Resources > Cloud Based Services for Business | a Simple Guide to Cloud Computing

Cloud Based Services for Business | a Simple Guide to Cloud Computing

CLOUD BASED SERVICES

In the pioneering, horn-rimmed-glasses and flares-wearing days of business computing, it was all about the “mainframe” – large, expensive machines run by specialist providers that would carry out data-processing for client companies.

Then, throughout the 80s and 90s, computing became exponentially smaller, cheaper and more powerful. Most businesses found they could satisfy their IT needs in-house with a suite of desktop machines.

So how come “cloud computing” – the current big thing in business IT – represents a return to centralised storage and processing? Well it certainly isn’t down to nostalgia…

In this article, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about cloud services for business.

When did cloud computing start?

A brief history.

The birth and development of cloud computing has gone hand-in-hand with the growth of the Internet – and it is that dramatic improvement in connectivity that has sparked the return to centralised computing as an effective means of carrying out business IT.

Moving data from one place to another has been a challenge that the IT industry has always worked hard to address. From physical media, to email, to File Transfer Protocol (FTP), the means of moving information has become ever more sophisticated. Likewise, the problem of storage saw huge advances in data compression and hardware memory capacity.

But alongside these advances were leaps made in connectivity, and it is that key capability that meant centralised computing became an efficient way for businesses to transmit and store data.

In the early 2000s, Salesforce.com was blazing the trail for Software as a Service (SaaS) provision for businesses, and by the latter part of that decade, Google and Microsoft were producing online apps and competing to become the top provider for what was now being commonly referred to as “cloud computing”. Although, if you were using Hotmail or Google prior to that, you could say you were an early adopter of cloud computing, as both rely on processing that takes place remotely over the web.

Today’s cloud computing has become so much more than a means of saving and accessing information remotely. Businesses are now able to benefit from having not just data hosted on the cloud, but their programs and processes as well, reducing the need for on-site tech and divesting IT responsibilities to expert third-party providers.

The early years may have been dogged by slow speeds and security lapses, but cloud computing today is a technology that’s no longer in its infancy. Secure and established, it no longer represents a risk, but a substantial opportunity for businesses of all sizes.

What is cloud computing?

The Cloud is everywhere. It is rapidly becoming the norm to see a form of cloud computing established in businesses throughout the UK, no matter their size or sector. This Internet-based computing solution provides users and companies with the ability to store, process and utilise their data in a way far in advance of methods in place just a decade ago.

However, many small business owners remain apprehensive about the capabilities, reliability and security of cloud computing. The concept of core business data and resources, from customer details to financial information, being kept in a location separate from your headquarters can be a daunting one. High-profile security breaches, such as the infamous celebrity photo leaks from Apple’s iCloud, the breach of Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online suite in 2010 and the large-scale Dropbox breach in 2012, have raised concerns for business owners considering the cloud-based data storage.

Yet, if your business isn’t considering employing the Cloud in 2019, then you’re missing a trick. Below, we outline what the Cloud is, how it can benefit your business, and how we can deliver a package to suit your business needs.

What is cloud storage?

Let’s start from the beginning – what is the Cloud? While many are aware of the term, many don’t have a full understanding of what it actually does. Simply put, the Cloud offers individuals and enterprises an online storage for their data outside of their onsite facilities. Instead of storing your information on a hard-drive at your premises, it is kept on the Internet.

What is cloud computing used for in business?

Popular examples of cloud computing that you may be familiar with are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure through to Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Dropbox. Services such as these make it possible to keep a significant amount of personal and business data on remote servers maintained elsewhere, and therefore not taking up space on your local hardware.

But, beyond holding vast stores of information, cloud computing is increasingly helping businesses with the applications and processes that support their ongoing operations, as we’ll come to see…

Cloud computing examples

As previously mentioned, there have been examples of online applications relying on remote processing since the earliest days of dial-up. Search engines and web-based mail were the most prevalent examples, with web-based drop-boxes introducing the public to cloud storage a few years later.

In the last decade nearly every popular website or application has adopted a degree of web-based processing and storage. Whether selling items on eBay or staying up-to-date via RSS feeds, you are taking advantage of what could loosely be defined as cloud computing.

But what examples do we have of cloud computing for business use in particular?

Well, the current market leader is Amazon Web Services, or AWS, which is of course Amazon’s offering. Used by in excess of 1 million users in 190 countries, AWS netted $6.679bn for Amazon in Q3 2018 alone. The service provides a broad range of services including computing power, secure storage and a variety of business applications to clients that include Capital One and AirBnB.

