Beginner’s guide to the cloud

This article was written by Extrinsica Global, a dedicated cloud services provider that offer a range of bespoke cloud solutions to companies around the world.

There is a huge amount of hype surrounding cloud computing; just go to almost any Tube station in London and Microsoft’s Cloud Power adverts are prominent. But while everyone knows about the cloud, not everyone knows precisely what it is, how it works and what it means to businesses.

What is the cloud?

The cloud is simply another name for the internet. The other term used frequently is ‘cloud computing’, which gets used as a catch-all term used to describe any IT-based services that are delivered via the Internet. The term cloud computing is derived from the way that software technology called ‘virtualisation’ now allows all of the data processing and storage (the computing) to take place on powerful servers in a data centre. However, the display is sent to the employee’s computer, which also controls the software via a keyboard and mouse.

Why is the cloud so popular?

The ‘cloud’ is such a compelling, new model in the IT space right now because of the tremendous benefits that the approach can bring to businesses across the spectrum. This new method of consuming IT functionality – as a service – is much like a company does with its business telephone system. The cloud is changing the on-premise, self-hosted IT landscape in a brand new direction.

Greater flexibility and business efficiency

Possibly one of the highlights of cloud computing is the flexibility afforded to businesses. Receiving IT requirements via the cloud now means that a business can access their file data, business applications and email regardless of physical geographic location. This is great news for small business owners who are constantly on the move between client locations. Having business productivity IT facilities served via the cloud means all of a company’s office IT facilities can be accessed wherever staff are, and whenever they need them.

Cost saving and predictable budgeting

Many cloud services are charged on a monthly, user subscription basis so businesses can now avoid the majority of large up-front capital expenditure and incur only predictable monthly operating expenditure. Cloud services that can take a company’s complete on-premise IT requirement and serve it back to them via the cloud mean that it is no longer necessary for businesses to procure costly IT systems for the office but simply deploy user terminals and an internet connection. This can dramatically reduce upfront IT related overheads.

Improved collaboration

Collaborating between team members is significantly easier if the company’s IT facilities are available from anywhere in the world. This means that businesses with offices in different countries can share the same system, files and applications making document sharing and collaboration that much easier. Documents and files can be accessed, manipulated and shared with team members regardless of location meaning that staff are no longer required to come to the office to access their IT tools.

Improved data security

Data is a critical entity in businesses of all sizes. It is the life blood of the organisation, therefore keeping this data secure is paramount. In the past a company’s data would be stored on-site, often vulnerable to damage, loss or even theft. Now utilising the cloud, data can be stored in extremely secure, enterprise-class level data centres in the UK where only staff with the necessary clearance can gain access. It also means that your data is in one place and not fragmented across many different computing devices, which can easily be lost or damaged.

Making sense of the different cloud services available

The problem is that there are lots of different Internet-based or cloud services and the single term cloud computing can’t capture the wide variety of offerings.

The ‘cloud services pyramid’ can help businesses make sense of what’s on offer. The model groups different types of cloud services into intuitive categories, which are then differentiated according to how much value the service provider adds – in essence, how much the service provider does to make the service immediately useable without the business having to add any effort or technical expertise.

At the base of the pyramid is ‘utility or cloud computing.’ In this context, cloud computing accurately describes the service offering: ‘raw’ computing capacity (networked processing capacity and data storage) that is available for consumption via the Internet.

Clearly, this is a useful and usable service for those users who have the technical expertise to use raw computing capacity (e.g. technical IT staff, software developers etc). But for an ordinary business user, raw computing capacity on its own is of no use at all.

By contrast, the integrated cloud services at the top of the pyramid are bespoke solutions, which integrate software applications so that the customer’s users get all the fully functional software applications that they need to do their job delivered to any device they are using, anywhere in the world.