We hear about “the cloud” all the time in tech news, and chances are, even if you don’t personally pay for a cloud service, you use suppliers or applications that do. But what, exactly, is the cloud, and what are the implications for you and your business?
If you use technology today, it’s important to understand what the cloud really is, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. We’ll provide an introduction to all things cloud here, so you can make more informed decisions for your business’ computing and storage needs.
What Is the Cloud All About?
To start with, the cloud is not some invisible entity that just lives on the internet. It actually consists entirely of physical computing infrastructure in the real world; it just resides in data centers across the globe. The cloud is a vast network of physical servers and databases that are used to host and store websites, data, entire applications, files and more. The difference between cloud and traditional computing is that several cloud customers or services reside in the same data center that is managed by one provider, rather than each customer hosting their own data in-house (or “on-premises”).
The cloud provides end users with the “as-a-service” model of computing, including software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and more. When you use a SaaS product, for example, you access a cloud-hosted software application using a web browser without the need to install any software on your own computer. Some popular SaaS apps include Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, and Dropbox.
What Are the Advantages of the Cloud?
One huge benefit of using the cloud to host your data, or using cloud-based as-a-service products, is cost. It simply costs much less to essentially “buy into” a data center with numerous other customers than it does to set up and maintain your own on-premises infrastructure for all of these services. This also makes scaling a less expensive undertaking if you add more features to your app or need additional data storage.
Another advantage is time. When you have resources hosted off-site, the manpower and effort that you need to put into managing these resources is drastically reduced. This frees up your IT team’s time and energy for other projects and tasks that may be more directly linked to revenue for your company.
Finally, the cloud allows end users and businesses today to be enormously flexible. When your data or applications are not hosted locally, they can be accessed from any machine, anywhere you need them. The flexibility afforded by the cloud also allows this model of hosting to be extremely reliable. SaaS apps and cloud-hosted data are not just based in a single data center; any good cloud provider will use at least two data centers that are geographically separate from each other. All the data they store will be housed in both data centers, so if one data center is taken offline or compromised, they can easily switch to the backup, usually without the end user ever experiencing a service interruption.
Does the Cloud Have Disadvantages?
The short answer is “yes,” but those disadvantages can be mitigated. Perhaps the most obvious downside is the loss of control you’ll experience with a cloud provider. You will likely have little to no say in how often your data is backed up, where exactly it is housed, and what security measures are in place to protect it. However, cloud providers will include all of this information and more in their terms of service. As long as you thoroughly research your options and vet any potential providers, you should have no surprises in this respect.
Cloud computing also raises concerns around privacy. Because we relinquish so much control to cloud providers, they possess a great deal of visibility into our applications and usage data. Again, the type of data collected by a cloud provider (if any) should be outlined in their terms of service, so do your research before choosing a cloud hosting or as-a-service provider for your business.
Clearly, cloud services have a lot to offer in terms of cost savings, flexibility, security and reliability. We think these advantages far outweigh the downsides, but we cannot stress enough the importance of thoroughly investigating and vetting any cloud provider before signing a service contract. As long as you do your due diligence, there is no reason why your company can’t benefit from using the cloud to host your infrastructure, store your data, or entirely handle a powerful software product for you! To learn more about how to best leverage the cloud for your business, you can check out some of our past blog articles: