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Computing models have been evolving since the dawn of enterprise IT. Companies have looked for ways to make their IT architecture more efficient and cost-effective, from mainframes to virtualized servers to hosted systems. Cloud computing is the next step in evolution, and while it shares many characteristics with earlier models, it also has some distinguishing characteristics that enable new capabilities.

When considering a cloud computing definition, we must examine the five qualities identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as fundamental components of any cloud system:

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