What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing, or simply the cloud, is a way of storing and accessing your data from any location on any device that has access to the internet.
The data does have to actually live somewhere in a physical sense, it can’t just stay in the cloud floating around. When you access your photos on Facebook for example, you are actually accessing their servers in a different part of the world to bring up your data, instead of it living locally on your device.
Examples of cloud computing
Chances are you’ve used some form of cloud computing today already. Whether you check your emails on Gmail or pay bills through your bank app, you are using the cloud to achieve this.
You may also be accessing your work documents through a cloud portal or online document management system.
We use cloud computing every day, whether you’re uploading a photo to Facebook, making a bank transfer in their app or checking emails on your phone. The cloud doesn’t just refer to those fluffy white things floating in the sky but to the practice of storing and managing data online.
Benefits of cloud computing for business
Using collaborative tools in the cloud gives you the ability to communicate easily with your team outside of traditional methods. This is especially handy for businesses that have multiple offices, contractors or just want their different departments to interact more.
Technology has helped to improve the ability for employees to collaborate and manage their time more effectively. Technology such as cloud computing can enhance productivity by standardising devices and systems, so all staff have the same experience.
Being able to access your business from anywhere means you can work from anywhere! You don’t have to waste time waiting at the airport because you can’t access the latest file to work on, or stall a project because a key member is out of the office.
Of course, things happen and downtime is not always avoidable, but the cloud means that there are no updates where you’re waiting to use your entire computer. It also means that you are always using the latest version and you don’t need to worry about upgrading the program every few years.
Risks of cloud computing for business
So we’ve looked at how the cloud can help businesses, but what are the risks involved if any? A lot of the potential issues of the cloud are actually similar to on-site servers, here are the main things to address before making a move.
Make sure you choose a provider who has been around for a while and has tried and true processes in place.
A few years ago storage provider Nirvanix announced they were going out of business and customers had to get their data out, fast. Some customers were able to get their data out and to safety, while others weren’t so lucky.
Location, Location, Location
It’s not just important when purchasing a house, but also when it comes to the cloud. Even though it’s called the cloud, there still needs to be some a physical location with servers storing your data.
Different geographical locations can be more susceptible to natural disasters, an unstable political landscape or intrusive privacy laws. It pays to know where your data is living.
Aside from geography it’s important to know what kind of facility your data is being kept in. What is the security like, do they have fire suppression systems, what’s the disaster recovery plan?
There can be some very sneaky terms in fine print in contracts, so make sure you go over it with a fine tooth comb. Ask what would happen if you were to leave your provider, will you get all your data back? Will they use your data for research or marketing purposes?
Like anything, you can have the best systems and technology in the world but human error can bypass all that protection in an instance. Train your staff to make smart decisions and follow best practices when online, it could save you and your business some big headaches down the road.
Workplace productivity has increased an amazing 84% during the last 4 decades thanks to advancements in digital technology
On-site servers or the cloud?
A debate that often happens is between having on-site servers, the cloud or a combination of both (called hybrid cloud). The choice is dependent on the business and what they want to achieve, one solution is not right for every business.
Here are some of the main points to consider when comparing on-site servers and the cloud.
The cloud is scalable, meaning you only need to add or remove users are you need them. If you were running your own infrastructure in your office, you need to make sure your servers have the processing power to accommodate extra users, with the cloud somebody is taking care of that in the back end.
Keeping your own servers on-site can pose a potentially huge risk. We always think about disasters in really big terms, like a huge fire wiping out the office, or a flood washing the building away, but servers can be damaged in some really boring ways. There are cases where the air conditioning in a building was getting some work done and the timing setting was changed. Sounds perfectly normal that the air conditioning automatically switches off when nobody is in the office, but it also affected the temperature in the server room. By the next morning the servers had overheated and fried, completely destroying all the company’s data.
Of course the flip side of this is that data isn’t always safe in the cloud. That’s when you need to understand where your data is housed and what laws are applicable to it. You need to always make sure that your cloud provider has multiple data replication centres so your data is always protected.
Keeping up to date with technology can be frustrating and make you feel like you’re chasing your tail. By the time you do your research and decide on how to upgrade your server, it may well already be out of date.
Working in the cloud means you’re working on the latest version of software and are keeping up to date with the latest security patches and improvements.
If you’ve got your own servers, then you’d either be using an internal staff member as your IT guru or outsourcing to an IT company. Unfortunately servers aren’t just ‘plug and play’, they need someone to manage and monitor them.
Servers are often sold under the assumption of a once off, upfront cost, but in reality they require ongoing expenses in the form of IT support every month.
Of course you still need IT support in the cloud but it means that less time is spent updating and monitoring servers and more time helping end users and implementing IT improvement projects.
Most servers have a warranty of 5 years and then any issues are your problem. Around this time is when most problems start to happen and can be very costly to fix, there is also a much higher chance of servers failing after the 5 year mark.