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Over the past few years you may have heard of cloud services, which consist primarily of virtual servers hosted in mammoth data centers with connectivity through the internet. Users include prominent organizations such as Netflix and Instagram. There are advantages, including no direct power or cooling costs, the ability to quickly add a configured server from an “image” file in a matter of minutes instead of hours, and the ability to distribute processing all over the world. A common situation is to have critical servers located in different geographic regions, so if there is a natural disaster in on location, another one which may be thousands of miles away will pick up the load.
There are many uses for the cloud structure, with basic file storage being one of the most commonly used. Even a small web site can take advantage of this. Most web hosting systems have restrictions on maximum storage space and bandwidth for data transferred from the web site to the user. Using cloud storage results in significant savings for both storage costs, lessens the chance of exceeding bandwidth limits, since an media files, which can include images, video and audio are not being transferred from the web server to the user, but from the cloud system. Cloud systems also have faster network connections, and an option to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) in which a file is transferred to a server closer to a user when accessed – let’s say the file is in Virginia, and a user in Europe accesses it. When this occurs, a copy is sent to a server in France, and if another user in Europe accesses it, it’s sent to the user from the server in France.
Cloud file storage systems are also becoming increasingly popular for backup systems. In these situations, files are backed up to cloud storage in addition to or in place of local storage. The obvious advantage is automatic data storage at a secure offsite location, with replication to different areas also possible. In the case of the Amazon S3 storage system, there are actually three tiers, a standard tier, a second for infrequently accessed files, and a third slightly different system referred to as Glacier, which would be used for older files that are unlikely to be accessed but should be kept somewhere offsite. The pricing varies, and it’s possible to automatically move files to a different tier after a specified period of time.
Cloud servers can be used for many purposes, including web servers. Hosting your web server on a cloud server instead of a hosting service gives you full control over your site, and if you have multiple servers, it’s possible to host them on the cloud server instead of paying for each url. Setup is a relatively quick process for someone with familiarity with the system. An image of the server can also be created at critical stages to allow a very quick restore if needed.
For business use, cloud servers can be configured with outside access limited to business locations. This allows for both web based applications, such as a Sharepoint server, or cloud servers joined to the domain using a VPN router. It’s also possible to set up database servers such as Sql Server with access limited to the external addresses of the business's networks . There are many options available.
Cloud servers are quickly scalable. Unlike a local server, a cloud server can be scaled upwards to a server with more memory and a higher performance level by simply launching a new cloud server instance from an image saved from the existing installation. You can expand to a server with four times the memory and double the number of cores in minutes, without having to spend thousands of dollars on a new server.