What Is Cloud Computing? Do I Need Cloud Computing?

What is cloud computing and why are cloud services important?

No doubt you’ve heard the term cloud computing or cloud services everywhere in technology news and wondered what it was, and what it means, big picture.

First some history: The term itself stems from a software application that network engineers use to visually map the logical flow of network information. Visio from Microsoft has been the defacto standard in computer network mind mapping since before “mind mapping” was a thing.

Now, think of the cloud, as the internet. What the internet is in essence is millions of disparate connections that form an invisible or phantom network.

Here is where it gets awesome: That cloud has enveloped and absorbed your network (maybe not yours yet, but soon), and you no longer need your own server(s) or even computers in some cases.

The server that used to sit in the back closet in your office is almost obsolete. You dont need to listen to the whirr of those fans anymore. For almost every application that used to sit on your server, there is a new breed of hosted applications that replace the functions your server used to provide, and they do it more securely, more efficiently and, most important, with more redundancy (safety) than you could ever hope to achieve with your own network server.

In the above scenario, your applications are now accessible from any location with any internet connected device. The uninformed sometimes argue that this makes their critical data less secure, but in fact the opposite is true. No matter how secure you think your in-house network is, if it is targeted by a talented hacker, they will breach your defences. If your data is in the cloud, there are corporate grade firewalls and multiple layers of security protecting it 24/7.

One concern people bring up is that of connectivity i.e. what if my internet connection goes down? Am I out of business until it is fixed? I usually counter with: you spend thousands per year on backup tapes for your server, use a fraction of that expense for a redundant internet connection instead! Even the most basic failover net connection will double your level of redundancy (safety in backing up your data).

Another objection is “I like knowing where my data is. I like to know that it is sitting inside a box on my property.” Oh? Can you touch the 1′s and 0′s that represent your data? This one requires a bit more abstraction in your thought processes. The transition from a paper based business model where you licked stamps to send one another information to the digital where you now have icons that represent your data files and folders that contain docs, pics, music, etc, required significant effort to effect. You went from things that you could touch to objects that you could relate and conceptualize as being representative of the things they used to be in the old model (a word document represents writing paper, etc).. However they are nothing like what they used to be, they are flowing binary information. Your word doc is no more “inside” your computer than an actual filing cabinet is. All the cloud does is relocate the flow of some on or off electrons from point A to point B.

OK, so what can I do with the cloud? Well chances are you’ve been using it for years without even knowing it. Have a Gmail account? Or Hotmail? Or Yahoo? This will likely be your first exposure to cloud computing. Ten years ago, you had a program on your computer (probably Outlook), that would receive your email from a server out in the cloud. Now, the gmail web interface has replaced Outlook as the “application” used to view your email. Gmail exists nowhere on your computer, and yet you trust it to always be there with your mail.

Lets evolve this concept to the next level: Google docs. Just like with Gmail, they are replacements for Word, Excel and Powerpoint and exist nowhere on your computer. You see an interface through your web browser, but it is transient. As soon as you close your browser, that program is deconstructed only to be reconstructed later when you go there again with your browser. OK, with that in mind, the next logical step will be to move more traditional applications to the cloud.

A big component of what a server used to do was share files between users on your network. There are now file synchronization services from companies like Dropbox or Sugarsync that provide exactly these functions today. Or you can move your group collaboration software (shared contacts, calendars etc) to the cloud with Microsoft Office 365. You no longer need an exchange server. Do you use custom database software? Look at podio.com or Sharepoint online.

Chances are that there exists a cloud alternative for any program that used to run on your server in its silo. There are even virtual servers, which are the soltuion if there is simply no alterative to running your particular software on a traditional server. With a virtual server, you create a server in the cloud to take advantage of the added reliability and capital cost savings. Think of this like digitizing the whole server and relocating it “out there” in the cloud. Still secure, still available, just not touchable.

Most Popular Cloud Computing Providers

There are a number of cloud computing companies on market now, but it is relatively difficult to choose the best one for your business purpose. Who is excellent cloud provider it is very important to know because it will be handy to fulfill your requirements. At the time of researching, you should check the criteria of that cloud provider. Here are some basic requirements for identifying the excellent and popular cloud computing providers below:

Reputation and Reliability

Reputation and reliability of cloud computing companies will be essential to know its excellence. To understand the reputation and reliability it is very important to know how long it has been in industry. It is also very important to know the clients as well as partnerships of that cloud computing company. Moreover, to know the reputation and reliability, it will be better to consult with the partners and clients of that cloud provider. By this way, reputation and reliability of that company can be measured and evaluated.

