What is the Cloud?
Written by Chris Thornton
Chances are, you rely on it every day as part of your business routine, but what is the cloud - and why should your organisation care about it?
We've written dozens of articles on the cloud, discussing its role in the business world and exploring the ways in which it helps with vital business needs like data storage, security and computing processes. We want our clients to both benefit from the cloud and use it effectively but, despite the focus on it, many businesses still regard the cloud with confusion...
With that in mind, we've decided to address the misunderstanding at the ground floor - and ask: "what is the cloud?"
Although the name suggests something ethereal, perhaps even floating above our heads, cloud computing does involve physical infrastructure. At the most basic, technical level, 'the cloud' refers to a group of third-party networked servers which deliver services to users' computers and devices. These services aren't stored in or facilitated by your business' network, but through the internet, where resources can be better protected, shared and optimised - and accessed anywhere, hence the apt 'cloud' reference.
Cloud computing can be built into businesses using either publically available applications, or through (more expensive) private cloud networks which can be calibrated to your specific needs. The capabilities of your cloud set-up depend on what you want it to do for you. So...
What does the cloud do?
The cloud unlocks vast computing, storage and security resources that are typically beyond the IT capabilities and financial resources of most small businesses. Cloud services are manifested in a host of business-targeted applications: they may be used for data storage, email, document creation and editing, computing, and security. The features provided by the cloud free up your organisation's resources, allowing small businesses to keep pace with competitors, enhance their existing IT networks and better serve clients.
How do you integrate the cloud?
Whether you choose to use a public, or private cloud deployment, there are several ways the services it provides can be incorporated into your network:
- Software-as-a-Service: SaaS deployments deliver cloud-based applications from off-site servers which clients access through web browsers. The advantage of SaaS is its scalability - you pay for the features you need and upgrade and downgrade when necessary. SaaS applications include collaborative business tools, email and data storage apps, like Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365 and Dropbox.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service: IaaS deployments offer access to third-party 'virtual' computing power, with features like network connections, server and storage space and bandwidth. IaaS providers also take care of system maintenance, backup schedules, and other administrative tasks. Like SaaS, IaaS deployments can be scaled as necessary. Examples include Amazon EC2 and Google Compute Engine.
- Platform-as-a-Service: Effectively a middle-ground between SaaS and Iaas, PaaS deployments are for organisations which want to use their cloud environment to develop, roll-out and run their own business-specific applications - while leaving the service provider to manage the more complicated background administrative and computational tasks. Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine are popular PaaS products.
Think carefully about what kind of cloud deployment will suit your business - do you rely on only a handful of applications - or do you need much more extensive IT support? Do basic cloud applications serve your business needs, or do you need more bespoke software to help get the job done?
On-premises, in the cloud, or both?
Beyond the vast technical advantages of the cloud, perhaps its most defining - and valuable - feature is its versatility: cloud-enabled businesses simply have more options in how they work with, store and protect their data.
Every computing process in your business can be exported to the cloud, or you can choose to build a hybrid infrastructure: where some processes remain on-site, and others take place online. Hybrid set-ups offer the best of both worlds: the speed, accessibility and flexibility of an online environment, and the secure, physical reassurance of having your important data close.
Get to grips now
In 2015, the global cloud computing business was worth $121 billion. At 27%, the UK was second only to the US (29%) in the number of SMEs using cloud services 'heavily'. Cloud computing is only going to become more integral to small business - but understanding how it will work with your network, before you make the jump, is vital to your successful migration. In other words, the quicker you get to grips with the potential of the cloud, the quicker you can push your business towards the future.
Do you understand the value of the cloud? Need help migrating your IT network? Contact Shackleton today...
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