What is “The Cloud”?

This phrase “The Cloud” has become so commonplace over recent years that many people are now afraid to ask what it is. As the technology is talked about all the time, most believe that they should already know all about it, so think that asking would make them look silly or uneducated.

More surprisingly, I’ve found that people I know and respect – some very intelligent people – misunderstand what “The Cloud” is! One friend of mine told me recently that the cloud is a single massive datacenter in California where all the big computer companies keep everyone’s data!

Whilst this demonstrates some level of understanding about how a datacenter forms part of a cloud infrastructure, the actual term “Cloud” is a really just a concept.

The IT industry doesn’t helpIt likes to add lots of acronyms and sub-categories to the equation, so just as you think you understand the concept, you start to question if these new terms now mean something different. For example:

  • SaaS is Software as a Service
  • PaaS is Platform as a Service
  • IaaS is Infrastructure as a Service

The term “Cloud” is ambiguous because it’s meant to cover a variety of services. The best and simplest way I’ve found of explaining Cloud Computing to people is using one of these definitions:

A Cloud Service is a multi-tenanted service, hosted and maintained by somebody else and provided over the internet.

Cloud Services are usually priced based on resource usage.

In a nutshell, that’s it, it really is that simple.

You don’t have to worry too much about the infrastructure behind the services, including the datacenter(s) used to host the service. That’s  the beauty of Cloud Computing.

Resources are available on demand, from anywhere and somebody else is tasked with the responsibility, maintenance and continuity.

Cloud Security

If people have any objections to Cloud Computing, it’s usually around Security.

The fact is that a security breach would be catastrophic for a major cloud service provider. There has therefore been a massive amount of work over the last few years, improving security to build public confidence.

Microsoft for example have always had a bad reputation when it comes to security, so they have done more than most to make sure their datacenters are some of the most secure in the industry.

Take a look at the Microsoft Trust Center here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/trustcenter

Here you can find the most comprehensive set of compliance certifications and attestations and access independent audit reports of Microsoft cloud services and security best practices.

What’s in The Cloud  for me?

Chances are that you are using the cloud already! If you have an iCloud, Gmail or Office 365 account then congratulations, you’re cloud computing!

So, what’s the big Cloud deal then?

The simplest ideas and concepts are usually some of the best and once you understand the Cloud Computing concept, the list of benefits starts to mount.

Cloud computing opens up opportunities for everybody to access cutting edge services without having to invest heavily in infrastructure.

This is the biggest change over the last few years. Many of these services were simply out of reach for individuals and small businesses due to cost and complexity.Most businesses could simply not afford the technology or maintain the skills to sustain it.

Now anybody can go to Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure, have a brand new Windows 2016 server up and running in minutes, only paying for the

resources they use on a monthly basis.

Work from anywhere using The Cloud

When a service is in the cloud, you can access it from anywhere as long as you have internet access and a compatible device. More often than not cloud services are compatible with such a wide range of devices that the type is irrelevant, tablet, phone or computer.

We’re not just talking data either, imagine you had a Cloud Based Telephone service.

You can have an extension at home and one in the office. When a customer rings, both extensions ring. You can answer either one. The location is invisible to the customer and so your location is no longer important. You can work from anywhere that you have a phone. You can even use your laptop, tablet or your smartphone and calls between all extensions are free.

Cloud Disaster Recovery

If this was your own infrastructure, you’d need maintenance contracts for equipment, subscriptions for software support, staff with appropriate skills etc. etc.

Cloud services are run by companies that do all of this for you, so the responsibility for the continuity of services becomes theirs and you get guarantees. Depending on the service, there may be service level agreements in place with penalties owed to you if you experience downtime.

Most services are clustered so they are not affected by a single point of failure, hence services are less likely to fail.

Most, if not all cloud services, come with regular backups or the tools to complete them for yourself.

Services can be accessed from anywhere, so if you have an issue at your office, you can pick up your phone and your laptop to work from anywhere with internet access. Choose from home, local coffee shop or another office.

Cloud Cost saving

No more Capital Expenditure, no more hardware maintenance contracts, no more separate support contracts. Cloud services are usually sold at a fixed price based on the resources used. The costs are much more visible and predictable.

Cloud Telephony services are usually much cheaper to run and maintain than their on-premise equivalents.

So what’s the Cloudy downside?

Some cloud service providers operate outside of the UK. For some organisations this is a deal breaker, especially Government agencies. Some companies simply cannot entrust the security of their data to anybody else outside of their own organisation so cloud services simply cannot be used due to their own policy restrictions or those impose on them due to contractual requirements.

If you need internet access to get your services, what happens when the internet connection goes down?  Some services like Microsoft OneDrive allow you to synchronise data so you can work on documents etc. whilst offline and then these will sync with your cloud service again once you’re back on the internet.

The Cloud options we Recommend

If we install a Could based system for a customer, we would usually recommend a 4G data backup connection so that in the event of an outage, you can continue to work until your main internet line is back up and running. You can then access cloud services from anywhere by taking a cloud connected telephone home or to another office and carry on working seamlessly from there.

Try doing this with a traditional telephone!

I hope this helps clarify your understanding of what “The Cloud” is and some of the benefits that Cloud Computing provide.

Cirrus IT Services offer a range of Cloud, IT and Communications solutions for all sizes of business, if you would like more information, please do get in touch.

Scott Magee

Managing Director of Cirrus IT Services (UK) Limited