Cloud is everywhere today. And some of you are probably wondering “What is Cloud?” – “Is Cloud for me?” “Should I be using Cloud?”
Whether you are a small business or a larger business you are probably already using some Cloud, even if you do not realise it. Almost every website is running in the Cloud – paradoxically this is done for security reasons – by keeping the users of your website away from your critical business systems you are protecting those business systems.
Cloud is simply a way of using other people’s computers rather than your own. In some ways it is a throwback to the early days of computing when people smaller businesses and schools rented time from larger businesses’ mainframe computers- usually through the night.
So why would you use Cloud rather than your own computers? What are the benefits and are there any rainclouds or stormclouds to watch out for?
What does Cloud actually mean? Cloud-based computing refers to any technology that gives companies the ability to have their data managed or delivered over the web or internet.
When any type of data is taken into the Cloud companies no longer have to purchase expensive hardware and software to maintain on their premises. Instead of this, the computers are located in a data centre – the data centre is the sky. They are managed by the data centre staff according to an agreement, not your IT team. To many people this is seen as a massive silver lining to Cloud. But there are still options, so decisions to be made to get the best type of Cloud for you, while avoiding those storm clouds that are lurking on the horizon.
It is possible to purchase just the use of an application which is running in the Cloud – No ownership or installation required. Many email providers including gmail are examples of this. Applications such as Xero, a small business accounting solution, run entirely in the Cloud. This is public cloud. It is also possible to purchase managed servers which give you all of the functionality of an on premise server but the management is done for you. Or you can purchase entire computers, but keep them in a data centre.
Entire servers running in a data centre is private cloud, and usually with this option you are still responsible for the maintenance, but you are now not reliant on your internet connection; all data centres will have top of the range internet connectivity. How much Cloud is right for you will vary on your particular situation.
The rainclouds are because the management has become centralised, you have less control over the applications, and so features may appear and disappear without you being aware of the impact of these changes. You have become dependent on an external supplier. Surprising, security of data is not a risk by choosing Cloud. For most people the security provided as routine by a data centre will be significantly greater than that offered by on premise servers. And, it has been well acknowledged that the greatest security risk is not from the technology, but from users – sometimes well-intentioned but untrained users who do not understand the impact of their actions. Surprisingly, malicious users are the cause of a very small number of user-caused security breaches.
The advantages of cloud are that the management of some aspects the hardware and perhaps the software is moved from your building to a central location and your staff to a dedicated team. For smaller businesses, where the IT Management was done as an extra by someone whose main role was something entirely different, this can be a Godsend.
The cost is also much more predictable as you commit to a payment rather than being subject to the whims of hardware failures – which do seem to happen at the most inopportune moments.
If we use a transport analogy, public cloud, such as Gmail, Xero, CRM Online, Office 365 can be compared to catching a bus. Usually a pretty good service, but you have to be able to fit in with how the bus company plans the routes and the timetables.
Private Cloud including Microsoft CRM hosted with a partner and many outsourced server options, can be compared to a taxi – you rent the service and you get the service at the time that you book and it goes to exactly the address that you give. For the duration of your rental, the car is effectively yours. On premise can be compared to owning a car – even more convenient than the taxi, but unlike both the taxi and the bus, all the maintenance, insurance, managing breakdowns, fuel etc. are all your responsibility
So, in summary, the Rain Cloud is possible loss of control and the Silver Lining is the predictable costs and the improved connectivity and speed. Most Cloud solutions have both.