Unless you’ve been unconscious for the last few years, you’ve probably heard about “the cloud” in reference to information technology (IT). However, I know from first-hand experience that there are still many misconceptions about what the cloud really is, and more importantly, what it can do to enhance business operations and bottom line profitability. So, for this month’s Insights I’ve written a 2-part series. In part 1 (this article) I simply want to provide a clear definition and explanation of the cloud. In part 2, I will explore some of the key business advantages of leveraging the cloud.
Part 1 - What is “the cloud”?
At its core, the cloud is basically a remote location for computing and data storage—or, at very least you could say that the cloud leverages the Internet to provide access to a data center. Taking it a step further, the cloud is IT infrastructure that exists offsite that you access and use to run your business.
The cloud comes in three flavors
While there are some variations, specific uses of the cloud typically fall into one of the following three main types:
1. SAAS (Software as a Service) – This is a software program, available in the cloud, that is designed to perform specific, well-defined functions. One example you may be familiar with is Dropbox, which is a software program that allows groups to store and share data. Another well-known application is Salesforce, an online CRM.
2. PAAS (Platform as a Service) – This is usually a broader, more comprehensive solution than SAAS, which performs multiple tasks and can integrate multiple components. A PAAS solution will frequently serve as a complete management platform for entire operational departments. Examples of PAAS include, force.com and the Google Apps Engine. PAAS solutions are not generally specific to your business; they are hosted on the cloud (somewhere other than your office) and businesses can open and maintain an account for a monthly fee.
While SAAS and PAAS can help your business simplify certain tasks, they often do not replace your business IT infrastructure. In other words, you may still have one or more servers and other equipment that must be managed.
3. IAAS (Infrastructure as a Service) – In my opinion, IAAS represents the most complete and valuable use of the cloud. In this option, instead of purchasing servers and equipment and managing them on site, your entire infrastructure is set up and maintained offsite, on the cloud, by (hopefully) a qualified provider. In essence, you’re outsourcing your entire IT infrastructure and paying for it as a service and, in many cases, gaining access to a higher level of knowledge.
I’ll explain in detail why IAAS is so advantageous in the second article of this 2-part series; but for now, let’s just say that the migration from traditional, in-house IT infrastructure to IAAS is a major trend that will continue to gain momentum as business owners become aware of the many benefits.
Because IAAS is the truest example of leveraging the power of the cloud, for the remainder of this article, when I mention “the cloud”, you may assume that I am referring to it in the context of IAAS.
Three ways to leverage the cloud
If you haven’t already, once your business makes the decision to move to the cloud (and sooner or later you will), there are three options:
1. Public Cloud – When it comes to IT, there are certain common functions that many businesses share. The public cloud refers to the idea of sharing the virtual servers and resources you need to run your business with others that require the same needs. This does not mean that your data is accessible to other companies —a public cloud can be a completely safe and secure option. Think of it like an apartment building. Your IT provider owns and manages the building. The various apartments are basically the same, providing for basic needs, like a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms and living space. The renter gets his own secure space in which to live, but shares the building and some of the amenities with other renters. In the public cloud, your business is renting the amount and type of existing IT infrastructure needed to run your business. There is no hardware or server dedicated specifically to your business. The main advantage of this option is the cost. Just like renting an apartment is far less expensive than investing in and owning a home, paying a fee for services on the public cloud costs less than investing in and owning your own, dedicate infrastructure.
2. Private Cloud –The private cloud describes a completely customized option for businesses that require dedicated resources. Perhaps your business needs massive amounts of storage or super fast processing speeds; then the private cloud may be a smarter option for you. The private cloud offers flexibility and control. Businesses can easily procure the technology and capacity necessary to operate at maximum efficiency and make adjustments as needs evolve. While this option is typically more expensive than the public option, the private cloud still enables a business to pay a monthly service fee for a set term and avoid the massive up front investment associated with traditional, in-house IT infrastructure.
3. Hybrid Cloud – You’ve probably guessed already that the hybrid cloud is referring to a blend of the public and private options listed above. This is an ideal solution for businesses that have special needs for one or more specific functions, but share common IT needs in other areas. The hybrid approach allows such businesses to balance cost and performance by paying more for customized IT requirements and less for common shared IT functionality.
I want to mention that various IT providers may use some different terminology to label, identify and describe the topics we’ve reviewed here. But keep in mind, it’s not the words that are important, it’s the effectiveness and value of the solution for your business that counts. Before offering a solution, your IT provider should be intimately familiar with your business operations and goals. A good IT provider should not only be able to recommend the best cloud-based solution based on your needs, they should be able to explain their recommendations in a way that is easy for you to understand.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of this 2-part series to learn why the cloud offers businesses so many advantages over traditional IT infrastructure.
Shaun Olsen is the CEO and President of CloudWyze. CloudWyze was created to help businesses focus and perform at their optimal level by crafting and executing custom technology plans for businesses of every type and size. To learn more about CloudWyze, visit www.cloudwyze.com. Shaun can be reached at [email protected] or 910-795-1000.
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