>More than any other single technology, cloud computing has transformed the way business IT works in recent years. The cloud provides a host of solutions that can save businesses time and money.
It can also transform their company culture in new and innovative ways. So what, exactly, is cloud computing?
Here’s the simple explanation. With cloud computing your business data and systems are stored, managed, and processed online, rather than on hardware in your office. This shift in data storage and access provides a host of benefits to consider.
How does cloud computing work?
When your business switches over to cloud services, your data, software, programs, or any combination of them go from being stored on individual machines to being available through the web.
They’re stored on secure servers either in data centers maintained by the cloud services provider you have chosen to work with (termed the “public cloud”) or in your own office or private data center (termed the “private cloud”).
In terms of backup and data recovery, the greatest advantage of switching to storing your data in the cloud is the backup capabilities and multiple redundancies cloud technology provides.
Backing up data in the cloud provides not only protection from data loss but also a historical record of the ways your data has changed over time.
What levels and functions comprise the cloud?
Cloud technology is a fairly broad term. The cloud consists of several unique levels and several specific functional applications. Let’s break them down here and demystify the terms a bit.
The public cloud is the most widely used and well-known cloud venue. In layman’s terms, the public cloud simply means that your data is stored in a third party’s data center on servers. The same servers also host other companies’ data.
This cloud provider houses and maintains the technological infrastructure that your business rents for a monthly fee. This “rental” can come in the form of storage, software, platforms, or any combination of the three.
With the public cloud, all your updates, upgrades, and maintenance are handled by that third party provider, while you simply access them online as needed.
The public cloud is the least expensive way companies can take advantage of cloud services. Most public cloud services function on a pay-as-you-go model where companies pay a monthly fee based on the level and amount of services they use.
This allows for pretty much unlimited vertical and horizontal scaling without the need to upgrade any equipment. Often it simply requires pushing a few buttons to increase or decrease a company’s allotted usage.
With the public cloud, companies don’t have to make costly capital investments into expensive servers and other hardware. Due to technology’s current growth rate, such investments can prove challenging to recoup before the technology itself becomes outdated or irrelevant.
The drawback to the public cloud is it’s considered by some to be less secure than the private cloud (which we’ll discuss in a moment). Though technically separated, your company’s data is stored in the third party data center using the same servers and equipment as other companies who opt for the cloud provider’s services.
However, from a physical access standpoint, data centers have military-grade security, making them far more secure than the typical onsite servers that businesses relied upon in the past. These can include biometric scanners, 24/7 security guards, smart cards, alarms, and motion sensors, among other protocols.
This requires highly trained manpower as well as added levels of protection against anything from natural disaster to cybercrime, key components for excellent backup and disaster recovery protection. Hiring this level of security for an SMB generally doesn’t make sense.
When we refer to the private cloud, we’re talking about companies who either host their own cloud infrastructure, or pay for dedicated servers within a data center that only contain their company’s data.
The chief advantage of the private cloud is the added security provided by not sharing servers. Because no other companies have access to the servers holding your data, the data is more secure.
One of the chief drawbacks to the private cloud is not only the up-front expense of acquiring the assets required to host it, but also handling the ongoing maintenance and service costs.
This model makes the most sense for companies with particularly sensitive data who have specific regulations such as HIPAA or PCI compliance to adhere to. The private cloud also often makes more sense for enterprise-level companies with large enough storage needs to justify dedicated equipment.
The hybrid cloud refers to a mixture of public and private cloud usage, with orchestration between these platforms according to a company’s individual needs. The data suggests that companies are adopting a hybrid cloud strategy more frequently every year.
With the hybrid cloud, a company can potentially keep sensitive data on their private cloud server while running programs and software through a public cloud provider. The exact specifications and components involved in this strategy vary according to each individual company’s unique needs.
One of the latest developments to hybrid cloud computing has been dubbed the multi cloud. This refers to a cloud-based IT strategy where companies receive cloud services from a combination of multiple public and or private cloud providers, essentially pulling different software or programs as needed from various cloud service providers.
