Cloud computing is based on the premise that the main computing takes place on a machine, often remote, that is not the one currently being used. Data collected during this process is stored and processed by remote servers (also called cloud servers), which means the device accessing the cloud doesn't need to work as hard.
By hosting software, platforms, and databases remotely, the cloud servers free up the memory and computing power of individual computers. Users can securely access cloud services using credentials received from the cloud computing provider.
Because cloud computing entails that the workload of a user’s computer is hosted in a different machine, the cloud can be accessible anywhere and is available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Different companies have their own cloud infrastructure to hold user data—e.g Google has its own servers, as does Salesforce.
However, a cloud could also be a small number of computers.
In this vein, there are both public and private clouds, and they can be self-hosted or hosted by a third-party. Private clouds require users to have the correct platforms or logins, such as a web browser or account, to access these servers and the data held within them.
Today, anyone who is online uses the cloud in their everyday lives, whether they realise it or not. Editing documents on a shared drive, sending emails, streaming films, storing files, sharing photos on Instagram — all these activities are made possible by cloud-based computing.
For businesses, the cloud has been transformative. Whether using the public cloud (hosted by third-party providers) or a private cloud (hosted on-premise but still providing mobile access), or a hybrid of the two, millions of organisations large and small now rely on the cloud for almost all their computing needs.
In the UK alone, the share of companies using cloud-based services has grown from 48% in 2010 to 88% in 2017. Some 67% of current users say they expect to increase their adoption of cloud services.
Adoption of the cloud has been swift and global. The top three reasons for businesses to adopt cloud services initially are flexibility of delivery, operational cost savings and scalability. Some 70% of organisations say they are either already gaining or anticipate gaining a competitive advantage from using cloud services.
Some of the most important benefits of cloud computing include:
- Rapid implementation
- Little or no up-front costs
- Instant scalability
- Access anywhere
- Better security
Large companies lose an average of 265 laptops a year. If they contain confidential data, that’s a serious security risk. With cloud applications, data is stored securely in the cloud so a stray laptop becomes an inconvenience rather than a potential disaster.
More and more businesses are looking to take advantage of the many benefits the cloud offers.
Essentially, businesses are moving to the cloud for four key reasons:
1. Ease: The cloud requires little effort by a business to maintain or manage it.
2. Efficiency: Traditional on-premise computing generated step requirements in investment as capacity could not easily be varied; whereas cloud computing provides greater efficiency due to the sharing of resources across customers.
3. Access: It’s straightforward to access cloud-based applications and services from anywhere – all that is needed is a device with an internet connection.
4. Capacity: The cloud is effectively infinite in size, so organisations never need to worry about it running out of capacity.
These advantages are especially important in a world where office-based working is increasingly giving way to working remotely, and where the use of mobile devices has overtaken desktop computing.
Over 50% of workers report that they work outside their main office for at least half of their working week, according to a 2017 survey of 20,000 senior managers and business owners.
This shift to “running your business from your phone” is also reflected in hardware sales, with desktop PCs projected to fall to 87 million units by 2021, as against 161.1 million laptop units, 145.8 million tablet units — and 1701.1 million smartphone units.
Cloud security, particularly for businesses, has become a much more reliable option than on-site data.
The cloud effectively eliminates a number of security concerns simply by virtue of being located off site, such as a natural disasters or break-ins that could occur at your office.
Disgruntled employees have no access whatsoever to the physical servers that make up the cloud, and most cloud providers ensure that access to data is closely monitored, meaning that no one should be able to dump a bunch of company secrets onto a flash drive and walk out the door.
That said, special attention should apply to the security standards offered by the cloud provider, including measures to secure transmission and storage of data, as well as the physical security of the cloud provider data center to control the access rights of employees.
There are three main kinds of cloud service: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS).
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides a business with its basic computing infrastructure over the internet, including networks, servers and storage, typically on a pay-as-you-go basis.
From the user’s point of view, using cloud-based services is simply a matter of securely logging in to the application over the internet, which can be done via any connected device, such as a smartphone, tablet or PC.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a way of delivering software applications over the internet, typically on subscription and on demand. The cloud provider handles the hosting and all the IT infrastructure, as well as maintenance and security.
SaaS services make use of multi-tenancy cloud architecture, meaning all users and applications share a common infrastructure that is centrally maintained.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) extends the IaaS model with a set of cloud-based services that enable business users and developers to build and deploy customer-friendly applications rapidly and intuitively.
And all this happens without any hardware to buy and manage, or software to install and update, because the hardware and software required is maintained by the cloud company that runs the app.
Common business uses of cloud computing include recruitment, expense management, payroll software, project management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and virtual meeting software, to name a few. Practically every application imaginable can be provided via the cloud.
The latest innovations in cloud computing are making business applications even more mobile and collaborative. With cloud-based CRM, for example, a field sales representative can get all the information they need from their mobile device.
Contact notes can be updated in real time, so they are always fresh and complete and available to others – no more waiting to get back to the office to type it in. And sales managers know exactly which deals will close and when, from their desktop machines in their offices, or their tablets or phones when they are out and about.