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What Is A Cloud Application?

A cloud application is an application that provides the functionality of a native application, but which runs in the cloud and is interacted with via web browsers and APIs. When we talk about the cloud, we usually mean public cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms, but IaaS was a late-comer in the cloud space compared to Software-as-a-Service — cloud applications came first.

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What are cloud based applications?

Software as a Service cloud apps have been around since the late-nineties, developing from simpler web applications that used technology like Flash and Java to provide primitive “desktop-like” functionality accessible in the web browser. If you're wondering what is cloud application or what is cloud app, we'll tackle each of those questions in this article. We'll tackle everything surrounding clouding in computer infrastructure so you can make an informed decision for your business.

Like many of the terms we’re discussing in this article, the meaning of “cloud application” is hazy. A definition everyone can agree on focuses on functionality provided over a network where compute and storage happens on servers in data centers. In the broadest possible sense, the cloud is everything that happens on the internet rather than on a local machine. But a cloud computing application is usually used in a more constrained sense: applications and infrastructure used and managed over the internet, offering a web-based interface, and often — although not always — involving virtualization. That definition includes cloud infrastructure platforms that provide virtual servers, networks, and other infrastructure, as well as cloud applications that run in a remote data center. 

What are some examples of Cloud Applications?

Google Docs or Office 365 is a paradigmatic example of a cloud application. To access Google Docs or Office 365, you need nothing more than a machine capable of running a web browser and an internet connection. The interface and all the functionality, including data storage, are delivered from remote servers. You can use cloud application servers to host hundreds of different cloud apps for your business.

Cloud Applications vs. Native Applications

cloud-applications-vs-native-applications

Google Docs also provides a useful point of comparison between modern cloud apps and the older native application paradigm. In the early days of the web, bandwidth was constrained. It was impossible to deliver feature-rich applications over the internet and provide a good user experience.

Applications like Microsoft’s Office were downloaded once or purchased on disks and installed on local computers. All processing and storage happened on the local machine.

The native application model has some benefits, but in an age of abundant bandwidth and a web platform with far richer functionality than ever before, many choose to take a cloud-first approach to development. Even companies that made their fortunes with desktop apps, like Microsoft, can see which way the wind is blowing and are making the move to cloud application delivery.

Now that cloud services and data center IT infrastructure are becoming more accessible to service providers, more and more businesses can leverage the cloud and cloud software.

Cloud Applications vs. Web Applications

Web applications have been around for almost as long as the web. JavaScript was included in early web browsers so that developers could add features that went beyond simple static pages. If you’ve been an internet user as long as I have, you’ll remember Java-applet and Flash applications and games.

So how do cloud applications differ from web applications? Firstly, and somewhat counter-intuitively, for the most part, modern cloud applications use APIs and technologies that are native to the web. When you open a cloud app, you aren’t asked to download a plugin that runs in the browser — the application uses technology built into the browser.

Secondly, web apps were often of limited functionality compared to desktop applications, whereas cloud applications are competitive with native applications, although they are often simpler and offer a more intuitive user experience.

And, most importantly, cloud applications provide APIs in addition to their web interface. The web is one way to interact with a cloud application but it’s not the only way. This matters because integration and automation are key benefits of the cloud.

Without an API, web app users are forced to interact with the application in a browser. With the APIs of modern cloud applications, users can write scripts and applications to “remote control” their applications and data. With APIs, cloud apps can be integrated with each other to perform user-specific workflows. Services like IFTTT and Zapier exist to make integration easier.

Benefits Of Cloud Apps

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Control

If you’ve worked in IT for more than a few years, you’ll remember how complex it was to manage large software deployments when applications ran on desktop PCs. Cloud applications solve the problem of large-scale distributed software deployments.

Because users access cloud applications with a browser, there is no need to install, update, and manage business applications across every desktop computer or laptop the business owns.

Cloud applications offer fine-grained, centralized user and data control. IT departments can manage who has access to data and what they can do with it via a dedicated control interface, reducing the complexity of business software management.

Security

A cloud computer application is also more secure than desktop applications. Users don’t have the opportunity to install malware that puts the business at risk. Vulnerabilities in cloud applications can be fixed as soon as they’re discovered and delivered to users when they hit the refresh button in their browser, rather than via complex patch rollouts.

Additionally, cloud applications give companies insight into who is using their resources and how they’re being used.

Reduced Management Costs

Because cloud applications provide greater control and improved security, the cost of managing essential business applications is reduced. With cloud applications and other software as a service options, companies outsource much of the management burden to the cloud vendor, reducing the need for large in-house IT teams.

Reduced Software Licensing Costs

Traditional enterprise software licensing is a large cost-center for many businesses. Vendor loved to lock their customers into applications and charge huge licensing, upgrade, and support fees.

With cloud apps, most of that complexity goes away. Typically, cloud apps are subscription services with simple licenses. Companies pay a fixed amount each month for each user. If they don’t want to use the software any more, it’s often straightforward to export data and migrate to a different solution. Companies only pay for the cloud app resources they use.

In 2020, Software-as-a-Service cloud applications have eclipsed traditional software distribution and licensing. The benefits are overwhelming for both developers and users. There are occasions where native applications are preferable, but as new web technologies become widely available, the web platform and the cloud will further cement their place as the leading app development and delivery strategy.

Types of Cloud Servers

In regards to cloud IT infrastructure, the primary server types are hybrid cloud, private cloud, public cloud, and even dedicated servers. Each of these cloud computing services are hosted in remote data centers and can be used to deploy a cloud application for your business. Each of these cloud computing services

Public Cloud: A public cloud is the ideal server type for a cloud application which needs to scale over-time as you can change the server resources at any time in a public cloud environment.

Hybrid Cloud: A Hybrid Cloud combines the server resources of a public cloud with the reduced infrastructure costs and increased processing power of a Dedicated Server.

Private Cloud: A private cloud works in the same way as a public cloud, but the cloud is not shared with any other users.

Deploying Your Next Cloud Services

As a cloud provider, ServerMania is equipped with the expertise and tools you need to deploy your next cloud infrastructure. If you're interested in learning more, you should book a free expert server consultation with us. We will help understand your server goals and deploy cloud services based on your needs and budget. 

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Douglas Madero

Douglas Madero

Douglas Madero is a Senior Account Manager for ServerMania.

  • Hey Andrew, great explanation of what a cloud application is compared to native applications. There are so many benefits to cloud applications. However, I think there are some additional security concerns for cloud apps because there are a few more layers for vulnerability when information is transferred both ways. These concerns will be addressed as technology solutions continue to become more cloud-based and users are more careful about their internet connections. We are on a good track to be totally cloud based soon.

  • I am a 67 year old female I use my phone as a phone camera video & to clock in and out of work messages gmail Snapchat & quick memo facebook do I really need app cloud?

    • Hi Peggy,

      Facebook and Gmail are both examples of cloud applications. Each application connects with remote servers in order to deliver content to your device. This is in contrast to the memo app on your phone which primarily stores data locally. However, even the memo app on iOS devices can be backed up to the cloud these days through iCloud. So traditional applications like this are slowly all moving to cloud-based storage as well.

      I hope that helps!