Cloud Computing – The Definitive Guide

Definition of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is internet-based computing which utilizes servers, that are stored at an alternative location, to store data and manage resources.

What is Cloud Computing?

You will no doubt have come across this term more and more frequently over the past couple of years and it’s still a phrase that confuses many people. So what is cloud computing?

Instead of running applications yourself (such as email, data backups, websites etc.) they run on a shared data centre. A great example of cloud computing is Gmail. With Gmail you don’t need your own servers and storage, you don’t need a technical team and you don’t need to do upgrades. When using an application on the cloud you just login, customise it to your preferences and begin using it. Cloud computing is scalable, often more secure and more reliable. Previously you would have purchased X amount of hard drive space and once that is used up you’d need to look at getting another hard drive or find an alternative solution. With cloud computing you can simply increase the amount of space allotted to you.

So say you are creating a new powerpoint presentation. Normally you would open up your Powerpoint program, create your presentation and save it to your PC hard drive. With cloud computing you could open your presentation as a webpage, make you amendments online and save it to a virtual hard drive. Then share that with your colleagues or even have them login and work on the same project as you, at the same time. Prezi.com is an example of an application that you can do this with.

There are 4 categories that cloud computing can be split into:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
  • Communications-as-a-Service (CaaS)

Infrastructure-as-a-Service – IaaS is utility computing, you only pay for what you need. Rather than purchasing servers, network equipment and data-centre space, you purchase those resources from an outsourced service provider. Normally you are only billed for what you use and so it helps keep costs down. Fasthosts provide IaaS through it’s subsidiary company Rise.

Platform-as-a-Service PaaS is a set of software and product development tools that are hosted on a third party provider’s infrastructure. GoogleApps and Windows Azure are examples of PaaS.

Software-as-a-Service SaaS is the most popular form of cloud services. Fasthosts Webmail is a simple example of SaaS. We host the hardware infrastructure and software and the end user logs in externally through a front-end portal. As we host everything it means the user is free to login and use the service from anywhere.

Communications-as-a-Service CaaS is a way of outsourcing business communications via the cloud with services such as voice over IP, voice conferencing and contact centre applications.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

There are many benefits of using cloud computing for your business. Due to the scalability of the cloud service you can save your business money by paying incrementally for services used. For the majority of SME’s you will also find you can store more data than on a private computer system.

Cloud computing is highly automated as the provider will make software and hardware updates for you, saving you on the costs and resources of IT staff.

As previously touched on, you will be able to access information remotely whether on your mobile, tablet or laptop, rather than having to stay in the office.

You won’t need to download anything as it can all be accessed online saving you hard drive space and time. As everything is online it also save you having to share large files across internal networks, employees can login and access the document online, read and make changes.

Cloud computing is also a lot more secure than storing your data in your office on your own PC. What happens if your data is stolen, lost or gets corrupted? With the cloud a good service provider will have multiple back-ups of your files and be able to restore them very quickly. I recommend looking for providers that have a data-centre that meets all the latest industry security requirements.

Cloud At Home

Cloud computing has opened up a number of opportunities, one of which being home cloud computing. Many people now require a solution whereby they can access the information they need whilst on the move and out of the house. Mobile phones and laptops can only hold so much data and if your device is stolen it can be a major headache, not to mention distress caused by the loss of irreplaceable photos, videos and other data.

Home cloud computing provides a solution to having all of your documents, music and images on different devices by having a seamless storage solution. No longer do you need to manually move the photos from your mobile to your laptop or desktop PC, the interconnecting software does it for you.

The cloud at home is the link between your external cloud services and your local files. You take a photo on your mobile and it would synch with your home PC which in turn synchs with your web-based cloud service meaning that everything is safe and secure and accessible from one point no matter where you are in the world.

