The Cloud: part 1

1: Getting to know the Cloud

One of the most common questions we get asked by our clients is: ‘Do I need to be on the Cloud?’ When we ask them why they’re asking, it turns out that ‘the Cloud’ is a bit of a cloudy concept. We’ve all heard of it but no one’s ever seen it. As it happens, you may not have to choose whether to ‘go on the cloud’, because the Cloud is coming towards you. This blog post is part one of our introduction to the Cloud.

First, it’s not as mysterious – or as fluffy – as it sounds. The term ‘cloud’ comes from those network diagrams where the internet is depicted as a big cloud in the middle of a system of networks and computers – and this is a good way to understand how Cloud computing works, too.

Faster internet speeds and more affordable hardware are making it much more feasible for companies to use the internet to deliver services that used to take the form of boxed software or even hardware.  (Remember those CD-Rom encyclopaedias?) The internet has enabled much greater functionality, like file sharing, and syncing across devices (or subscribers). This is one of the things that is, for example, driving the trend towards more people working from home.

‘The Cloud’ includes services that lots of us use at home, like Dropbox or Google Drive for file storage, or Office 365 which includes internet access to software, or apps like Evernote – essentially a multi-media notepad, which syncs across all your devices. Most of these include a free ‘basic’ version of a service, offering simple functionality or small usage, and a business service. But what does all this mean for your business? Is it just a trend?

One feature most Cloud services will offer is the ability to share documents, folders or workflow features among a group of people; all your documents are stored in remote servers (and possibly also on your machine, so you can work offline; it syncs with the main document when you get back online). This is driving real change in how businesses work. We have clients whose staff are based in several locations and who rely on these types of services to run their businesses.

But the Cloud is also heading towards single-office-based enterprises. That annual accounting package purchase, for example, is now a flexible monthly subscription that gets automatically updated for the new financial year. Other ‘hard’ business functions are also increasingly based on the cloud – data protection, security, IP-based telephony, and synced email services are just a few.

As more providers move over to offering their services in this form, it will become less possible for a business not to be on the cloud at all; it will be more about learning how it works and what your particular needs are. More on that in our next post.

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