You might have heard the phrase cloud computing thrown around a lot recently. You might have heard it from your suppliers or even some of your customers. It seems like everyone is shifting to the cloud these days… but just what does that mean?
Basically, cloud computing is computing based on the internet. Previously, companies would run programs locally on their own computer, or from a server in their building. Now cloud computing allows access to the same types of programs through the internet.
The most common tool that everyone has moved to the cloud is email. Just a few years ago, email was something that your Internet Service Provider gave you, and you had to put the settings into your own computer or on your office server. When you did that, the emails physically lived on your computer, normally in a program such as Outlook or Apple Mail. Nowadays, you can use a service like Gmail or Outlook.com and all the emails are somewhere in the cloud.
Most small to medium businesses are now moving all their communications infrastructure to the cloud. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 not only hosts your business email, but it will also host shared calendars, your organisational contacts (synchronised with whatever mobile device you have) and can even have websites; both public-facing and internally based intranets.
By moving your onsite infrastructure to the cloud, you reduce the risk of downtime and increase accessibility and reliability. Cloud-based providers are providing their services for millions of customers worldwide, and have very little downtime. Especially compared to the server you have in the basement of your office that hasn’t been upgraded in a while!
Are you cloud computing ready?
There are some things you should consider before making the leap into the cloud.
Yes there are security concerns, but they are probably different from the ones you are thinking about. Even though you think being in the cloud means you are vulnerable to random attacks, actually the servers that cloud-based infrastructure is based on is more secure than your server in the basement could ever be. However, if you don’t have a good onboarding/offboarding process for staff, you could be in a world of trouble from ex-employees still having access to all your data.
Cloud changes quickly, some providers don’t even warn you before they change things. You need to have a company culture of adaptability and nimbleness and a willingness to keep up with the pace of change.
Compliance can be a big issue depending on which industry you are in. If you were already compliant in-house, though, it shouldn’t be any more onerous in the cloud.
The cost savings is often a reason touted around when discussing cloud-based solutions. However, your company accounts structure has to be ready for different cost models. Cloud expenses are often operational costs instead of upfront capital costs. Traditionally, companies have a hardware refresh policy that cycles through every 3-5 years depending on the bottom line. You may not have the luxury of putting it off if you are in the cloud.
You do lose some of the control over changes. While most cloud providers allow you to delay the propagation of changes, this is often just for a while rather than indefinitely.
The main advantage of most cloud-based software is the flexible nature of access. By incorporating a robust BYOD (Bring your own device) or by offering all your staff mobile devices you will maximise the access to company data while increasing your staff productivity.