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A nebulous concept for some, the cloud is clearing away limitations for smaller businesses that need bigger computing power.
This is the year of the cloud. It is the technology everybody is talking about. Every firm wants to use it. Consumers are waking up to the way the cloud is changing their lives. The cloud attracts a thesaurus of hyperbole – it is transformative, revolutionary, irresistible.
The cloud deserves every syllable of praise and really is as important as its evangelists keep saying. But before we go any further, perhaps we should clear something up. What is the cloud?
In a nutshell, the cloud is remote access computing. Instead of having all the hardware and software sitting in the same building as you, the stuff you are using sits far away.
There are three types of cloud. The first is software. Gmail or Facebook are commonly used software applications which are hosted remotely in the cloud. Users access the services via a web browser. This is known as SaaS or software as a service. Consumers love the software hosted in the cloud as it frees them from the boring job of installing and maintaining the applications. The last thing a teenage girl wants to do is spend half an hour “upgrading” Facebook to version 6.0. The cloud means they don’t have to. And because these services are hosted remotely they can be accessed from any computer or phone. Most convenient.
This second type of cloud is a little more complex. Software developers need to access development environments which make their jobs a whole lot easier. The cloud offers these environments as and when the need them. This is the platform version of the cloud, also known as platform as a service or PaaS.
The cloud offers fast-growing firms the ability to expand seamlessly
Cloud variation number three is infrastructure. Before the cloud, firms needed to store all their data on their own servers. If demand rose unexpectedly those servers would be overwhelmed. If demand was low, the servers would sit idle, wasting money. By using third-party data centres sitting in the cloud, firms can access capacity on demand. This is infrastructure as a service or IaaS.
So, those are the three flavours of cloud. And the breathless overexcitement? It starts when you realise that with the cloud the user does not have to buy or install anything. This removes up-front capital expenditure and any ongoing investment costs.
Furthermore, the cloud host will be a specialist, offering economies of scale. So cloud services have huge inherent cost-saving potential.
Ask a cloud computing expert and they’ll rattle off a dozen other reasons to get excited about the cloud. Some may seem arcane, such as the ability to store data in different geographical jurisdictions to comply with national data protection laws.
Others are downright obvious. The cloud offers fast-growing firms the ability to expand seamlessly; just buy a few more user licences of a cloud service and staff can be up and running in minutes.
It isn’t all mindless cheerleading. The cloud presents a number of challenges. There are security challenges and a handful of issues surrounding adoption of the cloud which must be addressed. But, like the internet, the cloud is going to be a part of commercial life from now on. There’s no escaping it.