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What is the cloud?

What is the cloud?

By now you’ve probably heard of ‘The Cloud’ or the term ‘cloud computing’ bandied about and you may have wondered “does my business need to be in the cloud?”. We understand The Cloud is often used as a generic buzzword to cover a range of hosted solutions which confuses a relatively simple concept. Hopefully this article will clear up any misconceptions you may have:

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What?

Cloud computing refers to remote computers running software and storing data which you access over the Internet.

One of the earliest widespread cloud services was Hotmail – an email service where your data was stored online and not on your local computer. Over the past ten years there has been a rapid growth in the number and quality of services being offered through the cloud, i.e. over the Internet which you may access via a web browser, mobile app or a very basic computer.

Cloud computing allows your business to benefit from technologies without needing to have the expertise to manage them, and focus on what you’re good at. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are some of the big players in the cloud, offering applications, storage and computing power with their varied services. Services such as Facebook, Twitter and Instragram are also examples of cloud services, as are smaller players such as Xero (accounting), Salesforce (CRM) and Dropbox (storage/file sharing). To get a little more technical, cloud computing is often broken down into these 3 broad categories:

cloud_computing_layers

Software as a Service (SaaS) – The most common model, on demand software often paid for by a monthly access fee. This replaces the need to purchase software to install on a single computer with users instead leasing software to access from whichever device they choose. HostAway’s webmail software and mailout portal are examples of SaaS.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – This model refers to computer environments that allow application developers to build and deliver their own software and services. An example is HostAway’s shared web hosting and database platform which allows website developers to focus on their code and not have to worry about the maintenance of the underlying operating system or hardware.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – As the name suggests, this model provides users with access to virtualised infrastructure or hardware. Customers can lease computing power, storage, IP addresses and scale up or down depending on their requirements, without having to purchase any physical machines. HostAway has been offering Virtual Private Servers since 2008 allowing users to maintain their own operating systems and software.

Why?

There are a number of compelling reasons to move your IT resources into the cloud.

  • Scalability. If you need more, you pay for more.
  • Flexibility. Access your data from anywhere with an Internet connection.
  • Capex vs Opex. No more hardware costs, you lease services instead of buying assets.
  • Physical security of data centres. Your data is safer on a server inside a data center/s than on a hard drive in  your office.
  • Potentially lower costs. Not only do you not pay for hardware, depending on your model you don’t need to maintain or patch software either.

cloud_users

Why Not?

Cloud computing is dependent on your Internet connection. If your connection goes down, so does your productivity. The delays in the NBN rollout and the necessary improvements in Internet connectivity in Australia has meant some companies don’t have reliable or fast enough connections to make use of cloud services.

There are also security considerations when using cloud services, as you are no longer in complete control of your data. How is your service isolated from other users? Do you communicate with your cloud provider over an encrypted connection? Where is your data stored and what government’s laws do you fall under if your data is hosted overseas? We don’t mean to frighten you away from using the cloud but these are questions you should be asking – please don’t hesitate to contact HostAway if you have any questions about our hosted solutions.

How?

You are probably already using cloud services (remember Facebook?), but for your business you may consider the three major deployment models: private, public and hybrid.

A private cloud involves managing your own services either in house or in a data center and accessed via a secure connection. This option is more expensive as you still have to purchase and manage your hardware, but offers more security, privacy and control. An example would be storing a file server in HostAway’s data centre using our Colocation service, and accessing the data via a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN).

A public cloud is the more well known model where services are provided to multiple users over shared infrastructure which is publicly accessible via the Internet.

A hybrid cloud uses a combination of the two, where a company will store non-critical data in a public cloud to take advantage of the lower costs and greater flexibility, but store their financial information in a private cloud.

 

The cloud is not a mysterious floating solution for all your IT issues, it is a business tool and as such you have to analyse its strengths and weaknesses to determine where you store your information, and who you choose to store it with.