Given that Microsoft Office held the monopoly in office systems for so long, it no surprise that Microsoft, with Office 365 and the Azure service, is also a major player. As of the close of 2018, Office 365 boasts 31.4 million subscribers. The Azure cloud computing service, meanwhile, in the last quarter of 2018 increased subscribers by 89% year on year and offers users over 100 tools and 150 Azure Logic Apps connectors that are compatible with just about any major platform you can think of.

Google’s open-source, cloud-based Google Docs is familiar to users of Microsoft Office and is a very popular low-cost alternative. Google’s “G Suite” offers businesses bundled access to the all-familiar Google tools such as Docs, Drive, Gmail, Calendar etc. with more advanced functions also available: from enhanced processing via Compute Engine, app building and management via Cloud Services Platform, image recognition via Cloud vision and much more.

IBM’s Multicloud platform offers functionality far in advance of storage and office applications, using technologies such as AI to support business clients juggling multiple datacentres. Claiming that 71% of businesses are now using 3 or more clouds, through Multicloud IBM seeks to bring vital integration and agility for businesses working across various platforms.

The industry that is currently growing up around supplying cloud solutions for business is an exciting one, with longstanding names in the IT world as well as emerging companies rushing to supply a hungry market. Our expert consultants are on hand to help guide you through the options that are out there and help you make sure you find the supplier that best meets your needs.

How secure is cloud storage for businesses?

Ask yourself, if you were to lose your laptop tomorrow or your hard-drive was wiped out, what would happen to your business? It could mean millions of pounds worth of information is gone forever.

In contrast, cloud computing providers for business match the data security standards of your industry as standard, and the information can be remotely accessed, backed-up and deleted quickly if breached. Altogether, the Cloud is becoming by far the safer option for businesses.

Who owns the information stored in the cloud?

When it comes to content uploaded to social media and sharing platforms such as YouTube, ownership and copyright are contentious issues that would warrant an article all of their own. Sufficed to say a careful reading of the user agreement for any given site is highly recommended for individuals alike.

More relevant to our concerns is the issue of data ownership within the field of cloud storage for business. Again, we have to recommend a careful inspection of the user agreement presented by any potential provider prior to signing up. As an example, here are excerpts from the pertinent sections of contracts offered by “The Big 3”:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS): “Other than the rights and interests expressly set forth in this Agreement, and excluding Amazon Properties and works derived from Amazon Properties you reserve all right, title and interest (including all intellectual property and proprietary rights) in and to Your Content.”
  • Google: “Some of our Services allow you to upload, submit, store, send or receive content. You retain ownership of any intellectual property rights that you hold in that content. In short, what belongs to you stays yours.”
  • Office 365: “You own your data and retain all rights, title, and interest in the data you store with Office 365. You can download a copy of all of your data at any time and for any reason, without any assistance from Microsoft.”

As you can see, you are on pretty safe ground when it comes to data ownership when you deal with the market leaders, but you will find variation as you scan other providers on the market. We’re familiar with the pros and cons of most providers, so we’re well-placed to examine usage and service level agreements of providers on your behalf and make recommendations to prevent any nasty surprises down the line.

What are the different types of cloud-based services for businesses?

Now you know the benefits of the Cloud for business owners, you may be wondering how to put them into action. We’re here to help you take this all-important step.

The possibilities are endless for what the Cloud can do for your business, which is why we take the time to assess your needs and deliver a bespoke package to suit them. This could take the form of:

Private Cloud Solutions

This model provides a dedicated, discreet infrastructure for your business, accessible only by your organisation for greater control and privacy. This can be integrated into your business model to boost efficiency across communication, operations and information management.

Public Cloud Solutions

Most suited to companies with a high volume of users or visitors to their website, or specific short-term intense computing requirements, this model offers seamless response to fluctuations in activity and availability in any location.

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

Taking elements of both the Private and Public Cloud services, this model gives you the flexibility to rent computing power and hardware at competitive rates, considerably reducing your costs.

