Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular among both small and large businesses – and with good reason. Cloud services are incredibly flexible and offer businesses of all sizes the ability to harness the power of as many (or as few) servers as they need in order to complete their computing tasks. The cloud allows access to information on demand and removes one of the biggest challenges – server management – from the responsibility of the business owner.
What Is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a broad term which includes everything from web-based email to distributed computing. In general, the cloud is used to provide Software as a Service, as well as Platform and Inftrastructure as a Service models. Amazon’s EC2 is an example of the power of the cloud as a platform for running computational tasks, while Microsoft Office 365 and Zoho’s email and group collaboration tools are examples of how desktop applications can be moved “into the cloud” so that employees can work from anywhere.
The Benefits of the Cloud
There are many reasons that a company may choose to move some or all of their business to the cloud, including:
• Lower maintenance costs – the servers are maintained by the service provider, rather than in-house.
• Improved security – instead of having to handle patches and updates yourself, the service provider manages security and backups.
• Lower up-front cost – spread the cost of your office suite or other packages over time, instead of buying them outright every few years.
• More flexibility – why rent or buy an expensive multi-core server costing a huge amount of memory if it will sit at 10% utilisation most days and only be heavily utilised during short periods of peak demand? Many cloud services are “elastic” and you pay only for the server time you are using.
• Access anywhere – the beauty of SaaS is that you can access the service from anywhere. This allows your employees to work from home, the airport, or a client site instead of having to travel to the office to do anything more complicated than light word processing.
The Risks of the Cloud
One of the biggest challenges of cloud computing is tracking who owns and controls the data stored in the cloud. The ICO published a “plain English guide” to data protection which explains how businesses can protect themselves and their customers while still enjoying the benefits of cloud computing.
Another thing to consider is what you will do if you lose access to your cloud computing. Many cloud software providers offer an offline version of their app and allow you to synchronise your data so that you have access to it offline as well as online. If you are concerned about business continuity, or have unstable internet connections on-site, this is something to look out for.
Cloud computing is not a new technology, groupware applications and remote access options have been available for many years. However it is only recently, thanks to high speed broadband and more powerful mobile devices, that the technology has become truly useful to the average business owner.
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