Of all the new IT trends that have emerged in the last 20 years or so, one of the most widely talked about is cloud computing.
It’s success as a ‘model’ is phenomenal, so in this article we’re going to take a look at what it involves, how to decide whether it’s right for your business and, if so, how you can deploy the right cloud solutions.
We’re also going to review a selection of the more obvious benefits for businesses of all sizes.
Cloud computing – what is it?
Like the rest of the IT world, cloud computing is full of buzzwords.
In a nutshell, cloud computing gives businesses access to high performance IT software, hardware infrastructure and services without many of the “up front capital costs” associated with more traditional forms of IT.
Cloud computing services are all delivered over the internet – and because “the internet” as a network of networks has always been visually represented in its simplest form as a “cloud”, the name has stuck.
The key elements of cloud computing are hardware, software and the management services to maintain all these elements.
Because cloud services are delivered remotely over the internet, another element is the physical buildings and space in which the servers and other infrastructure are housed, and this is where many of the efficiencies associated with it are found.
Many software applications that you’ll be familiar with are now also delivered as cloud software as well as – and in some cases instead of – the more traditional CD or download version.
Examples include email (such as hosted Exchange), application software (for example Office365), file sharing, storage and backups, and even Voice Over IP telephony (VOIP).
Essentially, ‘the cloud’ offers business an alternative or complementary option to ‘owned’ servers and the software that runs on them, instead allowing customers to pay only what they need, for as long as they need it.
Many of the services can be paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis, which is welcome news for cashflow-conscious Managing Directors and Finance Executives.
Is cloud computing right for my business?
For businesses, cloud computing essentially consists of:
- Computer hardware such as servers
- Software of all types ranging from Microsoft Word and Excel to accounting and marketing applications
- Data storage – disk space where files and folders can be stored, shared and backed up
- Services that combine to deliver various aspects of an overall computing service for business users.
The services are delivered across the internet either as a complete platform or as individual components.
Whether the cloud computing model is right for your business will depend on a range of business factors such as your business view of:
- Capital ownership of your IT infrastructure versus ‘access’ to it on a pay as you go basis
- The extent to which your cloud services will integrate with your existing in-house systems and services
- The level of service you expect or need, for instance through service level agreements
- The type of work that your business does and the industry you operate in
- How your employees work and where they are located
Of course there are other considerations that will be personal and specific to your own business, such as how recently you invested in your current IT infrastructure.
The best approach therefore is to introduce cloud computing into the business at a manageable and affordable pace that fits with your company, ideally under the guidance of an experienced cloud solutions provider.
Your cloud solutions provider will assist you in integrating the new solutions, services and working practices alongside your existing systems and solutions.
Let’s take a look at the benefits.
The benefits of cloud computing
The hardware and software are provided as a service with a multitude of benefits:
- Reduced capital cost: not having to part with a lump sum capital payment can be a compelling part of any business case, and cloud computing is no different.
By effectively outsourcing the hardware (server) requirements to your cloud solutions company, you avoid capital payment, spreading your cost over a longer period.
- Software per user: many specialist software systems such as CRM for marketing departments are developed specifically for the cloud model and are payable on a ‘per seat basis’. Paying only for ‘what you need’ versus conventional ‘X user license’ approach of pricing software packages, can be more cost effective for businesses – with the added benefit that the software is updated and maintained by the vendor or cloud supplier so you don’t have to worry about upgrades.
- IT team efficiency: The cloud computing model reduces the need for periodic software and hardware upgrade projects so your IT team and / or IT Support Company can concentrate on supporting your biggest investment, your users.
- Flexibility: Cloud computing allows organisations to switch applications on and off at will. The use of these systems and payment for them on a ‘per seat’ basis means that organisations can scale their usage of software as a service flexibly, using only what they need and increasing or reducing their use with changing requirements.
- Remote working: Cloud-hosted applications and data can be used and shared in real time from anywhere with an internet connection via mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and smart phones. This means it is easier and more cost effective to ‘work anywhere’ for business owners and employees.Workers with no access to a client device can even use 3rd party computers provided they have their passwords, though security provisions on public access computers may sometimes be less robust.
- Reliability: because the cloud companies carry out their own service maintenance, levels of reliability and availability of cloud-based services is typically very high, and is often backed up by Service Level Agreements.
What should you do next?
For more information about cloud services, or to discuss any aspect of your IT systems, please contact Alliance Solutions on 0800 292 2100 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us for a for a free IT Systems Audit.