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What is the “Cloud”? And do I need it? – By Will Lassalle

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Author Will Lassalle, CIO at JLS Technology

Many customers, organizations and family members ask me what is the “Cloud” and why do they need it. While many organizations think that the cloud is new, it isn’t. It’s actually been around for a while– think Gmail, which is a cloud-based email service, and you’ll get an idea of just how long the Cloud has been around.

Original widespread adoption of the Cloud was hurt by concerns surrounding security. These concerns were very strong just a couple of years ago and this stopped Cloud gaining traction/adoption. The other concern was a lack of understanding of Cloud as nothing more than techy talk. Yet the Cloud has turned into a technology that transforms business.

This is especially true of small and medium businesses. It’s now possible to have an entire IT infrastructure/environment set up hosted in the cloud for very little cash expenditure.

In the past, small and medium business networks would be made up of workstations, a couple of servers, a mail server and possibly a web server. This kind of setup required a large capital investment and large ongoing IT support costs. While choosing to have an IT infrastructure hosted in the cloud does not. This is due to the fact that all that is really needed for the business are computers and an Internet connection.

Cloud services are offered on a pay monthly basis, they are highly scalable and flexible, so it’s easy for IT equipment to be deployed as the business grows to accommodate more users or scale down if need be.

For the most part, Cloud is categorized into three services:

  • IaaS, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, an entire IT infrastructure such as servers, web & email servers that is hosted at a data center.
  • SaaS, Software-as-a-Service, applications that are hosted, such as office apps, security software etc.
  • PaaS, Platform-as-a-Service, this can be used to host a development platform on which developers build applications and services that can be accessed by users via a browser.

Cloud providers have one or more data centers from which they deliver their services. These data centers house computing, storage and networking equipment that stores customer data. If a piece of hardware fails at a data center, then it’s a simple task to route data to another part of the network.

There are many cloud offerings that are perfect for small and medium businesses and these can be purchased by the business.

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used amongst Small and Medium Businesses.

Cloud collaboration

Collaboration aids productivity and there are plenty of services that offer simple ways to share workspaces such as:

  •  Basecamp – this project management tool is ideal for teams situated in various locations. You can upload files, create to-do lists and organize a project easily while still sharing everything and always being aware what others are doing. And like Dropbox, it can be used on any device from a desktop to mobile.
  • Google Apps – Google Apps includes word processing, calendar, spreadsheets, presentations and email as well as cloud storage. You can work on docs in real time, sync your calendar across devices and even set up videoconferencing through the Hangouts feature.

Hosted desktop

Also known as virtual desktop, this allows you to access your entire desktop, as it would appear on any PC, from any device. This means that you can access all of your work applications and files from anywhere with an Internet connection and it’s ideal for frequent travelers or field staff.

Cloud telephony

Cloud based phone systems use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), rather than the traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) copper wire system. It’s possible to have all of your telecommunications hosted in the cloud or you can choose a hybrid system, which is a mixture of traditional and VoIP solutions.

Storage and backup

Most businesses struggle with backing up critical data, so the ability to have all documents and files stored safely in the cloud is invaluable

In conclusion, the cloud is ideal for small and medium businesses alike. You pay as you go so there’s never any need to layout for expensive hardware upgrades. The cloud is highly flexible and scalable, so can grow with your business and you only ever pay for what you need.

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