This is likely not the first article you've read about what "the Cloud" can do for your business, a topic that can be amorphous and often confusing. Different people have differing definitions, expectations, and perspectives on the Cloud. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s define "Cloud" as the removal of intellectual assets and specific equipment from the physical building.
Let's take a look at what the Cloud may offer your business, and some real-world applications of moving to Cloud services.
First, the ability to move things from an actual structure into an abstracted off-site environment provides several advantages. As an example, a business running a customized program on a server in the network room may experience hiccups on this server, such as Windows updates and hard drive issues, which will impact business operations. Unexpected power outages will not only make the server unavailable, but may also corrupt data. Pulling this machine out of the building, and putting it into a real Data Center environment, will mitigate these risks.
Second, having infrastructure in the Cloud rather than in a physical facility can provide ease of access to critical information any time it is needed. By definition, Cloud architecture is not in your building. Therefore, the Cloud is constructed in a way in which your data can be delivered to a remote location. The Cloud doesn't care if the "remote location" is your main office, your house or even your mobile device as you stand in the bank lobby. Even if you want your data to be housed in your building, you can still send backup copies to the Cloud, where it will remain secure and accessible in the event that you need to recover something lost from your primary data repository. A well-designed solution will give you actionable information when you need it, where you need it.
Another aspect of an off-site IT solution is enhanced Disaster Recovery capabilities. Common crippling events, such as prolonged power outages, equipment failure, fire and storm damage, are minimized in a Cloud environment, due to the enhanced architecture of Cloud data centers and the ability to get to your data and services from anywhere.
Yet another advantage of Cloud architecture is scalability. Think about how a typical business approaches the replacement of an aging server. The old method of forecasting the growth of this business for three or five years into the future, and buying equipment today that will hopefully be capable of meeting that requirement in 2020, is inefficient and is not optimal. Running that application in a massive Cloud environment separates the software from the hardware platform, providing the ability to simply rent the resources needed today, and to easily toss more memory and CPU power to the application whenever it's needed.
The issue of Security is top of mind these days, with ransomware and other malicious malware becoming disturbingly commonplace. Research has shown that most cloud-based solutions are superior to on premise designs in this regard. Providers of Cloud services are security experts and can put more financial resources into maintenance of a solid security posture than can the typical small or medium business, yet another advantage.
Finally, as most Cloud services are designed as services that are abstracted from physical equipment, the pricing model is typically subscription-based, meaning that the periodic shocks of capital expenditures are replaced with predictable and cost-effective monthly (or annual) expense.
So how does this look in practice, on the street (or on the gravel road, or in the back 40)?
The first massive adoption of Cloud services was undertaken by telephone companies. Phones were dumb devices, with all of the switching, billing and logic functions handled by machines in the Central Office. None of us ever knew when the machines in the Central Office were replaced with new machines or when the billing software was updated. Everyone just picked up the phone, dialed a number and talked (and maybe even listened). Today, modern IP telephony pulls even more functionality into the Cloud while providing new features such as video and presence (the ability to see if the person you're trying to reach is available).
Applications, too, have been in the cloud long enough to have matured into solid service offerings. News and weather information are commonly accessed online, almost as a commodity. Salesforce and other online CRMs have experienced tremendous growth, as have Internet banking and other information-based industries. Even Microsoft Office applications (Excel, Word, and so on) are now hosted in the Cloud. The ability to present data to any authorized user via a web browser or an app on a smartphone is revolutionizing business and offers significant advantages to users adopting these new business models.
The move of physical hardware from network closets into the data centers of local service providers began a number of years ago, and is now accelerating with the advent of Cloud-based virtualized environments, where vast arrays of high-end machines spin up virtual computers as they're needed, and instantly delete them upon completion of their tasks, all on demand.
In the end, pushing onsite infrastructure away from the physical building and into the Cloud provides increased resilience, more access to your information when you need it, business continuity even in the event of a disaster, increased flexibility to scale up (or down), professional security, and lower total cost of ownership. What this means is that by partnering with a trusted, experienced Cloud provider, you can stop spending time working on your infrastructure, gain new and enhanced access to your information and applications, and put new energy into your business.