Cloud Computing – Is it relevant to your business?

What it is Cloud Computing?

The word Cloud has become a household phrase over the past couple of years. It’s a ‘buzz’ word for all technology services which are hosted on the internet. This means these ‘cloud’ services are accessible via the internet from anywhere in the world.

Cloud computing is not necessarily new technology; it has actually been around for many years. The most common form being email systems from providers such as Hotmail and Yahoo! which are cloud based email services, due to the fact they were always accessible from the internet anywhere in the world.

So why only recently has it become so popular? The answer has a couple of factors, the biggest being the increased availability of better internet speeds. With the demand for data across the internet growing at a rapid pace, the internet providers are working flat out to meet these high demands with faster connections to both residential and business premises. As the increased internet capacity is made available, so are the cloud services this unlocks.

We now have the capacity to use much more demanding services via the internet. A good example of this is the recent rise in online movie companies, offering high definition movies to be immediately streamed and watched via the internet.

With this new found internet capacity, IT services also have the ability to be moved onto the cloud, making for the next logical step in the way businesses utilise IT. In the past there were only a couple of options available to businesses, the widely used Server/PC/laptop scenario and the less common terminal server/thin client scenario. Both options work well and provide business with the collaboration and communications required from an IT system. The negatives to these scenarios are the capital required to purchase the hardware and software, and the operational costs of running and supporting those systems, not to mention the cost to the business if these systems ever went down. So the traditional way of IT is regarded by many businesses as a prodigal, but necessary overhead. The better and more reliable the system then the higher the cost to buy, implement and maintain.

The introduction of cloud based IT means businesses are now able to closer manage their IT costs, whilst still having enterprise class systems the business demands. Cloud computing is essentially renting an IT system which the business can utilise, without having to go through the expense and headache of managing this in-house. Because these systems are provided by the Cloud provider, the maintenance, upgrade and licensing is also the responsibility of that provider. This can give businesses financial flexibility and also time, the time which would be used to arrange and manage the systems.Whilst we are touching on the financial aspect, it is a general misconception that cloud computing is cheaper than traditional computing. This is a half-truth. Like for like Cloud computing services are not significantly cheaper in total cost of ownership than more traditional IT services. However they are more cost efficient than traditional IT services – delivering better, more productive IT services with less initial outlay with more predictable cost.

Cloud computing gives businesses the ability to scale up and down with the current demands. Instead of having to outlay a big investment on internal hardware and software which may only be used to half-capacity (or commonly even less), businesses can order and cancel Cloud computing resources to meet the demands at the moment in time. If a business is having financial difficulty and have to make redundancies, the cost and saving of that member of staff can be accurately calculated with the Cloud resources they are using. The same applies if a business experiences growth, they may invest in a traditional in-house solution which they could quickly outgrow.

How is it relevant to me?

Most people and businesses are already using cloud computing in some form, but all cases for relevance are completely unique to each business. Many things need to be considered, you may have just invested in an internal solution and need the return on that investment or you may be a larger corporation with many bespoke internal systems. Some cloud solutions are much easier to decide on than others. Voice over IP for example, is a fantastic way to manage a phone system without having to invest heavily in hardware. The out-of-the-box VoIP cloud solution unlocks geographical telephony boundaries for businesses based in several locations (national and international), giving them huge savings for their internal calls (usually free) and overseas based agents calling the UK.

The more interactive the system, the more questions need to be asked before deciding if they are right for the business. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) would be a good example of this. VDI is essentially a fully-fledged Windows based PC that is accessible from anywhere in the world, from practically any device. This gives business the freedom to collaborate with the freedom and continuity of the same desktop, business software and bespoke applications, without having to invest heavily in the remote access and back-end solutions.But if a business has just invested in internal systems, they would need to see that through to get a return on the investment. In this case it’s unlikely that the switch to Cloud is viable. If a business is geographically split across multiple locations or has remote workers, the switch to Cloud computing would be a much easier decision to make.

How will it affect businesses?

