As companies large and small continuously seek new ways to maximise efficiency whilst reducing costs, cloud computing is fast becoming a pivotal business tool.
With 78% of all UK firms already operating within the cloud – a figure which is expected to climb to 85% over the next two years – cloud technology looks set to shape the future of business. Understanding the cloud and the benefits it can offer will enable you to streamline your company and make the transition as smoothly as possible.
Although we think of the cloud as a fairly modern concept, it has actually been evolving since the 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider had the vision of an “intergalactic computer network”, whereby everyone around the globe could have access to programs and data from absolutely anywhere.
Today, cloud computing can be defined as a network of servers that enables universal access to shared data and resources. A simple example is the case of taking a photo and sharing it online; the image is stored physically on your phone, but when uploaded to social media, it is effectively being added to the cloud, where multiple users can access it at one time. Put simply, the cloud is a virtual space rather than a physical location - why not see how IBM describe cloud computing.
There are two types of servers within the cloud: those which provide an online service – much like a computer program or piece of software – and those which enable you to store data, such as Dropbox. Traditional methods of data storage rely on physical components, such as hard drives or external devices like USB sticks. Cloud storage, however, eliminates the physical element by holding the data in a remote database. Anything you save is stored in an off-site system that is managed by a third party. All that is needed to access this data is an internet connection between your physical computer and the off-site database. There are hundreds of different types of cloud storage systems, and the chosen system very much depends on the needs of the company or individual. Google Docs, for example, enables users to upload documents and spreadsheets, whilst sites like Flickr store digital photos in user-created albums. Social media is another example of cloud storage; every image or piece of content uploaded resides on the company’s server.
When it comes to running a business, the benefits of a cloud server are manifold. The virtual storage of data off-site eliminates the need for excessive hardware, improving resource efficiency and streamlining overall operations. The most notable advantages of cloud computing are:
Cloud-based services are especially useful for smaller businesses whose needs may vary from month to month. The subscription-based model means that cloud capacity can easily be scaled up and down accordingly, offering a level of flexibility that is just not possible with physical dedicated servers. Webhosts such as 1&1, for example, enable you to choose a dynamic cloud server based on usage configurations which can be adjusted at any time. What’s more, by storing data in an externally managed database, companies no longer need to invest in expensive and space-consuming hardware; instead, you only pay for what you use.
The cloud is arguably one of the safest places to store your data. Cloud storage systems rely on redundancy to ensure that data is safe and accessible at all times, regardless of whether one computer defaults or is undergoing maintenance. The use of multiple power supplies for different servers also safeguards against power failure, and onsite hardware damage or theft is no longer a threat to data safety. Ultimately, the virtual nature of the cloud makes it considerably harder for data to be lost or damaged beyond recovery.
In addition to financial and security benefits, migrating to the cloud can drastically improve the overall efficiency of your business. Rather than passing files back and forth as attachments, all employees can access and work on company documents from one central location. As well as saving time and reducing the margin for error, this renders your business highly portable. With anytime, anywhere access to the server, you and your team can collaborate efficiently at all times, regardless of physical location.