Cloud, What is Cloud?

The term “cloud” has been used in many different contexts and it has many different definitions, so it makes sense to define the term—at least for this . Cloud is a collection of services that helps developers focus on their project rather than on the infrastructure that powers it. In more concrete terms, cloud services are things like Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) or Google Compute Engine (GCE), which provide APIs to provision virtual servers, where customers pay per hour for the use of these servers. In many ways, cloud is the next layer of abstraction in computer infrastructure, where computing, storage, analytic s, networking, and more are all pushed higher up the computing stack. This structure takes the focus of the developer away from CPUs and RAM and toward APIs for higher-level operations such as storing or querying for data. Cloud services aim to solve your problem, not give you low-level tools for you to do so on your own. Further, cloud services are extremely flexible, with most requiring no provisioning or long-term contracts. Due to this, relying on these services allows you to scale up and down with no advanced notice or provisioning, while paying only for the resources you use in a given month.

What is Google Cloud Platform?

There are many cloud providers out there, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Rackspace, DigitalOcean, and more. With so many competitors in the space, each of these companies must have its own take on how to best serve customers. It turns out that although each provides many similar products, the implementation and details of how these products work tends to vary quite a bit. Google Cloud Platform (often abbreviated as GCP) is a collection of products that allows the world to use some of Google’s internal infrastructure. This collection includes many things that are common across all cloud providers, such as on-demand virtual machines via Google Compute Engine or object storage for storing files via Google Cloud Storage.

It also includes APIs to some of the more advanced Googlebuilt technology, like Bigtable, Cloud Datastore, or Kubernetes. Although Google Cloud Platform is similar to other cloud providers, it has some differences that are worth mentioning. First, Google is “home” to some amazing people, who have created some incredible new technologies there and then shared them with the world through research papers. These include MapReduce (the research paper that spawned Hadoop and changed how we handle “Big Data”), Bigtable (the paper that spawned Apache HBase), and Spanner. With Google Cloud Platform, many of these technologies are no longer “only for Googlers.” Second, Google operates at such a scale that it has many economic advantages, which are passed on in the form of lower prices. Google owns immense physical infrastructure, which means it buys and builds custom hardware to support it, which means cheaper overall prices, often combined with improved performance. It’s sort of like Costco letting you open up that 144-pack of potato chips and pay 1/144th the price for one bag.

Why cloud?

So why use cloud in the first place? First, cloud hosting offers a lot of flexibility, which is a great fit for situations where you don’t know (or can’t know) how much computing power you need. You won’t have to over-provision to handle situations where you might need a lot of computing power in the morning and almost none overnight. Second, cloud hosting comes with the maintenance built in for several products. This means that cloud hosting results in minimal extra work to host your systems compared to other options where you might need to manage your own databases, operating systems, and even your own hardware . If you don’t want to (or can’t) manage these types of things, cloud hosting is a great choice.

Why not cloud?

Obviously this article is focused on using Google Cloud Platform, so there’s an assumption that cloud hosting is a good option for your company. It seems worthwhile, however, to devote a few words to why you might not want to use cloud hosting. And yes, there are times when cloud is not the best choice, even if it’s often the cheapest of all the options. Let’s start with an extreme example: Google itself. Google’s infrastructural footprint is exabytes of data, hundreds of thousands of CPUs, a relatively stable and growing overall workload. In addition, Google is a big target for attacks (for example, denial-of-service attacks) and government espionage and has the budget and expertise to build gigantic infrastructural footprints. All of these things together make Google a bad candidate for cloud hosting. Figure 1.1 shows a visual representation of a usage and cost pattern that would be a bad fit for cloud hosting. Notice how the growth of computing needs (the bottom line) steadily increases, and the company is provisioning extra capacity regularly to stay ahead of its needs (the top, wavy line).


Compare this with figure 1.2, which shows a more typical company of the internet age, where growth is spiky and unpredictable and tends to drop without much notice. In this case, the company bought enough computing capacity (the top line) to handle a spike, which was needed up front, but then when traffic fell (the bottom line), it was stuck with quite a bit of excess capacity. In short, if you have the expertise to run your own data centers (including the plans for disasters and other failures, and the recovery from those potential disasters), along with steady growing computing needs (measured in cores, storage, networking consumption, and so on), cloud hosting might not be right for you. If you’re anything like the typical company of today, where you don’t know what you need today (and certainly don’t know what you’ll need several years from today), and don’t have the expertise in your company to build out huge data centers to achieve the same economies of scale that large cloud providers can offer, cloud hosting is likely to be a good fit for you.

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