Suitability

While the business runs through a suitable cloud environment, then it can be considered the existing cloud computing company is exact for your business. If there is no-obligation for free trail offered by a company, it will be taken in account as more suitable for you. Thus, you can know the suitability of a company to run the business in a suitable cloud environment and how the company works before making an enduring commitment.

Support along with Service Level Agreements

Support as well as service level agreements play an important role in making that provider or company popular. Support commitment of a cloud provider’s can be known from the speediness of doing work. If there is far difference between their commitment and work speed, it will not be a good cloud provider. If you go to the office of a cloud company, you ought to request to see their support department.

Safety of the Cloud

If the company is excellent, it will ensure the security of the environment including the business process along with system. If the company offers safe and sound infrastructure at different levels, it will be more suitable than other companies. Besides, good cloud computing companies ensures more security of the data center of the business. Finally, it will ensure a safety environment for the business.

A good cloud computing provider will be excellent and most popular while aforementioned requirements will be content.

Cloud Computing – Bullet Proofing Your Business Model

Bullet Proofing  Your Business

It’s 3:00Am on Sunday morning, the phone call startles you awake.  “Mr. Jones?  This is Deputy Starr down at police HQ, I’m sorry to inform you your business burnt to the ground, you’d better get down here sir…”

Click.

Now what?

Well, with proper BC/DR planning, you’ll grab your BC/DR plan from the safety of your shared file server out on the internet and start the process of assuring your business will survive.

Because you see the vast majority of businesses that fail to plan for this sort of data loss, do fail if they experience a major data disruption.  They go out of business within the next 12 to 24 months.  They never recover.

Tragically, the more they rely on technological assets to run efficiently, the stronger the chance that a total or near total data loss will simply wipe them out – POOF – GONE!

Do not pass GO, do not look back, you’ll be torpedoed below the water line, slowly sinking — there will be absolutely nothing you can do about it, unless you have a plan.

So here we go.

What is Cloud Computing?

Basically there are a whole host of cloud computing platforms and services.  We’ll stick with two I’d say are the most basic and important “Software As A Service” (SAAS) and “Communications As A Service” (CAAS).

These two types of services are generally paid monthly as you use them, kind of like phone service, or perhaps an internet subscription to e-mail or other services.  These services are provided by SAAS companies, sometimes thought of as SAAS software.  In the case of CAAS, many internet phone services options exist.

The only difference here from how we currently operate is we are doing basic mission critical business functions like using our Customer Relationship Management system (SAAS CRM), or maybe SAAS ERP over the internet.  In the case of CAAS, it might be phone equipment, e-mail or Instant Messaging applications over the internet from an internet telephony service provider (ITSP)

Whatever the service, it will be accessible from our place of business over the internet, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, because it IS on the internet.  We don’t need anything but a basic PC or browser to get to it, and if our place is burnt down like poor Mr. Jones above, then we’re still basically OK (except no cloud coffee in the morning, you’ll have to get a new coffee maker – OK?)

We may lack a postage machine, a PC and all our family pictures along with some of those local applications we use for our business, but at least we still have our basic customer and prospect data, can send e-mail and make phone calls.  Oh and do the books, that’s kinda important — yes?

Ummm, and by the way, all that other stuff can be virtualized as well, right down to the postage, we can make it so that your PC desktop itself is on the cloud, and you don’t even need a PC at your desk, just a “dumb terminal” to get to the internet (dumb terminals are cheaper to buy and operate, plus they don’t get spam and virus’ and so forth because they are, well, they’re dumb!)

Why Keep It In the Cloud?.

Because it’s safe.  Just like a baby needs to be cuddled and nestled in it’s mothers arms, our data likes to be on a virtualized server, in a class 5 data bunker where the lights never go out and it’s always 68.5 degrees with 50% humidity, where the worse of worst hurricanes create only a whisper.

