A brilliant idea and its implementation: The building blocks of cloud computing.

When apps learned to walk

Author: Thomas Ulken, Lead Software Architect, Fact Informationssysteme & Consulting Ltd (GmbH)

"The whole is more than the sum of its parts" is something people like to say when the interplay of various individual components gives rise to something entirely new and greater. Even a car is ultimately just the combination of engine, transmission, steering wheel, body and seats. But what emerges from this is mobility: The possibility to travel, to transport goods quickly across borders, a culture of movement, a sense of freedom and consequently the basis for our modern civilisation.

Cloud computing also brings together various elements and technologies that were already known in their own right. But their skilful combination gives rise to new potentials in how software services are realised, distributed and used. Here, it is no longer people and goods that leave traditional limitations behind, but applications and data..

But what are the elements that have laid the foundation for cloud computing? Hardware and software components go hand in hand here.

Data in the fast lane

On the one hand, there are fast data connections and the standardisation of communication via the internet (so-called internet protocols). Fibre optic connections, DSL lines and gigabit networks at companies have enabled extremely fast access to remote resources since the 2000s.

Users hardly notice anymore whether data is stored locally or on a remote computer. At the same time, wireless standards such as 4G and 5G make these connections available on the go in (almost) any location.

Not only have data transfer rates risen sharply, but latencies have also been noticeably reduced. And this feature, in particular, is important for the perceived interactivity of remote applications.

While in the early days of cloud computing it was true that word processing and spreadsheets worked as cloud applications over the network, but not video editing and 3D games, even these limitations have since been overcome.

Unlimited computing power

The computing power in modern servers has also grown explosively in recent years. Modern server processors are completely under-utilised if they are serving only one or a handful of users at a time. And in parallel to this, the cost of CPU performance has fallen reciprocally.

In terms of hardware alone, it no longer makes business sense in many scenarios to purchase an extra local server for a small number of users. To say nothing of the associated personnel costs for maintenance and operation.

Software in containers

On the software side, the triumph of cloud computing is closely linked to container technology and the success of the open-source solution Docker. Container technology makes it possible to package software applications and their components in standardised units that can be moved back and forth between servers and data centres at will. This remains completely transparent for the users.

The underlying hardware required to run this software thus becomes less and less of a limiting factor. In addition, the available power in data centres can be utilised much better, which ensures lower run costs. And software deployment can be scaled much faster and more efficiently if sometimes more and sometimes fewer users are using an application at the same time.


Device independence

Also crucial to the success of cloud computing is the independence from specific end devices, operating systems and software applications as far as the use of a cloud application is concerned. Many cloud services use HTML, the page description language of the World Wide Web, to build and transmit their user interfaces.

As a result, users only need a current web browser on their end device; no additional software has to be installed. And with clever programming, it no longer matters whether you are working on a laptop, desktop PC, tablet or smartphone. All of these formats can be served from a single cloud application.

Thus, these separate elements – fast data connections, packaging of software in containers and the consistent use of internet standards – have made cloud computing possible and revolutionised the world of application services. A world without motor vehicles and mobility seems unimaginable to us today – and a world without cloud computing may soon be as well.


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