An Introduction to Cloud Computing
For most of us, this intangible thing we call ‘the cloud’ plays a crucial role in our everyday lives, without us even realising it. Netflix, Dropbox, Google Docs … sound familiar? These are all examples of how cloud computing impacts us, and helps make our lives that little bit easier (while keeping us entertained, of course!)
But despite its ubiquity, the cloud can seem a nebulous concept to many. What exactly is it? How does it work? Is it secure? And, importantly for companies like ours, how can it benefit a business and the people it serves, and play a role in driving its success?
What Is Cloud Computing?
In its most basic terms, cloud computing can be described as a virtualised hosting platform. It’s where your critical business applications, including software, is housed.
It is made up of countless virtual servers, created to store and provide easy access to your vital information. The cloud service provider owns, manages and maintains the resource, while the user is given unfettered access from wherever they may be located.
How Does Cloud Computing Work?
The cloud is powered by strategically located global hubs or large data centres equipped with physical servers. The virtual platform handles all the processes that control where your information lives, and how it is used and stored, so that you and your people don’t need to give it a second thought.
Backups are automatic, with copies of your information spread automatically and intuitively across the multiple physical pieces of equipment that support the cloud infrastructure. However, as an extra precaution it’s always wise to find out what backup services your provider offers and consider implementing additional backups yourself, if you decide you need added protection against data loss.
Where Did Cloud Computing Originate?
Astonishingly, the concept of a cloud-type system has been around since the 1950s, when businesses and universities would hire out their mainframe computers, allowing other organisations or individuals to access and utilise this large and expensive equipment.
As time went on, computer technology became increasingly vital for the effective functioning of a business, meaning a substantial investment in the hardware and software required to best support and protect their operations was required.
The advent of cloud computing-proper came in the late 2000s, and at last allowed businesses to access similar capabilities to their expensive physical on-site equipment, without the need to invest in and maintain complex and costly on-site infrastructure.
Cloud Computing Today
Today, a vast array of services can be found in the cloud: from specialised apps catering to specific industries, like healthcare or education, to more general tools for messaging, productivity, project management, budgeting, identity verification and scheduling.
And yes, those video conferencing platforms such as Zoom which we’ve all become overly familiar with in recent times, are based in the cloud.
The Benefits Of Cloud Computing For Businesses
The demonstration of the benefits of remote, flexible access to cloud capabilities have never been more apparent than in 2020, as businesses have decentralised their workforces and scrambled to adapt to the ‘new normal’ way of working under COVID-19.
It is the instant, on-demand availability – a virtual cloud-based server can be established in mere seconds – and ultimate flexibility – said server can also be shut down or scaled back just as quickly – that cloud advocates highlight as the major benefit associated with this way of storing and accessing the information a business depends on.
Beyond this, it offers major cost saving advantages, not just through the avoidance of upfront IT infrastructure expenditure, but also through the ability to ensure users don’t pay for unnecessary resources. The service is there when it’s needed, in whatever capacity it’s needed, without creating extra expense when it’s not. What’s more, once you’re up and running, these changes can be managed remotely, with zero downtime required.
Other advantages include the enabling of more streamlined IT services, with programs and infrastructure accessible to all staff regardless of location, and allowing for improved collaboration between and across businesses, thanks to real-time communication and data sharing options.
Despite the exhaustive list of cloud benefits, additional considerations do need to be made, namely around security. Obviously by allowing more remote workers access to critical business data from more locations carries an added level of risk.
It is your provider’s job to ensure you can rest easy in knowing all the right precautions have been put in place to protect your business from cyber security breaches.
Some business owners share concerns about the reduced ability of cloud users to enjoy full visibility and control over their networks. Technical concerns can be reduced by using additional monitoring and analytics tools, while trust issues can often be overcome simply by reviewing a provider’s customer data policies and practices.
Cloud Computing Models
Broadly there are three main models available when using the cloud, each providing various opportunities to businesses and individuals, depending on their distinct needs.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) enables users to deploy consumer-created or acquired applications onto their cloud infrastructure. In turn, this facilitates the development of more applications, by providing a hosting environment that negates the need for the developer to maintain underlying hosting infrastructure.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) allows users to access software applications (think Microsoft Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud) that ‘live’ within the cloud.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) involves the delivery of virtual computing infrastructure including storage options, operating systems or processing power without the need for any physical infrastructure or local installation.
Remember, when it comes to business, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ cloud-based solution.
Your IT service provider will work to understand your situation, priorities and goals, to help determine the best solution for you. They will also support you through the migration process, which can come with complexities and requires meticulous planning, detailed policies, and ongoing monitoring.
While the cloud certainly offers cost savings, you will need to ensure you have access to experts with the right kind of knowledge to appropriately manage the service and ensure your business reaps the benefits.
Public, Private & Hybrid Cloud
The most common cloud services are publicly offered, meaning they’re available through a commercial provider to both businesses and individuals. But some companies have now established private clouds, owned and managed by the organisations themselves, and accessible only by their own staff and various stakeholders.
This is becoming a particularly popular choice for businesses that operate in highly regulated industries and that require greater control over their computing environment and informational data storage.
There are also an increasing number of ‘hybrid’ environments, which combine elements of public and private clouds, and even physical on-site infrastructure, to meet specific industry or business needs, or to maximise utility and efficiency.
While technology continues to evolve rapidly, the cloud is showing no signs of slowing in its booming popularity. As we progress and options become more and more sophisticated, tailored solutions are likely to become the cloud model of the future.