Our data also likes to know that when it’s needed (data like a customers contact info, an important Word document or the ability to make or receive phone calls) that even if our class 5 bunker takes a hit from an airplane crash, all systems switch automatically to another bunker at least 500 miles away, and we never miss a beat.

Because you see the very essence of cloud based computing is SAFETY, EASE OF USE, REDUNDANCY, SCALABILITY and ENHANCED FUNCTIONALITY these are things we get essentially for free if we choose our provider carefully.  They are also something only the largest businesses could ever assure themselves due to incredible upfront and recurring equipment costs, so leverage this to your BC/DR advantage!

You see with cloud computing, we can skip back-ups, worrying about buying and maintaining file and e-mail servers, and all that stuff.  We push all this into the cloud (like Wow, man, the cloud…) and just have PCs, maybe dumb terminals and an IP phone handset on our desk.  We can walk away with our lap top, or go to the library and get at our data from any browser and make phone calls using a softphone (not in the library, we can’t make phone calls – shhh…)

Preparing for ArmageddonAKA I don’t care if the sun don’t shine no more

Step One

If you’re a small or mid sized business, get with your insurance agent, use them as a resource and make them responsible for helping with your plan.  Make sure you not only have various available insurance coverage (especially business continuity) but start to draft a plan.  Many BC/DR templates are available on the Internet, spend the time to do your homework.

This plan should include off site data back-ups at the very minimum, there are dozens of good cloud based back-up service.

Even better, let’s assure a disaster doesn’t require a data restoration (a long and arduous process, requiring new equipment and so forth) from back-up with a fundamental shift to cloud computing.  Options include all sorts of software applications and let’s perhaps add Communications as a Service (CAAS) like hosted PBX, a type of VoIP Internet Phone services.

These technologies will allow your business to run efficiently every day, and then pick up where you (and your employees) left off the day before from literally any browser, anywhere in the world.  Even the day after a hurricane or snow storm.

Even if your office takes a direct asteroid hit, destroying everything, telephone handsets, PCs and so forth, it’s possible to have your employees’ immediately start working from home with cloud computing.

Perhaps instead you’ll decide to rent the rights to a “hot stand by” site where employees can converge after a disaster to pick up the threads of the business and start to work as a team on the internet immediately?

The wise little Piggy is NOT the one who built from brick, but the one who put all his equipment and data needs in the cloud…

Add to this the many other benefits that exist from cloud computing.  For instance you generally don’t need to pay for upgrades and so forth, this is all simply part of paying for the on-going service on a monthly basis.  So you always have the newest and the best SAAS software of whatever type.  This might be accounting programs, SAAS CRM, e-mail services, instant messaging, video communications, telephone service or whatever, I mean how much better can that get?

Ahhh – now I hear you saying, “Yeah, but this must cost a lot.  Plus if I want too, when I own it I can simply pay for it and never have to pay for it again” NOT! (buzzer sound) WRONG!

No matter what type of server, hardware, phone system, software application or whatever, you might own it and have it paid for but eventually it WILL become obsolete and you’ll end up THROWING IT OUT.

Windows 98 or 8 track tapes anyone? <;-) Need I say more?

Plus from an accounting stand point, our goal is increasingly to turn a cap-x into an op-x (capitol expenses into an operating expense)

When you do the TCO/ROI of cloud computing, assuming it’s a vital, regularly used business application or imperative for you, I’ll bet that 9 times out for 10 you’ll see it makes as much OR MORE sense financially to go to the cloud.

Oh, and by the way, if the money is close?  If it’s about the same, and you think hey, let’s just buy all this stuff, put it on our own server and throw it in the back room?  Remember the story about poor Mr. Jones.  He now wishes he’d read this article back when he was starting his business.

So what have we learned?

Push it to the cloud.  Get that technology out of your physical location.  Purchasing equipment and applications to sit back at HQ might sound like the right thing, but it can get hit by lightning, get stolen, catch on fire, be subject to an anthrax scare and much more.  Plus you have to insure it, keep it cool, powered up and then one day you’ll throw it all out and buy new ones.

So why not explore the wide, wonderful world of cloud computing, SAAS and CAAS, including the many VoIP technologies that inherently provide for fantastic ROI and TCO, as well as business continuity?

See you in the cloud!