Cloud 101: Certs to Help You Get Your Feet Wet in the Cloud

Cloud concept up and down

According to Google, cloud computing is the practice of using an Internet-based remote server network to store, manage, process, and present data to users. The term's origin is, well, cloudy, and the ideas behind cloud computing date back to the 1970s with mainframe time-sharing.


Modern-day cloud computing came into being only after Amazon introduced the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) architecture in 2006. NASA, Rackspace hosting, Microsoft, Google, and other providers quickly followed suit.


Cloud Computing Characteristics


The metaphor of the cloud for cloud computing is appropriate because the cloud service consumer most likely has absolutely no insight into the underlying operation of the cloud.


Think of it this way: You may use Office 365 in your business every day. You open a browser, log in, and get to work. The average user most likely knows (and will continue to know) nothing about how Microsoft's Azure datacenters operate to enable Office 365 productivity services. You simply pay your subscription fee and focus on your work.


Cloud computing services normally share the following general characteristics:


Services on demand. Customers can provision services for themselves with a simple click of a button. For instance, a developer can create a full, multi-tier development stack by issuing a single command in his or her cloud service portal.


Resource pooling. Pooling means that the physical computing resources that make up a cloud service (CPU, RAM, disk storage, and network bandwidth) are pooled to allow customers to scale their resources up and down as need dictates.


Rapid elasticity. You shouldn't have to pay for infrastructure and services that you don't use. Cloud architectures can dynamically scale up and down to meet demand, and you pay only for the resources that you actually use


Self-service. Non-administrators should be able to provision cloud resources for themselves without having to work through bureaucracy or the corporate help desk


The Major Players in Cloud Computing


Most cloud computing customers (which is to say, businesses) interact with one of three cloud computing deployment models:


Public cloud: Examples include Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Here the customer pays the service provider to use their cloud-based resources.


Private cloud: Examples include OpenStack and Microsoft System Center. Here the private organization builds their own private cloud. This is typically an enormous project in terms of monetary and human resource capital cost.


Hybrid cloud: This is an increasingly viable option in which the business blends their on-premises environment with a public cloud provider.


On the other hand, cloud computing vendors deliver services using one or more of the following service delivery models:


Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Aimed at the end user, these are customer-facing, cloud-based applications. Office 365 and are examples.


Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Aimed at the developer, this is a fully hosted development environment. Azure App Services and Google App Engine are examples.


Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Aimed at the operations engineer, this service offers cloud-based virtual machines (VMs) that are entirely controlled by the customer. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Azure Virtual Machines are examples.


Cloud computing concept sitting on a fluffy white cloud with laptop

As of this writing in summer 2016, there are seemingly innumerable public cloud providers. Here is a punchlist of the "big dogs" in the arena, as well as what sets them apart from the rest of the pack:


Amazon Web Services (AWS) — An industry leader because they've been in the game the longest and they're constantly innovating.


Microsoft Azure — Huge ecosystem that offers not only PaaS and IaaS but industry leading SaaS services like Office 365, SharePoint Online, Dynamics CRM, and of course OneDrive.
Google Cloud Platform — Their PaaS/IaaS services seem to appeal mostly to developers, but their Google Apps SaaS solutions are very popular worldwide.
Apple — They are known for their iCloud SaaS portfolio.
Dropbox — Cloud storage SaaS app.
Salesforce — They are the true pioneers of quality SaaS; their customer relationship management (CRM) solution is a world leader.


Remember that there are many, many other cloud providers (Oracle, IBM, Rackspace, and VMware to name a few more). I'm constraining our focus intentionally because I want to introduce you to some basic cloud computing certifications.


Relevant Cloud Computing Certifications


Cloud concept gadgets attached to tech looking cloud

As you may already know, IT certifications normally comprise entry level, associate, professional, and expert levels. I'd like to explain some of the leading entry-level/associate cert titles to give you some initial familiarity.


Besides, you can always visit the certification vendor's website to learn about higher-level cert tracks.


CompTIA Cloud+ — CompTIA actually offers two cloud computing-related certifications. The Cloud+ certification, which requires passing a single exam, is aimed at IT professionals.


On the other hand, CompTIA's Cloud Essentials is targeted at the businessperson whose work in some way intersects with cloud computing. (Today, that's pretty much the standard situation, isn't it?)


Amazon Web Services (AWS) — Amazon has a huge portfolio of certifications. Their associate-level titles are focused on job roles:


AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate: The architect needs to understand both operations and development.


AWS Certified Developer – Associate: This title obviously focuses on programming within the AWS ecosystem


AWS Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate: This exam is aimed at the operations specialist who has need to work closely with developers to ensure timely service delivery


MCSA – Private Cloud — The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate in Private Cloud verifies your ability to deploy a private cloud using the Microsoft technology stack: Windows Server, Hyper-V, and System Center. This certification requires that you pass five exams.


Just for grins, let me give you a single "laundry list" of some other popular cloud computing certifications that you may be interested in:


Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA)
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Cloud
Cloud Credential Council CCC Professional Cloud Administrator
Cloud Security Alliance Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK)
Google Cloud Certification
Rackspace CloudU
Red Hat Certified Architect – Cloud Certified Administrator
VMware Certified Professional – Cloud




Regardless of whether you're new to IT or transitioning into cloud computing from a related field, the bottom line is the same: you gain proficiency with cloud computing, or you fall behind. And to fall behind in cloud computing is damaging both to the business as well as your own career.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Tim Warner

Timothy L. Warner is an IT professional and technical trainer based in Nashville, Tenn. A computer enthusiast who authored his first BASIC program in 1981 on the Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, Tim has worked in nearly every facet of IT, from systems administration and software architecture to technical writing and training. He can be reached via LinkedIn.