Cloud Colocation

Colocation is like having your own data centre, except it’s housed in a remote facility. Colocation usually refers to your own business software processes taking place in a remote location on out-sourced hardware – rather than a third-party supplying that software functionality as part of their service to you. If you are looking to move your existing IT infrastructure off-site, perhaps to maintain your investment in existing in-house IT infrastructure, for regulatory requirements or simply to consolidate hardware from two different locations, Colocation could be the answer. With all the speed and reliability benefits of the Cloud, it allows you to take a stepping stone approach to the full Public or Private Cloud transition, without an immediate commitment.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service (SaaS) allows you to procure the software you need without the expense of buying the product outright. For example, if you required cloud accounting software, you can pay an online subscription that provides the flexibility to upscale the product should you need to. If you need to procure several services, we can advise and assist procurement and deployment ensuring integration is configured (where required) all whilst acting as the single point of contact for each subscription, helping you to maximise the benefit of the services procured.

If you would like to discuss the ideal Cloud solutions for your business, please don’t hesitate to contact our offices in Southend, Chelmsford or London.

Cloud cost management

As cloud computing has become a staple in many businesses, cloud cost management has emerged as a concern for many companies. For example, while scalability is one of the great advantages of cloud computing, it’s important to carefully manage the way that you purchase cloud capacity to ensure you aren’t paying for more than you need in times of low usage. This is just one of the areas where our expert consultants can help you to streamline IT costs. We can monitor your usage against the plan you have with your provider to make sure you’re getting the best deal at all times.

What are the benefits of using cloud computing?

Migrating your business data onto the Cloud has several benefits that would be extremely costly and challenging to replicate through a local storage solution. These include our 4 Cs:

Convenience

With businesses often required to store large amounts of sensitive information, it is important to have a secure solution that works to your needs. Used correctly, the Cloud is an incredibly flexible tool for this purpose.

Let’s say for example your business experiences an influx in customers, leading to a need for more staff and technology to accommodate them. As most Cloud providers operate on a pay-as-you go basis, it’s easier to scale up or down the amount of computing power and storage you use to cope with changes in demand. A process that before the Cloud would take weeks and months of forward-planning has now become far simpler to procure and remedy.

Speaking of pay-as-you-go…

Cost-Effective

As highlighted in the previous section, the normal pay-as-you-go model means that you only pay for the computing power that you require. No more, no less. This price can be determined based on:

  • The amount of time you need to use it
  • The amount of memory consumed per hour
  • The number of users/amount of storage required

If you were to stick with local computing devices, expenditure would far exceed this, both in terms of the cost of initial hardware purchase together with the time taken to install these in your location.

Competitive Edge

Today, the opportunity for small businesses to compete with the biggest names in their industry is far greater than ever before due to technological innovations like the Cloud. The service benefits business agility, allowing companies to seamlessly update their technology, capacity and data, bypassing the time limitations of onsite computing. This allows companies to be far more dynamic in response to changes in the market or circumstances that impact their business.

Furthermore, it allows you to take your business on the move with you. Whether it’s on a laptop, tablet or phone, having your business’ data on the Cloud means it can be accessed from anywhere, provided you are connected to the Internet. Plus, it means you and your staff can actively work away from the office, benefitting those that find it difficult to be on-site full-time.

Collaboration

As well as helping you compete, the Cloud helps you collaborate. In a global business network, this online storage facility makes it much easier for owners to work with colleagues and customers overseas. This is excellent for small businesses, as the limitations of time and cost to interact with companies abroad are wiped away.

The sophistication of Cloud-based file sharing and workflow applications means they can be accessed on any device, making the days of transmitting data via hardware or bulky attachments a thing of the past. You are always able to access your work, or send it effortlessly across the globe.

What are the drawbacks of using cloud computing?

Between 2012 and 2016, more than 68 million Dropbox customers’ users and passwords were leaked online as part of a four-year hack. News stories like this are understandably going to deter entrepreneurs from pursuing cloud computing solutions for business purposes. In reality, these services are now far safer than they were in the early days of commercial cloud computing, and in most cases safer than onsite computing, when configured correctly.

A drawback of our increasing reliance on the Cloud is getting cut off from your systems in the event of a connectivity failure. While we spare a thought for less fortunate corners of the globe, thankfully the UK enjoys pretty consistent, high-speed broadband in the vast majority of areas. It’s possible for expert IT consultants to mitigate connectivity failure to a significant extent, and our consultants can help you to ensure your data connection setup is robust and secure, minimising the possibility of getting left high-and-dry by an outage.

While issues around security and connectivity are wrinkles that have now largely been ironed out of the world of cloud computing, there will still be certain businesses for whom the Cloud is not the answer. Those businesses will typically be those with very specific needs that can’t be serviced by off-the-peg solutions – after all you’ll always be at the mercy of what products are available on the market.