However, this strategy presents a potential management problem in that the more cloud services a company chooses to engage with, the harder it can become to manage them all in a way that continues to remain efficient.
Different Kinds of Cloud Services
There are a few different models by which companies can utilize cloud services. Each has its own set of unique advantages and drawbacks. Choosing the right model depends on a company’s unique IT needs and industry details.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS provides a high level of customizable control for the client. It allows companies to utilize cloud infrastructure without costly up-front investments.
Essentially the company utilizing the service is able to pick and choose the software and programs they want to use as if going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. They can scale both vertically and horizontally to meet their individual requirements as needed.
The drawback to this is that the client must provide the operating systems, software, and applications that will be used within the infrastructure, as well as the data.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a service is generally the form of cloud services that consumers are most familiar with. It’s essentially a plug-and-play service where companies pay a monthly fee to access software programs rather than storing them on individual company devices.
The software is deployed by the cloud service provider, who takes responsibility for licensing and update concerns associated with the applications.
Think of it as any subscription-based software or email program that utilizes a service for a recurring monthly fee.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Many developers utilize Paas as a cloud solution. With PaaS, the cloud provider generally manages the framework needed to develop and deploy web applications.
The service provider manages the infrastructure while the client is responsible for developing, deploying, and customizing the hosted applications as needed.
PaaS requires more direct responsibility from the client than SaaS, but less than IaaS.
How companies utilize the cloud
The cloud provides a multitude of solutions that companies can harness to improve productivity. For example, cloud technology can play a key role in a company’s disaster recovery, providing a long historical data record that can potentially be restored at any previous historical version as needed when a data loss event or other downtime event occurs.
This helps affected companies get their systems back functioning faster, saving bundles of money in lost productivity.
Another way cloud technology increases productivity is by shifting the responsibility for updating key software onto the cloud service provider.
Outdated or un-updated software can lead to massive productivity loss through devices that constantly need restarting or programs that underperform.
When companies elect for Software as a Service through cloud technology, the entire software platform is always up to date for every employee from then on. This frees them from the hassle of making sure each individual employee’s software is up to date.
Let’s take a look at a few advantages the cloud can provide.
Cloud computing allows employees the potential to work from anywhere. They can access important business documents from their personal or work devices wherever there’s an internet connection. They can also make changes to shared documents that show up in real time.
This not only increases collaboration, it improves work-life balance. It frees employees up to tend to the inevitable hiccups that life brings without missing a beat at work.
Cloud mobility has brought about a “bring your own device” (BYOD) revolution in the business world. Allowing employees the freedom to work from their personal devices, as well as away from their desks, has had a massive impact on productivity.
The cloud provides almost unlimited scalability to fuel business growth. As a business’s needs grow and change, they simply increase the services they pay for, meaning they never pay for more or less services than required.
Cloud technology allows the user to scale both vertically and horizontally. This scalability comes without additional investments in equipment or infrastructure.
Instead, companies rent this equipment and infrastructure from their cloud services provider. This allows businesses the flexibility to scale up and down to meet ongoing and ever-shifting needs.
Speaking of equipment. From an IT financial planning standpoint, one of the greatest cloud computing advantages is the shift from a capital expenditures (CAPEX) model to an ongoing operational expenditures (OPEX) model.
Rather than companies struggling to predict how much IT infrastructure to invest long-term resources in, the cloud allows them to shift to pay-as-you-go models that take into account the scalability mentioned above. Future technology needs are notoriously hard to predict.
Using a CAPEX IT spending model, companies often end up either over or under spending on their IT infrastructure. This can mean getting stuck with outdated equipment until the investment is recouped, or else finding that you need additional equipment sooner than forecasted, throwing finances for a bit of a loop.
The company can divert the money saved up front by shifting IT spending away from a CAPEX model to other projects or business needs, which can, in turn, fuel growth and efficiency.
