It seems everybody is talking about “cloud services” and “moving your business to the cloud” these days. They’ll start talking about SaaS (software as a service), IaaS (infrastructure as a service), remote desktops, hosting, mobile device management and…and…and it just gets more confusing if you’re not a technology professional or enthusiast.
So what does it all really mean?
At its core, “cloud” anything means that somebody else, somewhere else (very much on the ground, so far at least!) is managing data you want to store, software you want to use, or even your entire network. You get access to it through remote access services or through an internet browser, anywhere you have access to a computer; and they make sure it’s working when you do.
Why would you want to do that?
Most small to mid-sized businesses don’t have the time or expertise to keep up with licensing, installation, maintenance for all of their software and network hardware. It is time-consuming and frequently expensive, and few businesses are capable of the continuous proactive security, service monitoring and long-term technology planning that it takes to maintain a stable, reliable network with all of that equipment.
Sometimes there are short term needs for storage or software that don’t justify large purchases, security needs that far outpace the budget or technical capabilities of your business, or plans for expansion that make it hard to know just how much to buy and maintain right now. Travel and work from home may require easy access to information, or multiple locations may need to share information.
Or perhaps you just want predictable costs and don’t want to pay for things you don’t need. Most cloud services allow you to expand your capacity when you need to, pay for only what you need, and can often save you money on desktop hardware upgrades you might have otherwise had to make. More importantly, offsite data and network services put the responsibility for the security and maintenance of that software and hardware in the hands of people who make managing it their business.
How does it work?
It depends on what you want to do. If you use a storage service like Dropbox, Box.com or GoogleDrive (or use Gmail or Office365 for email, SurveyMonkey or Constant Contact for surveys and newsletters) you already use cloud services. When you use a web-browser to access functionality or information – that’s “the cloud.” The businesses that provide those services and the machines that run them are “hosting” your data. They may provide options for you to synchronize – that is, keep copies of it on your own computer – but they are storing, backing up and securing your information themselves, so you can retrieve it from anywhere.
You can take it even further. With modern remote access tools, you can use a network server that resides outside your office much the same way you use one somewhere else in your building. That lets you share very powerful, very expensive equipment with other users, using secure “virtual machines” that segregate your data just as if it was on its own piece of hardware. In a quality data center, that means physical security, redundant power, internet, and environmental systems to keep the hardware safe, network monitoring to make sure your services are running properly, and hardware and software maintenance to keep your information secure.
If you have larger needs, or want physical equipment that you own and have exclusive access to, many of those same providers will physically host your hardware in their datacenter, providing you with all the same benefits, but on equipment you actually own.
Is it safe?
With all the talk of cyber-security, data breaches and malicious hacking, it’s easy to question whether information stored somewhere outside your office is safe. The reality is that very few businesses properly secure their equipment, implement and test solid backup systems, monitor their traffic for suspicious patterns, and check regularly for critical security updates and software patches.
It is far easier to configure a secure remote access connection to a datacenter than it is to properly maintain all the parts and pieces of a network onsite. For most businesses, that means their information is actually safer in a hosted environment than it is in their offices.
To put it another way: you can keep money under your mattress, but if it’s enough to matter to you, you’ll need a really good safe and possibly your own security guard. When you want it, you’ll have to come there to get it. OR - you could put your money in a bank, know that it’s being managed and secured alongside others by people who are qualified to do that. And be able to access it whenever you need to, from anywhere, with any handy ATM. That’s “cloud services” in a nutshell.
Is it right for your business?
Depending on how much data you want to store or what programs you currently use, the cloud may not work for your business. The more data you are transferring and storing in the cloud can result in expensive storage fees. Or if the cloud software is not compatible with some of your computer components, then the desktop version is the answer.
So before you start signing up for cloud storage or setting up cloud software, make sure to give us a call. We can determine if it makes economically and functionally for you to use the cloud.
If you are interested in learning more about cloud services give us a call or submit this form. We would be happy to discuss cloud solutions, cost analysis or infrastructure compatibility with your team!