What is cloud computing?
In cloud computing, users subscribe to services such as high-performance industrial applications, data storage, and computing power that are hosted remotely. Cloud resources are pooled virtually across multiple locations and managed using dedicated cloud operating systems, service platforms, and software suites.
Users enjoy nearly limitless performance power and data storage on specialized cloud systems that can be tailored to the individual customer. Management, liability, security, and maintenance are generally handled by providers.
There are three basic cloud computing models:
Public cloud: Most cloud computing is run on public clouds. In this approach, major providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Provider (GCP) offer cloud solution packages to many “tenants.” In this approach, cloud services, resources, and infrastructure are most strongly bundled on the provider side.
Private cloud: With a private cloud model, a cloud is dedicated to a specific company. Private clouds may be hosted either with a cloud provider or at customers’ own data centers. This cloud approach essentially serves units and departments as individual tenants with some global management.
Hybrid cloud: In this model, customers mix cloud environments, such as using a public cloud for their business environment and a private cloud for production. As a rule, these environments will be connected to varying degrees in terms of technology, data, and management.
While the cloud introduced new business models to the industry, the flexibility, performance, and convenience it offers have made it the number-one choice for most business applications. So far, the cloud has remained largely unexploited for the most critical operational applications. However, this is now changing thanks to emerging developments, such as edge computing and IT/OT convergence.
What are the advantages of cloud computing vs. on-premise?
Operational technology (OT) infrastructure in is shifting from on-premise servers and private data centers toward private or hybrid managed cloud solutions, as well as to colocation hosting (third-party data center rentals for multiple businesses). The cloud offers a range of benefits, many of which stem from its nature as a powerful, dedicated end-to-end solution that can be tailored to each customer.
Rather than having to license and operate systems with hard performance limitations, customers receive access to powerful technology in a purpose-built ecosystem with on-demand availability and automatic maintenance and updates. Companies can concentrate directly on their core business while benefitting from a dedicated service package created and supported by cloud experts.
The nature of the cloud offers unheard-of degrees of flexibility and scalability. First, customers enjoy financial flexibility through subscription models or precise billing for the cloud capacities actually used. Companies can precisely plan, safely test, and rapidly scale new solutions. And because the cloud is designed for interoperability, it also provides greater synergy between customers’ existing systems.
While cyber security is one of the risks associated with the cloud, the cloud offers some clear advantages. These start with the cloud’s strong native ID and access management systems. Further cloud-native advantages include downtime prevention, physical redundancy, disaster recovery, and 24/7 monitoring and support. Moreover, cloud computing provides more resilient backup and recovery services and data protection-relevant features such as access restriction, encryption, and pseudonymization/anonymization as well as AI/machine learning-supported smart analytics. Thanks to compartmentalized testing and deployment as well as backup and rollback options, the cloud is also a safe software environment.
Finally, the cloud fosters a culture of collaboration, remote work, and agility. This makes the cloud a driver of innovation throughout the entire organization.
What is cloud architecture? What role does cloud architecture play in digital infrastructure?
Cloud architecture refers to the structural design that combines technologies and systems into a cloud. It is a critical component to the success of a cloud strategy.
Most cloud architectures share key basic components:
Users access the cloud through front-end software, such as internet browsers or dedicated cloud solutions like Salesforce Customer Relations Management (CRM). Application programming interfaces (APIs) connect different clouds or cloud components. Though the cloud largely relies on smart real-time automation, customers are also supported by managed services. Companies enjoy access to user-friendly tools for agile application development, and graphical user interfaces provide a no-fuss way to access the cloud’s powerful performance and storage capabilities.
Cloud architecture uses middleware to communicate between individual components such as the edge, servers, mobile devices, networks, and machines. Collectively, these are controlled using cloud operating systems, dedicated application suites, and software for management, visualization, and automation.
Given the cloud’s higher exposure to attacks, security is a key pillar of cloud architecture. This includes strict authentication management as well as both client- and provider-side security measures. Cloud security also relies on isolating, testing, and verifying the safety of individual system points using features such as containers and zero-trust security.
Cloud services also offer advanced data protection, dedicated application security, 24/7 global threat monitoring, high redundancy, and excellent backup and rollback capabilities.
For OT/IIoT users, cloud architecture requires some additional features:
- Connectivity – This component needs to enable secure connectivity to and from IT, OT, IIoT, and edge devices, handle and transform high volumes of data, and quickly route it to the right components in the cloud.
- Device management – Device management provides an efficient way to manage and connect devices securely and reliably to the cloud platform. It includes device provisioning, remote administration, software updating, and remote control and monitoring.
- Analytics – Cloud analytics makes it possible to discover and communicate meaningful patterns of information found in IIoT data and to contextualize, predict, and improve business performance.
- Application logic – This refers to core application components that typically coordinate the handling of IIoT device data, the execution of other services, and support for end-user applications.
- Visualization – Visualization enables users to explore and interact with data from data repositories, actionable insight applications, and enterprise applications. It includes role-specific capabilities such as end-user and admin UI.
What are cloud service models?
There are three major cloud service models. Each model provides varying levels of control and investment on the user side.
The first level is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Here, users rent cloud infrastructure and use it to run their own OS and applications. This approach requires users to have some cloud expertise because they will need to cover system management and core software. However, IaaS offers reasonable control and flexibility with reduced complexity and costs.
The next level is platform as a service (PaaS). PaaS models provide ready-to-use platforms for storing data and for developing and running custom applications. This is a good “middle way” for companies that are involved with cloud-based applications but otherwise want to avoid heavy lifting.
The most commonly used model is software as a service (SaaS). With SaaS solutions, software is installed on a remote server rather than on the user’s computer. Customers do not need to pay for user licenses in this case. Instead, they can purchase a subscription to use the service online. Everything is handled by the provider. Users buy access to entire cloud systems and full software functionality. In SaaS models, internet access is usually enough – users often don’t even need to download or install any software.
In the world of smart manufacturing, the ability to dynamically and securely communicate with a variety of external systems and share data and functions is a basic need. The cloud enables users to host and manage such software and create a data foundation. It does this by providing common functions which can host multiple apps and services and enable smooth data exchange between apps and solutions.
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