60 percent of companies worldwide say cloud computing is a top IT priority for the next year.
With such rising popularity, it seems like a good idea to know as much about the cloud as possible. Although some aspects of cloud-based technology can feel alien to tech novices, it’s easier to understand than you may think. Here are five things you need to know about the cloud.
1. The cloud in a nutshell
Although iCloud isn’t by any means the only cloud service available, Apple has managed to simplify the cloud concept pretty well.
The cloud is where a service provider, of your choosing, takes care of the hardware and often the software supporting your content and applications. The cloud is more than a server: it’s also a service.
Cloud services store data for you remotely (often wirelessly), update in real time when there’s a change, and allow you to access the service from any internet-enabled device, like Hotmail or Facebook, which (you guessed it) are actually cloud technologies.
‘Instead of you running your own IT, and being stuck in wherever your house is, you’re allowing someone to run it, just like your electricity supply’ explains Dr Peter Chadha, CEO of DrPete.
2. What does the cloud do?
At the heart of it, the cloud means you no longer have to set up and manage your own servers, and you are not tied to your office for access to your key IT systems.
Digging a little deeper, there are three main varieties of cloud-based services and each provides different benefits.
Software as a service (SaaS) gives you access to applications and databases. The service provider manages the underlying infrastructure, so there’s nothing for you to install or run. Eg Turbine, Google Apps.
Platform as a service (PaaS) manages the underlying software for apps you run or develop. Eg Rackspace.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offers the equipment and services needed to support business operation, including hardware, virtual machines and server space. The user decides and configures which elements of the service they want and are billed accordingly. Eg Windows Azure.
3. What can I use the cloud for?
- Data storage. Services such as Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive are an easy-to-use place to store your files and data where your whole team can access them. These services are initially free, but you can upgrade cheaply for more storage if you need it.
- File back-up. For an even easier life, services such as Mozy back-up all your data to the cloud automatically. If you’re unsure you can try it for 30 days before you commit.
- Remote, collaborative file editing. Apps like Google Docs allow multiple users to work on a single document simultaneously from wherever they happen to be. Files update in real-time and users can discuss changes with the built-in chat feature.
- Project management. Tracking an entire team’s tasks can be tricky especially if remote teams or projects are involved. To alleviate this, cloud-based project management systems like Basecamp can be invaluable and, with free trials, there are no upfront costs until the boss is happy.
- HR. Cloud-based HR services like Turbine take HR processes, which can be time-consuming and tedious and make them paper-free, auditable and remotely accessible for HR and tech novices alike. Best of all, Turbine is also a try-before-you-buy service.
- Smarter emailing. For people and businesses centred around people and contacts, add-ons like Rapportive can be a revelation. These add-ons and apps pull all the available information on whoever you’re emailing, including location – making scheduling last minute meetings that little bit easier. Rapportive is a free add-on for Gmail users, but if you’re looking for something similar for Outlook, they have their own Social Connector add-in which you just need to turn on.
4. What are the benefits?
We’ve already touched on some of the general benefits of the cloud, but what can the cloud offer the business world?
Many cloud services are free or available as a free trial, so they’re easy to experiment with before risking a full investment.
Even for those that aren’t, cloud computing reduces up-front costs, making it easy to justify. The saving comes from using the cloud providers expensive storage equipment rather than your own, so you’ll also save on future maintenance and upgrades.
The cloud also increases flexibility, according to 70 percent of the respondent’s to an Avanade study. Your service provider does all the work, so if your bandwidth or storage requirements suddenly change, or something goes wrong, your provider’s tech experts will sort it out for you.
Cloud storage makes sense for so many businesses and not just because of the cheap price tag. With 800,000 memory devices being lost or stolen every year, it’s also the more secure option. Cloud-based data can still be accessed when devices go missing since the data isn’t stored on the device go missing; and account’s associated with stolen devices can be quickly disconnected from your cloud.
Efficiency can also be improved using the cloud as certain features cut some of the most tedious tasks from the office to-do list. Cloud-based apps will update automatically and files, no matter how much they’re edited, remain as one single version, so no more hours spent trawling through emails searching for the most up-to-date version of a document.
5. How safe is it?
Because of its very nature, when you use the cloud you put your data in someone else’s hands. This can be unsettling, but as long as you choose service providers who manage your data properly, the cloud is not only safe, but actually safer than it would be if you were keeping it in your own servers, on-premise.
- Thoroughly research your potential cloud options and pay close attention to privacy T&Cs. Make sure you can extract your data and ensure you’re meeting data protection regulations by checking where the service providers servers are located.
- Set secure and unique passwords. 90 percent of passwords can be cracked in seconds, so take the time to make sure yours isn’t one of them.
- Keep track of devices that have access to your cloud and make sure this is kept up to date.
- Be selective with what you upload and make sure that your provider encrypts your data.
With cloud computing becoming an inevitable next step for many business operations, the best thing you can do for your business is research your options, make an informed decision on how to use the cloud and monitor how it works out. The cloud is nothing to worry about, but it is worth thinking about.
(Hat tip to Perspecsys Photos for the images)