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So what actually is “The Cloud” and why is it useful?


“The Cloud” is muttered about on a daily basis throughout the industry nowadays, and most people of heard of it, but who actually knows what it is? We all know it’s something to do with the internet and most of us understand it’s about delivering services to users, but how is it defined and what makes something a Cloud?

For starters, using the term ‘the’ to represent the Cloud is largely inaccurate – it gives the impression there is only one, but in fact there are many – limitless to a degree. A Cloud is a collection of services connected to users using the internet with an authentication method intended to allow only authorised users to access it. This could consist of a complete set of IT services for a company or a single web-based tool designed to host a simple web-app.

English: Diagram showing overview of cloud com...

English: Diagram showing overview of cloud computing including Google, Salesforce, Amazon, Axios Systems, Microsoft, Yahoo & Zoho (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most businesses are using a cloud environment to some extent and may not even be aware of it. How many of you are using web-based tools for processes such as time and milling management or CRM? If you are, you’re using a cloud environment – a tool hosted on a network, permitting wide access availability to authorized users, independent of their location. Companies could be either partially or totally absorbed in a cloud environment.

The basic requirement of accessing the Cloud is access to the internet. If you have this, then providing your firewall does not block your access and you have valid login credentials, you’re up and working within seconds.

Cloud environments can be hosted in-house or in a managed server centre – the decision for which is based entirely upon an analysis of cost and benefit but smaller companies are more likely to follow a managed server centre route because they can benefit from a hugely robust environment without having to pay out a fortune for implementing and maintaining resilience measures in-house. It also makes disaster prevention and recovery routines a lot easier to manage, with the 3rd party being largely liable for a high standard of service provision and support.

The Cloud is certainly not a gimmick or buzz word that will phase out in two years time – it is here to stay and it’s very useful, no matter whether you’re a small consultancy firm or a large international corporation.

Depending on your company, the benefits are very varied above and beyond the robust infrastructure. Today, people are travelling a lot more and looking for more flexible working arrangements – whilst some companies are happy to pave the way in setting the bar high, others will have to follow suit to retain their valued employees. With a Cloud environment, the idea is that people can work on-the-move, either between offices and airports or from home, without the risk of transmitting viruses or malware to the company network, due to the nature of connectivity with their work tools. This can reduce the number of desks and physical office space that companies need to allow – promoting a hot-desking culture. Not only is this a good way for staff to mix and get to know each other, but its a huge cost-saving benefit for the company.

The internet and related technology has come on leaps-and-bounds over the last five years and internet speeds have allowed Cloud technology to be harnessed into something very useful. Document and Knowledge management, Knowledge Bases, email access, accounting and expense systems are all examples of where the Cloud can help – and they’re hosted, along with the back-end database of information on a secure, well-managed server.

“What happens if I don’t have internet access?” I hear you ask…well this is proving far less of an issue than a few years ago – it is the expected that client offices, airports, trains and even city centres have available wireless networks now, and of course depending on your contract, access to 3G networks too. It is becoming more ‘normal’ to plan ahead for potential lack of internet access rather than having to plan well ahead of time for a business trip and taking much larger amounts of information with you.

The Cloud is a fuzzy technology that ultimately defines itself depending what your company’s requirements are but on a very basic level – it consists of IT services hosted on the internet using secure authentication methods and with widely available web-apps, databases and document storage areas.

What experience do you have with the Cloud and what is your perception on its definition? We would love to hear your comments…

 

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