Cloud for Business

This is the area in which cloud computing is having, and will have, the biggest impact. The emergence of cloud computing has led to many advantages over the way in which executives and business owners had previously run their businesses. Here are some of the key benefits of cloud computing to businesses:

  • Remote desktop to access applications whenever and wherever needed and then release the software license back to the cloud so other users within your organisation can share from the pool of licenses.
  • Mobile support is becoming increasingly important and many applications can be accessed through your mobile via the cloud.
  • Sharing documents is always a vital part of any business and the cloud makes this process more efficient and practical. You no longer need to send emails back and forth with large attachments containing the latest update to your project. Instead you can access the application online, make changes and notify your colleague to login and do the same whether they are in the office or not.
  • You can now rent instead of buying which helps keep costs down and provides a scalable solution that grows as your business grows.
  • Removes the headaches of managing your own hardware and software.

For more reasons why cloud computing is the right choice for your business check out our top tips on how you can use the cloud.

Moving to the Cloud

We’ve discussed how the cloud has created new opportunities for saving costs and developing your business. If you are now thinking of moving some or all of you applications and services to the cloud, then let’s take a simple look at how practical and easy it is to do.

Creating a web application from scratch for the cloud is a relatively simple and straightforward process but for applications that already exists it is not so simple. Moving your existing data centre and/or applications to the cloud will involve making some key decisions so let’s take a look at these:

The difficulty in migrating to the cloud is the main factor stopping more businesses move to this solution. One of the first things to consider is how long will migrating take? In most cases your IT staff will need to manually configure the platform, run tests, check the operating system versions, configure networks, database and application integration and storage capabilities. This can take several weeks or months depending on your existing set-up.

Moving data is the second important factor. Moving any important data is a process that needs to managed very carefully, particularly if the data is that of your customers. Check that the cloud provider meets all the safety requirements within your industry and meets data centre requirements. Does the physical data centre have a climate controlled environment, uninterruptible power supply, monitored 24/7 and CCTV coverage with security guards on duty at all times?

So you’ve now got an understanding of how long it will take to move with the issues involved and that the data will be secure, it is time to look into how you will manage this move to the cloud.

New management tools, settings and policies are all things that your staff will need to learn. The cloud provider will look after upgrading software and hardware for you but you’ll need to be aware of when these changes will happen and what affect it will have on you and your customers.

Has a new cloud provider come along with great offers and extra services? Think about how easy it is to move from the current cloud provider. Before moving anything over to the cloud ensure that it can easily be moved back to your data centre or another providers.

Hopefully by keeping these four factors in mind when looking to move to the cloud it will help you choose the right provider for you.

Future of Cloud Computing

The future of business technology in 2011 is cloud computing as outlined in this BBC article. More and more businesses will make the move to virtualisation simply because it makes sense financially with a superior ROI. But what developments will we see with cloud computing technology, here are some predictions being discussed online:

  1. As more and more people begin to understand the decreasing risks of moving to cloud computing,  they will begin to move from on-site IT and towards the cloud service.
  2. Generation Y who have been raised on a diet of Facebook, Twitter and 24/7 internet access will be much less fearful of the cloud computing concept and more readily move applications to it.
  3. Improved ROI, faster payback and lower set-up costs will make cloud computing the preferred choice for new businesses.
  4. Minimalism is becoming mainstream with people wanting a single device to do everything, take pictures, shoot videos, write documents, search the internet, make phone calls, play games etc. With devices getting smaller there is a physical limitation to the storage space of the hardware and so the cloud steps in as a solution to this issue. No longer will you need to store anything on your phone, it will all be stored with your cloud provider meaning that not only can you take photos until your heart’s content but you can also access those photos from other devices. This will lead to devices that are extremely lightweight.
  5. No longer will software providers release an update every few years. Instead software updates will come around every full moon and this will lead to higher competition between software providers leading to more “buck for your money” for the end users.

So there it is. Our definitive guide to cloud computing. We’ve gone through everything from what it is and why you need it, to moving to the cloud and what the future holds. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and if you liked this post then Subscribe to our RSS feed and get loads more!

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