Coordinated Business Systems Blog

The Cloud Isn’t an Automatic Answer to Your IT Challenges - A Quick Explanation of What the Cloud Is and Isn’t

You can’t escape mentions of “the cloud” as the solution to nearly any business challenge.

Need more storage? The cloud.

Need to better manage your network? The cloud.

Need a business app to manage your documents? The cloud.

Need a marketing and/or website platform? The cloud.

Need help with backup and disaster recovery? The cloud.

On a personal level, need music, an exercise app, productivity software, something to watch, a game to play -- it’s all in the cloud.

As a business owner trying to get the best IT infrastructure in place to run a business, it’s easy to be bedazzled and think, “Yes! I need the cloud!”

You might.

Cloud services come in all shapes and sizes and can be used to completely outsource your IT needs (from network to the business apps needed to run your business) or to supplement internal IT infrastructure.

The ability to rent and not own software and storage provides tremendous flexibility to small businesses.

However, the “cloud” isn’t a strategy.

The cloud is simply the delivery method of the services and infrastructure you need. The resources you use are located on someone else’s infrastructure that you access over a network, often the Internet.

You can’t just say “I’m going with a cloud strategy for my IT” and call it a day. That’s just the beginning of your planning.

That’s right . . . you still have to plan.

What Is “the Cloud”

While not entirely technically accurate, the photo at the top of this post is essentially correct. The cloud is a computer somewhere else or, as the meme goes, “There is no cloud. It’s just someone else’s computer.”

As with most things involving information technology, that simple way of thinking about the cloud covers a lot of complexity.

NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) defines the cloud: Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

The idea behind the cloud goes back to the dumb terminals of the 1970s. You use the device to access a remote system to accomplish a task. The Chromebook is essentially a dumb terminal, with some storage and memory to work offline, but mostly relies on cloud software and storage. The majority of your information and software is online, accessed via the Chromebook.

There are five characteristics of the cloud as defined by NIST:

  1. On-demand self-services. A user can sign up for services without IT intervention. Example: loading an app on your phone or opening an account for Dropbox or Google Services (for individual or business use).
  2. Broad network access. You access capabilities over a network (this network can be internal or public) on any device, e.g.,  mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations.
  3. Resource pooling. The provider’s computing resources and location are generally unknown to the customer and pooled so that multiple customers are served.
  4. Rapid elasticity. You can “buy” more capability as needed, for instance, adding extra storage or access for additional users.
  5. Measured service. You pay based on resource use.

There are three pieces in the cloud stack, Saas, IaaS, and PaaS

  • Software as a Service (SaaS). Software accessed online, such as through a Web browser. A good example is your Gmail account.
  • Platform as a Service. The ability to create applications using a provider’s resources (network, servers, operating systems, and storage). The Google App Engine allows companies to create apps on their platform.
  • Infrastructure as a Service. Computing infrastructure (processing, storage, networks, and other basic computing resources) is provided as a cloud service.

Further, the cloud can be deployed as private, community, public, or as a hybrid.

The Right Cloud Service

Getting the right cloud service (like getting the right copier for your office or the right fit for document management) is like any other IT project -- for it to be successful you have to plan.

When you’re thinking about outsourcing a business function to the cloud (data backup, perhaps), it’s OK to think of the service as someone else’s computer.

However, when it’s time to source your services, you need to be more strategic than that:

  • Do you have to comply with HIPAA or other privacy regulations? You need to be sure your cloud partner is compliant. Even though the data is stored as a service, you are still responsible for the privacy of that information.
  • Will any of your existing systems need to operate with the cloud service?
  • How can I retrieve my data should I move to a different service?

Cloud services -- such as managed network services -- can simplify your office’s IT burden at a lower cost. The explosion of cloud services is proof of that.

Just remember the cloud is more complex than the commercials tell you and to plan your move to cloud services.

When you do, you won’t regret it.

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