Inevitably there will be some companies and industries that require the development of bespoke in-house systems to service their needs. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for cloud computing somewhere within your business. If it’s good enough for NASA, it’s bound to have merit within your organisation too!

What are the advantages of cloud computing for a business?

  • Reduced costs compared to onsite hardware
  • Upfront investment costs borne by your provider
  • Scalable capacity and services that can be increased or decreased at short notice
  • You pay for what you use
  • System performance becomes someone else’s problem, with your interests protected by SLAs
  • A cloud server can cope with sudden spikes in visitors to your site where server-hosted sites struggle

What are the disadvantages of cloud computing for a business?

  • You rely heavily on the continuity of your internet connectivity
  • You rely critically on the security levels assured by your cloud provider when entrusting them with your data and operations
  • You bear higher running costs. You’d need to weigh up whether the ongoing costs with a provider outweigh the saving made on retaining an up-to-date in-house infrastructure – We can help you here
  • You rely on service providers for continuity and maintenance. The supplier takes on the responsibility and is contracted to maintain performance – but things can and do go wrong
  • Could you be buying into a restrictive system or a pre-packed suite of applications that are not a 100% fit for your business? Will you be committed to the system long-term? What if you want or need to change?
  • If a provider decides to withdraw a service or application that your business has come to rely on, what might be the cost in time, money and continuity of moving over to a new system?

Beyond Data Storage and Transfer – cloud-based IT services for business

The latest generation of cloud computing services focus on providing more than just somewhere to store data and a method of accessing it remotely. Increasingly we are seeing more sophisticated IT services becoming available on subscription and hosted remotely on the Cloud.

SaaS allows you to benefit from ongoing usage of the programmes and applications you need to do business, without the commitment or expense of actually purchasing the product outright. If for example, you were looking for a piece of software to help manage your payroll, you could subscribe to an online service that meets these needs. As well as avoiding the outlay required to buy the software, you retain the flexibility to upgrade the product when your requirements become more sophisticated or if the product itself introduces an update. If you require software to assist with multiple business requirements, we can assist you in procuring the right package at the right rate and ensure seamless integration with your existing systems.

What is needed to be able to use cloud computing for business?

We’ve discussed how using cloud computing can vastly reduce the amount of hardware that businesses need to host on site, but obviously there needs to be a hardware infrastructure in place to allow you to interface with the Cloud. Your office workers will each need to work on machines with a keyboard, mouse screen and its own processing power.

An obvious necessity for successful cloud computing is the ability to connect to the Internet reliably and securely. Without an exemplary connectivity infrastructure, your progressive adoption of cloud computing will be completely ineffective. A fast and resilient data connection is just one of the essential elements that Method can provide consultation on, as well as carrying out any installation, upgrade or maintenance that’s deemed necessary.

Of course, there is a certain level of onsite processing capability required to operate even the most cloud-reliant system. We work with you to equip and maintain your office systems to align with your cloud computing needs. As your IT consultant, we can audit the work your business does, its IT requirements, how cloud computing can help, the extent to which your systems can be outsourced to the cloud and that will inform the office-based systems we can recommend for your business.

How has cloud computing changed business?

Innovation in business often comes by applying previously unavailable resources in response to existing problems, and this is the case with cloud computing.

Is your business planning to develop Artificial Intelligence assisted tools to gather new insights or develop new products? Chances are that’s a ‘no’, but as a cloud user you could be well-positioned to benefit from advances like AI in applications hosted by your provider. And quantum computing, which until recently had barely made the step from inhabiting science fiction to fact, could become part of the business IT world sooner than you think thanks to the Cloud.

Even small businesses are now taking advantage of the latest strides in computer technology without requiring huge budgets to invest or a computing R&D team – all through outsourcing their IT infrastructure via the Cloud through a subscription service.

Into the future

Cloud computing has an awful lot to offer businesses of all sizes. If you are interested in looking into whether your business might become more streamlined and efficient with the inclusion of cloud computing in your office systems, our consultants are happy to discuss the pros and cons with you, as well as the extent to which it would benefit your operations to migrate processes over to a cloud computing solution.

If you’d like to discuss cloud computing, or any other aspect of business IT with one of our expert consultants, please don’t hesitate to call us on 0345 521 6111 or fill out our enquiry form here and we’ll be in touch.

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