The What? and Why? of The Cloud

”The Cloud” is the current buzzword in IT and everybody seems to be talking about it. It’s  a marketing label used by suppliers from the very largest (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, BT, etc) to the very smallest, applied to a plethora of different products and services, making it very confusing for businesses. It is difficult to get behind the hype and understand the true value.

Martin King-Turner, Managing Director of The National B2B Centre, has written an introduction to  “The Cloud”, examining what it is and why businesses should be interested.

The essence of “The Cloud” is obtaining IT service or resource over the internet. The most common example is access to specific software applications over the internet (referred to as Software as a Service, or Saas).  You may already be using applications such as Google Docs, Xero – accounting package or Manu Online – online ERP, and not realised that they are part of “The Cloud”.

But the Cloud is not limited to accessing software. It includes access to IT infrastructure – ‘classic’ computing resources such as disk space or CPU – over the internet (referred to as “Infrastructure as a Service”, or Iaas), and even access to whole suites of software (referred to as “Platform as a Service”, or PaaS). Amazon has invested billions of dollars to support its IaaS offerings, and both Microsoft and Google have made similar investments in their PaaS offerings.

So what? The technology is not particularly new, and neither is the functionality offered by the software applications.   But there are two crucial differences – cost and flexibility.

Cloud offers computing on a pay-as-you-go basis. For the first time your IT can be as agile as your business. A useful analogy is the provision of electricity. In the early days of the industrial revolution, if your factory or business needed electricity you had to build your own electricity generator. This required significant capital investment and once built was expensive to run and inflexible in terms of the amount of electricity you could consume. If your business grew and you needed more power, you had to build additional generating capacity. If your business shrank, you still had to carry the overhead of the excess generating capacity. Nowadays very few businesses would ever consider building their own electricity generator. Electricity is a resource that you purchase on a pay-as-you-go basis. If you need more, you pay for more. If you need less, you pay less. Simple.

Cloud computing is the IT equivalent of electricity. You access – and pay for – IT services when you need them. As your business expands and you need more IT capacity (more users of an application, more disk space, more computing power, etc), you simply pay for more. If you need less, you pay for less. No new capital outlays, no major (expensive) IT upgrade projects.

Can it really be that simple? Well, yes – but – it does require a thorough understanding of Cloud and how it can best be applied to your particular business in order to reap the benefits. The technology and applications are available in the marketplace, and more are being launched all the time. But choosing the most appropriate is not easy and you still need to go through a process of defining what you actually want from your investment, selecting suppliers and then evaluating different options before you spend any money.

Using Cloud resources involves a new set of  considerations – security often being cited as the major one. We will examine security, and other Cloud issues, in the next article in this series.

If you think that the Cloud could have a positive impact on your business but aren’t sure where to start call Martin on 02476 620158 or email to discuss your requirements.

Filed under: IT