The term ‘Cloud’ and ‘Cloud Computing’ has been getting a lot of attention recently and many business owners are looking to the Cloud as a solution to many of their problems. Most head in that direction because of perceived cost reduction when compared to existing IT solutions. Some move to Cloud because it offers them something they have not been able to achieve with traditional IT before and some use Cloud simply because its the next big thing and they like to be early adopters. Well let’s take a moment to explore a real world explanation of Cloud, its benefits and the solutions that can be put into place which can enhanced and streamline a business.
Firstly it would be beneficial to explain what is a Cloud service ? Well, the most basic explanation is “an IT service or function that is provided on equipment NOT located within your business or organisation”. Some people think that the Cloud is a single service when in reality its a generic term for any service provided from outside your organisation. Some of the more well known Cloud services include Dropbox (file storage), Hosted Exchange or Office 365 (email) and off-site backup (data backup). All of these are services which you use without needing any additional hardware, just an internet connection. Other Cloud services can include Hosted Phone (PBX) solutions. So, what are the benefits of such services ?
Let’s firstly look at what the traditional IT system looks like. A small server in the corner of the office containing your files / data and usually your email too. The server is often looked after by a 3rd party support company and they fettle, update and check it on a regular basis and report back to you if the backup (to tape) has not run correctly or the anti virus software needs updating. The key thing to remember is that this server is locked (literally) in your office 24/7 so if you need something from it you’ll need to get access to it directly and so a good quality, reliable internet connection is also needed. If any of these components fail, the server, the internet connection, the backup or the anti virus then you face problems.
So, let’s take Hosted Exchange or ‘Cloud Email’ as an example. You could simply lift this off the server, leaving everything else in place, but what would be the benefit ? Well, firstly the information is now in a location that can be accessed from anywhere and not just from your single server locked in your office. If your office became unavailable through fire or loss of internet connection then you can move to any other internet connected location, like a cafe or even your home, and you would be able to access email. Also, the responsibility for your email backup and recovery has fallen to the Cloud provider and so that’s one less thing to worry about. If your office burned down and your server was lost then all your email would still be there, in the Cloud. It’s starting to look interesting isn’t it ? A service that makes information more accessible, more reliable and includes a built in disaster recovery process.
If you extend this to File Storage using something like Dropbox then the same applies. Your files are now in an off-site location, accessible from any internet connected location and with responsibility for backup and recovery handed to the provider. Taking email services and file storage off your local server and into the Cloud allows you to quickly reach a point where that large, noisy and expensive to manage server is looking somewhat redundant. In those businesses where a server may have been installed 4-5 years ago and only provides file and email services, then as the hardware comes up for renewal you can simply elect not to replace it and move to Cloud email and Cloud file instead.
One important consideration is that many businesses will have more than just email and files on a server; they may have accounts software, business applications and other line-ofbusiness software that needs to run on a server in a local office. That’s fine, there will often remain a need for businesses to retain hardware on site and not to move everything to the Cloud. But, it is possible to look at a hybrid model where you reduce the level of onsite hardware (and thus risk) while increasing the level of Cloud services which in turn also reduces risk.
So, getting Cloud services into your business may not be as clear cut as you might have first thought, but the benefits of such services are huge and the level at which they start to make sense for companies is changing. It is very common for smaller businesses to get the most benefit from Cloud services and so a 2-10 user business can have full email and file sharing features at their disposal for a small monthly fee and with little or no internal management required. This allows them to compete and challenge larger competitors who have bigger IT budgets and more people to manage any IT infrastructure.
About the Author
Craig Sharp is a stakeholder and driving force behind Midlands based IT Support provider Abussi Ltd. Founded by Craig in 1995 as a database supplier, Abussi has transitioned over 20 years from software into Managed IT Support. Craig has always sought out clients who have between 5-35 employees because he believes passionately that when you work with SME’s you have the best possible opportunity to affect positive change. Most importantly Craig has a passion to educate and inform. Leaving university to be a teacher because of his overwhelming desire to impart knowledge to others has never left – it informs the way Craig talks to clients about new services which will transform their business or in how he puts across the benefits to clients of updating business processes with an emphasis on IT.