Everyone these days is talking about the Cloud, but what actually is it? This month I decided to take a look behind the image of fluffy white blobs in a bright blue sky that the word conjures up and explore Cloud Computing.
Computing has moved on so much – in my first job the hard drive for my desktop at the office was so big, it was my desk!
In my next job we had networked desktops – much more conventional (and cooler in more ways than one!). We each had our own chunky monitor and keyboard on a normal desk –
but only because something similar to this little beauty was hiding in a room of its own to power everything.
And I had to get in half an hour early to “boot it up” – otherwise we spent the time twiddling our thumbs unable to do anything.
These days I hook my laptop up to a couple of monitors and away I go. No separate room for the mainframe and most laptops have more memory and processing capability than either of those 2 earlier computers could even dream of. Now everyone is talking about migrating to the cloud and reducing our hardware requirements even more. But the Cloud is about so much more than hardware!
What is the Cloud?
As a concept, the Cloud has been around since the late 1960’s. In a nutshell, the Cloud is a system of software and services, including data storage, that run on the internet instead of on your physical computer. Theoretically, you can access everything from any device with an internet connection. The term ‘Cloud’ is a little misleading, conjuring images as it does that your data is somehow floating around in the sky. In reality, of course, your data and software have a very physical home – you just might not be aware of its exact geographical location.
Many people are already utilising the Cloud in their personal lives for storage and back up of, for example, photos and you may not realise just how much use of the Cloud you are already making. Research conducted in 2017 by the Cloud Industry Forum showed that, in business, the overall Cloud adoption rate had increased by 83% since 2010. The majority of Cloud services were still for traditional web hosting but there had been growth in other areas too.
Why Should we use the Cloud?
The Cloud is a Key enabler of digital transformation and offers many advantages in terms of cost, flexibility and efficiency. When considering scalability in a growing business, migrating to the Cloud also offers advantages.
While there is, of course, a cost implication to the actual migration to the Cloud, generally the Cloud can be cheaper to set up and it also takes up less physical space. Storage on physical hardware is limited whereas it is easy to increase storage in the cloud when you need to making it more flexible. It’s like renting space that is fluid – you can make it bigger, or smaller, when you need to.
Migrating to the Cloud doesn’t necessarily mean changing all your systems – your software will just sit on a different server that you can access remotely. You may need a web portal developing to enable this.
Because you and your employees can access your Company’s data, software and systems from any location via a mobile device, the Cloud also makes it easier to work remotely.
Physical hardware ie servers and hard drives can become overloaded and fail. This is also true of servers run by your Cloud provider. The big difference is that they will be able to use economies of scale to provide robust contingency plans in the event of hardware failures. Most Cloud providers will have multiple backups of everything you store with them and will have the facility to move you to another server in the unlikely event that your specific one goes down. I spoke to a Cloud provider recently who has back-up generators for the back-up generators in the event of a power failure at one of their data centres!
GDPR and the Facebook misuse of personal data has brought the question of security to the fore recently. When we think about security and the Cloud, we are not just thinking about data misuse though. We need to consider the security of personal data; company data; malware; bugs; viruses; hacking and so on. The majority of Cloud hosting companies provide security levels that few businesses would be able to afford to implement themselves.
What are the Risks?
The risk of losing your connection to the internet and your Cloud services is ever decreasing with advances in routing technologies and network infrastructure. However, it does still exist and is more problematic for some than others. The main trade off in moving to the Cloud then becomes accepting the risk of losing your internet connection. This is where your digital resilience strategy comes into play. If your connection to the internet goes down, how will you continue to function as a business? There is a TV ad showing at the moment promising to deliver a 4G unlimited hub in the event of such a failure on its domestic provision but how long will that hub take to arrive? For a business there is a cost v benefit risk analysis to be done in terms of perhaps having one already on standby – the main question being what value of business would you lose if your internet was down for an hour?
The other glaring risk is the flip side of one of the big advantages – the ability to log in from anywhere, using any mobile device. Of course, adopting high levels of security and user authentication minimises the risk of unauthorised access to the system but you will no longer be able to prevent a disgruntled employee gaining access just by locking them out of the office. At what point during a grievance or disciplinary do you consider denying an employee access to data?
What is involved in moving to the Cloud?
A migration to the Cloud needs to be planned in order to prevent minimal downtime and loss to the business. It is important to identify which workflows you want to migrate to the Cloud and why. Working backwards from the desired end result may lead to bigger changes than first envisioned but will undoubtedly provide the best outcome. Asking a third party to assist in the process is possibly a wise move. Our own ideas can often blinkered us and holding on too tight to the “baby” that our business has become may prevent us from exploring fully every opportunity. The most visionary of leaders surround themselves with teams that are willing to challenge them and support them in pushing the boundaries.
As technology advances and concerns about security and cost diminish, we may all soon have our heads in the Cloud rather than being fettered by our hardware.
If you are ready to migrate to the Cloud and don’t know where to start get in touch! Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future.