There’s a good chance you’ve heard of cloud computing, but maybe you don’t know exactly what it means. Or more importantly, you’re not sure how computing in the cloud might be beneficial for your business.
Cloud computing refers to using on-demand data storage and computer resources located online - or "in the cloud" - instead of computers that are physically located on your business premises. These resources are located on remote online servers that are housed by giant cloud services providers. Cloud computing services include hardware and servers, software as a service (or SaaS), data storage space, applications and networking components.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
The term cloud computing is being used more and more frequently, but the concept of cloud computing has actually been around for some time. Online accounts with Google, Amazon and Flickr, for example, are located in the cloud.
Today, however, many businesses are starting to realize the potential benefits that cloud computing offers when compared to traditional on-site computing resources. These include:
• Lower computing and IT costs - This may be the biggest benefit of computing in the cloud. With cloud computing, you essentially rent the computing resources you need, instead of buying elaborate and pricey hardware to run expensive software - both of which will likely be out of date in a few years. Your employees can then run cloud-based software applications on inexpensive desktops or laptops. The subscription fee (monthly or annual) that you pay typically includes the software license as well as tech support.
• Greater staffing and IT resource flexibility - You usually don’t need to hire any IT staff when you compute in the cloud because there is no hardware, software or applications on site for them to oversee, troubleshoot and manage. In addition, cloud-based computing resources can easily be added (or removed) as your business’ computing and IT needs change.
• Automatic software backups and updates - All your business data is automatically and continuously backed up in the cloud, and software updates are also performed automatically. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your employees remembering to back up their data and update their software individually.
• More data security - It’s a common misperception that data stored in the cloud is less secure than data stored locally. In fact, there is usually no difference in the security of data stored locally versus in the cloud. If anything, data stored in the cloud is often more secure than data stored locally - because cloud services providers typically use the most advanced and sophisticated data security, backup and maintenance technology available today.
Cloud Computing Models
Beneath the umbrella term of cloud computing are three separate and distinct models:
1. Public cloud: This is the least expensive option and the one used by most businesses that don’t have specialized computing or IT needs. Your computing resources are stored along with those of other businesses in a general data center. Customization options - for example, in security and accessibility - are limited, but computing resources are scalable, so you can easily ramp up to more space and resources if you need them.
2. Private cloud: Your computing resources are isolated from those of other businesses, and your cloud is designed and managed specifically for you. If your business has highly customized computing, performance, security or accessibility requirements, it might be worthwhile to pay extra for a private cloud.
3. Hybrid cloud: This is a combination of public and private cloud usage. For example, you might use a private cloud for sensitive applications that are critical to your company’s core operations and for which you can’t afford any downtime, and a public cloud for less-sensitive and less-mission-critical applications and software.
Choosing A Cloud Services Provider
Take the time to perform thorough due diligence when choosing a cloud services provider for your company. The provider will become one of your most important business partners, so it’s vital to choose one that you trust and can build a strong relationship with. In particular, it’s important to negotiate the service level agreement (SLA) with your cloud services provider very carefully.
The SLA includes specific parameters for security and performance requirements, maintenance schedules and reliability standards. If there are ever any disputes or disagreements, the provider will refer back to the SLA. Most importantly, the SLA should make it clear that the cloud services provider does not own your data, but rather that you do.