Operational efficiency and productivity
Cloud technology allows a business to streamline their software, tools, and backup concerns into a synergy that optimizes their IT operations. The time saved worrying about updating software and maintaining technology allows companies to put greater focus into their core business operations. The resources saved can be diverted to other projects outside of IT spending.
Potential cloud technology concerns
With all the advantages of cloud computing, are there any drawbacks? It’s a good question. No technology or solution is completely without the potential for drawbacks. But cloud technology’s wide adoption in recent years should be a good indicator of how powerful the technology is.
Still, it makes sense to discuss a few of the most common potential fears here. Ironically, most of these fears are actually potential problems that cloud computing can solve more effectively than previous technologies.
Security is one of the most common fears that companies who have not made the switch to cloud computing express. It’s understandable, though misguided. Companies have spent years or even decades depending on their own physical, on-site security to protect their data and documents.
However, the truth is that even from a physical security standpoint the cloud is likely safer than a typical company’s current security approach.
This is because data centers have military-grade security. The chances of an unauthorized person accessing the facility that contains the servers housing your data hardly register.
And even if a person were able to access the facility, they would still lack the login password and credentials required to access your data.
In fact, even cloud services provider’s own employees can’t access your data thanks to various in-house protocols. To put it simply: Only those with your login information can access your data.
Even then, you can restrict permissions of each individual employee to only the minimum data they need to access in order to do their job effectively.
Transition and migration
Another common fear of cloud technology is that it will require too difficult of a transition. Nothing could be further from the truth. For most companies, cloud services can be set up and accessed in less than a day.
Migration can be more or less of a hurdle depending on your data load. However, most cloud service providers have systems in place to bring all your old data into the cloud with minimal disruption to business operations.
A qualified MSP will develop a cloud migration plan that simplifies the transition and minimizes the workload for your business.
This means transitions happen almost seamlessly, and your company keeps right on serving its clients with no interruption in service.
“But what about my lack of technical knowledge when transitioning to the cloud?” you might ask. Again, while this might initially seem like a large potential obstacle to get around, the opposite is true.
The greatest benefit of working with a Managed Services Provider (MSP) for cloud services is that you get the benefit of their technical expertise twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The cloud limits your required personal expertise level to what you already know about using your software and systems. If you can log into a system, you can take advantage of cloud technology. And no matter what, you’ll have an expert partner guiding you through every step of the journey.
We spoke a little earlier about the benefits of an OPEX-based IT spending model over a CAPEX-based approach. Without rehashing that here, it’s clear that companies stand to benefit a great deal by redirecting heavy up-front capital expenses to other projects in favor of a pay-as-you-go monthly fee for cloud services.
Companies also experience savings on utility bills and upkeep expenses as a result of cloud computing. Infrastructure requires energy and constant maintenance. With cloud services, these expenses become the cloud service provider’s responsibility.
Cloud computing for the future
Cloud computing has already become a mainstay in today’s business environment. But current adoption pales in comparison to the future.
According to Logic Monitor’s Cloud Vision 2020, 27% of survey respondents believe that 95% of all enterprise workloads will be in the cloud within five years. Another 20% believe it will happen within seven years. No respondents believed it would take more than 15 years to hit this milestone.
In the future, the cloud will continue to evolve as technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence further automate processes. Think automated updating, analytics, and management.
Entire cities could someday run on cloud computing, driven by technologies like self-driving cars and the Internet of Things (IoT). Businesses will reap the advantages of this shift in new and powerful ways. Many of them have not even been considered yet.
As you can see, cloud technology has become a powerful disruptive technology. The cloud will continue to gain strength for years to come. Someday the very idea of storing data on your personal machines or servers will seem cartoonish.
Some might say that day is almost here.
The cloud’s solutions for mobility, scalability, backup, connectivity, and flexibility are too powerful to ignore. Businesses do so only at their own peril. So, what can cloud computing do for your business? Do you currently use the cloud? It might be high time to consider the switch.