What is ‘The Cloud’?

Overall Concept of the Cloud

In essence, the ‘Cloud’ is the internet.  The cloud allows users to access applications, information, and data of all sorts without necessarily housing the actual hardware on which it is running and stored.

When the software that you’re using is accessed over the internet and runs on servers operated by the software company, it is said to be ‘cloud’ based.

Cloud storage is a service which lets you store data by transferring it over the Internet or another network to an offsite storage system maintained by a third party.  Examples include Dropbox, OneDrive and Microsoft’s Azure service.  Such systems provide the ability to share data with a controlled list of allowed users, each with configurable ‘rights’ to add, view or amend.

Businesses also put publicly accessible information into systems on the cloud.  Examples of this would be social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, video sites like YouTube and Vimeo and music streaming sites like Spotify.

Similarly, when you access up to date flight arrival times from airlines, news from bbc.co.uk etc that information is on the ‘cloud’.

Advantages of Having your Software / Data on the Cloud

  • Access from anywhere you have Internet access – on the road
  • Resilience and backup should be better than SMB’s can afford inhouse
  • Cost competition due to economies of scale
  • Software kept up to date (saved maintenance cost)
  • No upfront hardware costs or maintenance

Disadvantages of Having your Software / Data on the Cloud

  • Security – Your data is held on someone else’s server with other people’s data
  • Compliance risks – is the server UK based? Does it meet industry standards?
  • Need to pay for a business service to get SLA’s
  • Can be more expensive than having your own server if used for a long time as it is a subscription service
  • Captive customers – difficult to move data and services away
  • Automatically updated software may offer incompatibility with internal systems

Models of Cloud Computing

There are several different methodologies for getting your systems ‘Cloud’ based.

Subscription based services

Subscribe to a fully hosted and maintained service such as Office 365, Quickbooks Oline, SalesForce online etc. Where the software and hardware is fully managed by the provider and you pay a monthly or annual fee to use the service.  You will have little ability to configure such software as much as the on-premise versions and software will generally be automatically upgraded to the current version, adding or removing features.

Hosted Hardware in a DataCentre

Build your own virtual servers and desktops which sit on datacentre server hardware managed by the provider.  You can specify CPU, RAM and storage requirements and then install the operating systems and applications you need (subject to licensing in a Virtual / Terminal Services environment).  Can work out expensive in an ongoing basis but useful for short term projects, testing or when staff numbers increase seasonally.

Your own Hardware hosted in a DataCentre

Buy, build and configure your own server hardware and software which is then hosted in a DataCentre, where you ‘rent’ rackspace.  You have full control over the hardware and software (so long as it meets the Data Centre’s terms and conditions.  You benefit from resilience and enterprise level networking and connectivity but have full control over your servers and software.

On Premise Servers with Remote Access Capability

You buy, configure and install your own server hardware and it is kept at your offices.  It is configured to allow users to work and connect remotely, either from home or remote offices.

You have full control over everything but are also responsible for all communications, hardware and software maintenance.  Reduces ongoing costs but you will have the upfront cost of the initial hardware and software purchases.

Hybrid Solutions

You buy, build and configure an in-house server but couple this with hosted services such as Office 365, online accounts or online CRM systems.

Your internal server manages your internal network security, stores files and possibly line of business applications but it links in with external hosted services.

The Future of Cloud Computing

There is no doubt that Cloud Computing is here to stay.  The increased requirement to work remotely and access data and applications from anywhere at anytime is not going to disappear in a hurry.

However, we have seen a change in attitude recently and instead of wishing to ditch all their own servers, Companies wish to retain their in house network security and data storage rather than subscribe to ongoing services.

We have also seen an increase in clients retaining in-house Exchange Servers as opposed to subscribing to Office 365 services as the TCO over 3 years works out more cost effective with on premise solutions even accounting for ongoing maintenance and support.

If you are considering migrating your systems to the Cloud or need to review your current Servers and infrastructure, contact us to discuss the options available and what would be best for your Company.