In his book "Grounding the Cloud: Basics and Brokerages," author Todd D. Lyle describes the cloud in down-to-earth terms that anyone can understand. In the following excerpt, he discusses some of the basics of the cloud, what options are available, and what each entails.

The cloud is an Internet empowered CO-OP of connectivity, data center infrastructures, platforms, processes, middleware and software for the purpose of shared services. These services and processes grant you, the manipulator of the keyboard or device, the ability to exchange the data necessary to accomplish your goals and tasks.

When computing through the cloud you pay for what you consume. When you purchase physical software you own it whether you use it or not. There is no tangible product with the utility of the cloud. Because of this, you are only paying for what you use - just like you only pay for electricity when you have the lights on.

There are three infrastructures of the cloud: public cloud, private cloud and the hybrid cloud. The preference is often up to you and your business needs. On the flip side, your business needs may drive a hybrid scenario when your line of business application becomes a legacy system or there are no public cloud solutions to meet your needs.

With the public cloud model the software productivity tools to which you have become accustom to do not run on hardware in your office. You will be working on rented virtual or physical server(s) through an application program interface (API) that allows you to peer into your productivity tools from the device of your choice.

Public cloud services providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Dell, and Rackspace offer resources such as storage and an array of applications available to you over the Internet. These offerings may be free or on a pay-per-use schedule.

The private cloud is the second of the three cloud options. Unlike the public cloud, the private cloud infrastructure is operated solely for your organization and is owned and maintained by you. This is at your capital expense. All of your data moves over the same public telecommunications systems as that of the public cloud. Usually, the private cloud or server(s), as you may be more familiar with calling them, are located off-site at a data center. Even though your infrastructure is off-site it still requires a significant degree of engagement by you. Servers, software, and licenses all need to be purchased and maintained and eventually re-purchased. Cloud service providers such as GoDaddy, 1&1, and Rackspace offer private cloud options as do many local data centers. These companies will install your system, maintain it, and act as your managed services provider.

To overcome some of the challenges presented by a purely public or private cloud there is a third infrastructure available: the hybrid cloud. This is a composition of utilizing public cloud offerings, such as Email and off-site backup, while continuing to use your on-site or private cloud-based productivity resources. All of your unique tools can be bound together with public infrastructure offering you the benefits of a multiple deployment model.

There are a couple reasons why the hybrid model may be ideal for you. First, I find that the hybrid cloud is a practical option because a viable public cloud solution is not always available. Unique customer relationship management software (CRM) or enterprise resource management software (ERP) may not be profitable enough for development into a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. Therefore, particular niche software will need to continue to run on your current environment. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run your other IT requirements through the public cloud.

The second reason for the hybrid cloud is to provide for an organization’s capacity planning and rapid deployment requirements. Utilization of a hybrid cloud in this manner is known as cloud bursting. Cloud bursting allows for scaling across infrastructures. When you run out of room on your original configuration you can take up tenancy on the public cloud.

There are operational, legal, and risk management reasons that demand some businesses to perpetually run in a hybrid cloud environment. For the rest of us there are cloud services providers who offer an array of services and API’s. Cloud services can best be described as hardware and middleware and software that does something on your behalf with limited input from your perspective. Since, in most cases, services are metered, you are able to control resources and use as little or as much of the service(s) you need.

Confounding as the cloud may seem, its lexicon is even more so, the following will help you gain an appreciation for DRaaS, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and DaaS.

DRaaS or disaster recovery as a service provides comprehensive risk mitigation coverage. Your whole operation can be continuously replicated and your daily operational tempo rapidly recovered, perhaps without interruption, in the event of a catastrophic incident. DraaS can be the contingency plan for your entire organization.

Most commonly offered via Apple, Google or Microsoft app stores is SaaS or software as a service. SaaS is a delivery model in which the productivity software and all of the associated workflow are hosted in the cloud. The majority of SaaS are accessed via a web browser on the device of your choice. There are many advantages to adding SaaS to your business strategy.

PaaS or platform as a service is another cloud service category. In this model, the service provider offers the networks, servers, storage and other services that are required to host your software and applications. The offerings of PaaS allow for the deployment of your proprietary business software application without the cost and complexity of maintaining and managing the hardware and software that goes along with it.

Shoulder-to-shoulder with SaaS and PaaS is IaaS or infrastructure as a service. IaaS providers offer it all. They provide computers, physical as well as virtual machines, and they offer related consulting resources. These are the companies with data centers all over the world: Dell, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Rackspace. They support a large number of physical and virtual machines and have the ability to rapidly scale services up or down according to requirements. IaaS providers offer you additional services and resources such as firewalls, load balancers, software bundles, virtual local area networks (VLANs), file-based storage, virtual-machine disk image library, and even your own Internet protocol (IP) address.

Once an understanding of the cloud sets in, many people become concerned about security, questioning the safety of their data once it becomes part of the "public realm." Legal, governance, risk management, and compliance all play a role in our lives and some organizations such as financial institutions, law firms, and hospitals feel they can’t use the public cloud.

We have all heard the controversy of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) sneaking into our lives, especially when it comes to our activities online. It is true; being on the Internet whether through the public cloud or a private server makes you more susceptible to prying eyes. However, with the resources provided by various reputable organizations the public cloud is among the safest places to store your data.