Cloud computing will ultimately make any business more productive. Now it’s easy to say that, but the fact remains that take out the headache of managing and maintaining hardware in-house and the issues they bring, and you can safely remove 40%-60% of IT hardware problems. All that is basically left is the software aspect. Even these issuescan be greatly minimised (if a staff member had any issues with a VDI, they can be provisioned a fresh one within minutes) you are left with a more productive environment, less downtime, less disruptions, more accessibility and greater collaboration. Costs vary from business to business and as mentioned earlier Cloud computing isn’t always cheaper.

Migrating systems to the Cloud should also be relativelypain-free. Inevitably with the implementation/migration to any new IT system there will be some disruptions. This will depend on the Cloud platform you are migrating to. VDIs for example, are windows based, so no staff training is required. It is the same familiar system everybody already knows.

It will make a business much more scalable, whether up or down, cloud computing makes it easy and fast to financially predict and action growth. Cloud services can be deployed in a matter of minutes to hours, and immediately setup for access. The same applies to down-scaling. Historically if redundancies or temporary staff were a part of any business, the hardware and software those staff members would remain in the business unused, a waste of capital expenditure.

How will it affect IT companies?

Most IT companies exist to support, deploy and maintain in-house IT systems. Commonly IT companies have not been too forthcoming with aspects on Cloud computing in fear it will ultimately make them redundant. This is a misconception as Cloud computing still necessitates the expertise to advise and implement. Apart from major server hardware issues, there will still on many levels be issues with software and user support that will require a technical skill set.

IT companies embracing Cloud based technology and spearheading the campaign will benefit in the long term as their dynamic approach to provide their clients with the widest range of technologies on offer (also saving their clients’ time and money) will no doubt enable growth in this sector.

Common concerns

The most common concern of Cloud computing (and all types of computing) is data security and integrity. Businesses like to have their data where they can physically see it, in the server room or the building where it is ‘safe’. But the truth is staff having access to this data and copies being put onto laptops or external hard drives to allow working from home or travelling causes a much greater risk to data security than having it stored in a state-of-the-art datacentre with a surprising amount of physical and virtual security. Cloud computingshould always offer data security in the virtual environment as everything is (or should) be encrypted. No data is stored on devices external from the datacentres so the loss or theft of a laptop would only mean the loss of the physical hardware (not the data).

In terms of physical security, most office are alarmed and have lockable doors, but apart from that there really isn’t too much security to stop a would-be burglar breaking in and stealing the server hardware (and the all the data on it). In addition to a burglar, there is also the issue of intellectual property and the potential theft of internal data being copied off by staff members wishing to use it for their own good (espionage).

Cloud computing eliminates thoserisks, datacentre’s physically have to be incredibly secure. Patrolled all hours of the day, security doors at every turn and CCTV throughout, it is practically impossible for anyone to gain unauthorised access, let alone get out again with any hardware. If you ever get the chance to visit a centre, I highly recommend it. Any fears based on security will quickly be overcome. Data accessed virtually can also be controlled, so that no staff members are able to download copies of the data to a USB drive without prior authorisation.

So the misconception of the cloud being a threat to security is just that, a misconception. The reality is a cloud system will be much, much more secure.

What to look for in a cloud computing provider?

Many Cloud computing providers are now emerging and businesses are being spoilt for choice. The main factors for any business is redundancy and security.

All cloud based systems should be hosted in a datacentre. Datacentresare tiered 1 to 4(1 being the less redundant, 4 being the most redundant). Your Cloud based systems should be in aISO 27001 accredited Tier 3 or higher datacentre. This basically means it adheres to certain requirements, the most important of these are:

  • 1 Redundant power with backup generators
  • 2 Multiple internet feeds from different exchanges
  • 3 Cooling capacity
  • 4 Strict security policies.

If in doubt, always ask for information on the datacentre or even a visit, whist you may not be able to physically access the data hall but you should be able to visit the facility and see for yourself were your business will be hosting their systems.

If you are interested in cloud based services, or have any questions/concerns/views you’re welcome to contact us or call 01442 933421