What is the Cloud?
Well, you see a cloud is that white puffy thing in the sky. Sometimes they look like small animals and other various objects. Sometimes they aren't white and it rains ... oh wait, we are talking about "the Cloud" not "a cloud". In today's age "the Cloud" is referring to Cloud Computing Services.
So what is a Cloud Service?
A Cloud Service is really just a computer (or many computers) in a building (or many buildings) connected to the internet that allows many people to access to it from just about anywhere in the world and use the Cloud resources instead of their own. In many cases, the cloud service provider is providing a specific application. These applications can vary from simple file storage to full-blown applications like accounting suites. In other cases, they are just server that you can use to run your own applications. But you might be asking ...
If you are running a business and not using a Cloud service, then you must have:
computer/server powerful enough to run your applications and support all your users
ideally, a second server to pick up the load in the event of a server hardware failure
enough hard drive space to store your data
networking and VPNs configured to allow local and remote sharing
networking is secured properly and maintained against emerging exploits
setup data backups in case of hard drive failure or data corruption
ongoing maintenance of equipment
The list goes on and on.
So what it really means is that you don't have to maintain your own applications and supporting equipment; basically, everything I listed above and more. In other words, using Cloud services is like hiring a dedicated expert IT team just to make sure that this one crucial application works all the time, but generally at a fraction of the cost.
What are the Pros and Cons?
The key benefits are increased productivity, collaboration, scalability, and little to no maintenance. Most Cloud apps are set up to optimize productivity through collaboration. This means you don’t have to worry if people are working with the same up to date data because it is all stored in the same place, and accessible to all your employees at the same time. Cloud apps will often allow you to scale up almost indefinitely because they take care of ensuring they have enough equipment and resources. This also means you don’t have to worry about productivity loss because of equipment failure or capacity issues.
However, the downsides are monthly recurring costs, typically per user. However, this is often countered by having an IT person on staff or on contract to maintain your own equipment. All of your employees will need access to fast reliable internet. This thankfully is becoming less and less of an issue as time goes on, but sometimes can be tricky for remote workers. It also means you must trust your Cloud service provider with your private data. Some companies will opt to maintain their own equipment as opposed to using the Cloud for this reason, and accept the costs associated with it. However many organizations trust much of their data to cloud providers; even some banks will use Cloud services as part of their business infrastructure. For this reason, you must pick a Cloud provider that adheres and maintains to the various privacy and security regulations.
In the end, this really depends on you and your business requirements. You have a largely remote workforce; you do not have access to expert IT resources to manage and maintain your server and network equipment; your business is growing at a very rapid rate, then Cloud makes a lot of sense. However, for a single user application, it may not make sense to have the monthly recurring costs of a cloud application.
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