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What Is The Cloud and How Does IT Work?

Are you or your business using the cloud?

The answer is almost certainly yes, even if you don’t think it is!

That’s because the cloud is part of almost everything on our computers these days.

If you have an Instagram account, you’re using the cloud. Back up the photos from your phone? You’re using it. If you use One Drive, Google Docs or Office 365 you’re using it.

So, what is the cloud exactly, and why do we talk about it so much?

It’s not a cloud!

Of course it isn’t, the cloud is a shorthand term for cloud computing. There is some debate on who came up with the term ‘cloud computing’. The first known use was in a Compaq internal document produced in 1996. But it is the then Google CEO Eric Schmidt that is credited with introducing the phrase to the world at an industry conference in August of that year.

So, if your data, photos and documents aren’t being stored in a white, fluffy thing floating around in space, where are they?

A simple definition………

Cloud computing is an information technology (IT) paradigm that enables ubiquitous access to shared pools of configurable system resources and higher-level services that can be rapidly provisioned with minimal management effort, often over the Internet. Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale, similar to a public utility. (Wikipedia)

Hope that’s cleared that up. For anyone still a little confused, here’s an even simpler explanation:

Mug with the slogan 'there is no cloud, it's just someone else's computer'

That’s it really. What is the cloud? It’s simply somebody else’s computer, or more accurately someone else’s servers. Lots of them. So, the cloud is not a physical thing, it is a network of servers, all used to store different things.

It all starts to sound a little less high tech now, doesn’t it?

What’s the point?

There are a number of advantages to moving to the cloud, the ability to sync documents across devices, access documents from anywhere, have multiple members of staff work on a document from different locations and so on.

However, the business decision to “move to the cloud” is often financially motivated. Instead of buying fast depreciating IT hardware, the cloud allows businesses to rent bits of other people’s servers – only paying for exactly what they need.

The machines in the business become cheaper, requiring less storage as everything is in the cloud. With options such as remote desktop your whole business infrastructure is in the cloud, with nothing stored locally. The laptop or desktop is effectively a ‘dumb terminal’ used simply to log into the external servers. The Chromebook is an excellent example of this. The laptops run Google Chrome as the operating system, so the computer itself just runs the browser, everything else is based in the cloud. Chromebooks are fast, relatively cheap and offer fantastic battery life.

A Google Chromebook - a laptop with limited storage as it syncs with the cloud

This model is also scalable, up or down. When required, a business can take on additional resources and can equally scale back when needed.

Software and applications now utilise the cloud, again this offers the business flexibility and a reduction in upfront cost. In times past if you took on a new member of staff you bought a software licence at a cost of hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of pounds. If the employee didn’t work out, you were stuck with the licences.

Today most software offers a subscription based model. You just add another licence to your subscription, pay an extra few pounds a month, and then cancel it again if things go wrong.

Losing Control

OK, that might sound like the perfect solution but let’s not be too hasty.

There’s a saying that we at Your IT particularly like:

‘Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it’.

It is pertinent in life generally but we find it particularly relevant when it comes to technology.

There are some disadvantages when it comes to the cloud and these should be carefully considered when it comes to planning a solution.

The most obvious disadvantage is that you increase your reliance on 3rd parties. Your Internet Service Provider doesn’t just control access to your email, it now controls access to your files and applications. If you’ve got a slow or unreliable internet connection then this isn’t for you. Even for those with a top-notch connection, things can go wrong. So, you need to think about how you work if your connection goes down for several hours.

You’re also relying on your cloud provider. If you’re using someone else’s computer, just remember that computer can wrong too. You need to select your provider carefully and, again think about business continuity in the event that something goes wrong.

Security is also an issue. A data centre will have better security than a server in your office but they may also attract more attention from cyber criminals. Think carefully about what you want stored in the cloud.

Should We Move To The Cloud or Not?

As we said at the start you’re already using it but going ‘full cloud’ may not be the right solution.

We worry when clients say they want to move to the cloud but can’t really tell us why.

And there are different types of solution. Public, private and hybrid solutions all have advantages and disadvantages – we discuss those in more detail in our article Public Cloud or Private Cloud; What’s right for your business?

Talk to an expert!

As with any technical solution, we’d recommend talking to an expert.

It’s important that as a business you think about what you what your systems to do, how your staff what to work and what information you want accessible to whom.

Once your IT company or consultant knows and understands this it’s up to them to come up with a system for doing it for you.

If you’d like to ask us a question about cloud computing it’s easy to book a 15-minute call with us – just click HERE.

We can also carry out a free, no obligation Managed IT Assessment to really help you decide what the best solution is for your business.

Please contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation.