accustomed to online services. Whether it’s streaming music, communicating on social media or working from home, it’s all possible thanks to cloud computing. Organizations increasingly rely on the cloud too – for the productivity of their people, to deliver new services to customers, manage operations and even safeguard their data.

Before cloud computing, businesses typically had an on-premises IT infrastructure, including servers, databases and software, at their own physical sites. With cloud computing, these elements are delivered via the internet.

The transition to cloud-based infrastructures began around the mid-1990s, when AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft introduced internet email services. People could access email via a browser, without the need for an email application on their device or email servers in their workplace.

Organizations increasingly provided employees with a range of services – from email to file storage and customer databases – using systems that were hosted on remote servers, or ‘the cloud’.

Businesses like Amazon, Google and Microsoft started using the term to describe a new IT business model in the 2000s and the cloud has rapidly become the de facto means of delivering not just software, but also platforms and entire technology infrastructures, as a service.

By 2021, over two-thirds (68%) of enterprises spent over US$2.4 million on cloud technology, and 36% invested over US$12 million, according to the 2021 State of the Cloud Report from IT management provider Flexera. That number is continuing to rise sharply, with Gartner predicting that IT spending on the shift to the cloud is set to total almost US$1.8 trillion in 2025.

What is cloud computing architecture?

Cloud computing architecture refers to the components that interact to make a cloud computing environment. This includes hardware, software, resources, networking and a delivery model. Together they enable organizations and individuals to store, access and share data from anywhere.

A cloud architecture is the modern way of building computer systems. It hides the complicated stuff like how computers ‘talk’ to each other, the physical machines they run on, and security measures, to deliver a trustworthy and flexible service that allows organizations to focus on their primary activities. 

Cloud computing architecture components

The components of a cloud computing architecture are considered in terms of a front end and a back end.

Whenever we open a web browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Bing on our phone or laptop, we are interacting with the front-end platform of cloud computing architecture. The front end consists of both hardware components like the devices we use and software – often a web browser – that provides a graphical user interface (or GUI).

The back-end platform consists of the components that conduct the behind-the-scenes work to deliver the required functionality to the user.

This begins with the application itself – the software that the user is accessing via the front-end.

Cloud services are the resources that are made available to the user. There are four primary cloud-computing service models:

1. Software as a service (SaaS), which provides the user with access to software delivered and managed via a third party over the internet.

2. Platform as a service (PaaS), where IT teams can access a cloud-hosted platform delivered and managed by a third party, on which they can develop their own software solutions without having to manage applications and data.

3. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), which provides access to an entire IT infrastructure, where all physical and virtual servers, storage, networking and security are delivered and managed by a third party.

  1. 4. Cloud infrastructure and platform services (CIPS), a combination of the above two models that is defined by Gartner as “standardized, highly automated offerings, in which infrastructure resources (e.g. compute, networking and storage) are complemented by integrated platform services”.

Storage and databases play a central role in the back-end platform. Organizations can store and manage a large volume of data in the cloud. Data is never stored in just one place and if one unit from a data center fails, the other will take over automatically. User disk space is allocated on a distributed file system.

Security is also an integral part of cloud infrastructure because it provides reliability beyond that of typical on-premises infrastructures. It does this through different mechanisms such as virtual firewalls that protect data that could be lost during cyberattacks or server malfunctions.

The back-end of a cloud computing architecture also includes management tools and analytics, which help users to gain insights from its cloud-based data.

Types of cloud computing architecture

There are three primary types of cloud computing architecture: 1. Public, 2. Private and 3. Hybrid.

Public cloud architecture

When implementing public cloud architecture, an organization uses cloud computing resources and physical infrastructure owned and operated by a third-party provider such as Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft. This is very popular, as it means only paying for the services used without having to purchase hardware or software, and being able to turn to the cloud service provider for maintenance or scalability issues.

Private cloud architecture

However, some organizations – particularly those using sensitive data, such as financial or legal firms – will opt for a private cloud architecture. This is a dedicated cloud that is owned and managed by a single organization. It gives that organization more control over resources and increased security over data and infrastructure. They are often hosted on-premises but can also reside at off-site co-location data centers.

Hybrid cloud infrastructure

A hybrid cloud is an infrastructure that seamlessly integrates public and private clouds to deliver a mix of services. This allows users to migrate workloads between environments and provides the control and visibility of computing, storage and networking resources that characterize the private cloud, alongside the flexibility, scalability and reduced capital cost of the public cloud.

What are the benefits of cloud computing architecture?

Cloud computing has rapidly increased in popularity because of the multiple and significant benefits it delivers. Most notably, cloud computing can help organizations to reduce costs, upgrade or scale computing resources more easily, improve availability and security and reduce the time required for the deployment of new services.

1. Cost
A cloud computing architecture removes all the costs associated with setting up and managing an organization’s own servers and software, from equipment to energy and expertise. A cloud environment also means only paying for exactly what is used.

2. Flexibility
Changes to services can be made very quickly and easily, allowing companies to scale their operations up (or down) on demand, and therefore being able to focus on their own business.

3. Security
Cloud providers devote considerable resources to protecting infrastructures against security threats such as hackers and viruses and offer various services for data backup and recovery. However, it is important to mention that responsibility is not entirely transferred to the cloud provider; a shared responsibility exists and customers have an active role to play in the protection of their data. Customers must develop clear security policies and apply them in the context of their use of the cloud through access management, privacy rules and sensitive data classification.

4. Speed
Organizations can deploy new services faster thanks to the ease of switching on new capabilities or capacity in cloud computing environments.

5. Accessibility
Cloud applications and data can be accessed from anywhere in the world, enabling remote working and global expansion.

Many of these benefits are possible because the cloud provider takes care of service delivery. Their expertise and the economies of scale they achieve by doing this for multiple organizations means they can be more efficient and effective than an in-house team.

Businesses of all industries are shifting to cloud computing architectures to reap these benefits. For example, banks are improving fraud detection thanks to the data processing capabilities of the cloud. Healthcare providers are using cloud computing architectures to manage electronic medical records efficiently, retailers can offer seamless services to customers over multiple channels, and manufacturers are improving efficiency with internet-connected machinery.

Final thoughts

Understanding cloud computing architecture is crucial for businesses at any stage of the journey to digital transformation. With the right technology infrastructure in place, organizations are empowered to focus on their core activities.

By 2025, over 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms. It’s clear that cloud computing has fundamentally shifted in how organizations approach IT.

Ready to learn more? Check out Dassault Systemès’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud

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