‘The cloud’. Most people now have a good working knowledge of it but, with so nebulous a name, it’s unsurprising that there are so many myths about the cloud floating around.
Let’s bust a few.
The cloud’s only for nerds
The cloud, in essence, is remotely stored software, platforms and infrastructure delivered as a service by a third party through the internet, in much the same way as utilities companies deliver your gas/electricity/water as a service.
The cloud actually makes managing systems and developing applications much easier as you don’t have to spin up the infrastructure to support it yourself. You pay a third party a fee to use a service running on their own servers, which they manage and maintain.
And for software-as-a-service, the application you want is ready to use the minute you sign up. No installing or configuring.
The cloud’s a one trick pony
Wrong again. There’s more to the cloud than software-as-a-service (SaaS) and off-site data storage.
Cloud computing comes in three main flavours:
- SaaS. This is most people’s main interaction with the cloud. A third-party provider gives you access to applications and databases. The service provider manages the infrastructure underlying the application, meaning that there’s nothing for you to install or run. Eg Turbine, Google Apps.
- Platform as a service (PaaS). A third-party cloud platform on which you can develop and run your own applications. The provider manages the underlying software so you don’t have to worry about it. Eg Rackspace.
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). A provider offers the equipment and services needed to support business operation, including hardware, virtual machines, virtual local area networks and server space, among other things. Eg Windows Azure.
It’s too risky putting all my data out there
You don’t have to. Not all cloud computing is based on shared, public infrastructure, so you can tailor your set up to meet your needs. There are three main set-ups for cloud computing:
- Public cloud. A public cloud means you share third-party server space with other customers and you benefit from the economies of scale, paying less for a typically larger cloud system than you could maintain yourself. Your data is kept virtually separate, but security and other such configurations are controlled by the service provider.
- Private cloud. These systems are built exclusively for your own use and can either be on premise (internal cloud) or hosted by a third party (external cloud). You have more control over data security and other configurations as you’re not sharing the infrastructure with anyone else. For larger companies it means each department or site doesn’t have to spin up its own server centre.
- Hybrid cloud. This is a mix of the two above. You might, for instance, archive data in the public cloud but keep operational data on premise, in a private cloud.
The cloud’s only for big business
Cloud computing’s actually a great leveller, giving start-ups and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) the sort of computing power that was once only available to large multinationals.
Rather than pouring capital into up-front costs for bespoke software and systems, off-the-shelf cloud applications let smaller companies get the benefits of powerful software without the hassle of installation and maintenance and without the premium price tag.
In addition, it gives start-ups and SMBs the flexibility they need. Cloud services can generally be accessed from any internet-connected device, so you and your colleagues can work anytime, anywhere. And you can scale your usage up or down on a month-by-month basis.
Moving to the cloud means changing everything
Cloud computing isn’t an either-or proposition; you can seamlessly integrate your on-premise systems with cloud-based services and applications.
You don’t, therefore, have to plunge into the deep end of the cloud; you can just dip your toe in by moving certain tasks and processes to the cloud, like invoicing, expenses or time-off requests.
The cloud is insecure and unreliable
‘The cloud’ is just unhelpful marketing jargon. There’s no data floating about in the ether and it’s certainly not subject to the same vagaries as the English weather.
Large data centres certainly do make attractive targets for hackers and their ilk, but the companies that run them tend to have the capital to invest in the right security and disaster recovery measures, and are vigilant to the signs of attack.
In fact the security measures are often much better than an average company could afford or manage and onsite servers are often more vulnerable to attack. In addition, smaller businesses tend to underestimate the risks of cyber crime, with one third of SMBs in a 2013 study claiming they didn’t know if they’d been hacked or not in the last 12 months.
The cloud’s too expensive
It all depends on how you’re going to use it but, generally, cloud computing just means a shift from capital expenditure to operational expenditure.
There may be up-front fees for some cloud services but most charge on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning that, rather than a large capital investment, you pay for what you use and you can easily scale up or down as the need arises.
Moving to the cloud can feel like you’re losing control, but letting go of the everyday running and maintenance leaves you free to get on and focus on growing your business.