Tech Basics for Business: What is Cloud Computing, and Why Does It Matter To My Business?
By: Luther Andal | October 02, 2014
This is the first post in a new series we are starting called Tech Basics for Business. In this series we will cover new trends, technologies and news and why it matters to you and your business. The important thing about this series is that we are not going to assume anything and cover technology topics in plain English and from a business point of view so that you can understand the concept and why it matters to you and your business.
Now to the topic at hand: According to Wikipedia "Cloud computing is internet-based computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked to allow sharing of data-processing tasks, centralized data storage, and online access to computer services or resources." Yep, clear as mud for non-techies isn't it! It is definitions like these that lead us to start this blog series. Let's take another crack at defining cloud computing for the non-techies out there. Cloud computing is essentially a bunch of servers that are running at one or more data centers, that are connected to each other and to the internet and allow your computer to access the data they are sharing and/ the services that they provide.
Let's break that definition down. A data center is essentially a big building that houses bunches and bunches of servers and provides the servers with electricity, connectivity, air conditioning and all the other things they need to run. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Rackspace and others have many data centers running all over the United States and the world for that matter. These servers are what provides the foundation of cloud computing. The servers can work together behind the scenes to provide hundreds, thousands or even millions of users access to the files, photos, videos and other services that they provide.
The best way to illustrate this is to look at a couple of cloud computing services many of us have used. For instance Dropbox is a very commonly used online storage service. For those that don't know Dropbox or have never used their service they provide online storage so that you can backup and share files from your computer, phone, tablet or any other internet connected device that can access their website or use one of their apps. Dropbox has servers running all over the world in their data centers and these servers have access tot he files that you copy up to Dropbox. Once the file is copied up to Dropbox it is stored on their storage systems and available essentially anytime you want, anywhere you have an internet connection and to any device that can access their service. Dropbox uses the cloud to provide a service to millions of customers on millions of devices and you never have to know about their servers or data centers or anything about their network. This is how cloud computing works, it is seamless to us, we just use Dropbox's service without ever knowing which server or data center or any other technical information about Dropbox other than we want to copy a file or view a file or share a file.
Another example of cloud computing is a service that Google provides called Google Docs that is a set of applications very similar to Microsoft Office. Google Docs includes spreadsheet, document and presentation applications like Microsoft Office. These applications run in a web browser or in mobile apps. The files are stored on Google's network in another service called Google Drive. If you want to create a new document, you can go to Google Docs in your web browser on your laptop, login and then click on the Create button and select Document. An editor then opens that allows you to edit the Document in your browser. There is no need to save the document, it is automatically saved whenever you make a change to Google's storage in the cloud. When you are done you can close the browser. If you want to edit the document later you can go back to Google Docs website and make your changes. If you want to share the document you can send a link to your friend or work colleague and they can view the document. If you and your friend access the document at the same time and you have given them privileges to edit the document you can actually see the changes they are making on your screen in real-time. This is the power of cloud computing you are not tied to your computer any more, you are accessing a service that runs in the cloud and someone else can access the same service and you can collaborate in new and powerful ways.
Cloud computing frees your files, documents, images, videos, services, etc. from your computer and allows for new ways to collaborate by sharing, viewing, editing, commenting and much more. Often times cloud computing also drops the cost of file backup and services that are available outside of the cloud but cost much more than if you used the same service in the cloud. Another advantage of the cloud is the massive amounts of computing power that the cloud has because of all the servers that you never see or the vast amounts of storage on all the drives that you never see. There is boundless amounts of computing power, storage and bandwidth that allow your business to do things at a cost basis that is not possible without cloud computing.
Some common cloud computing services that you should consider for your business if you are not using them already are backups, website hosting, email, office applications, collaboration, CRM, LMS and many others. Cloud computing allows you to backup vast amounts of files offsite in the cloud at a fraction the cost of many other methods. There are great solutions for cloud hosted email as well on Google Apps or Microsoft 365 services. Google Docs, Microsoft 365 and Zoho all offer cloud based office applications. Cloud hosted CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications are available from Salesforce, NetSuite, Oracle, Zoho and a number of others as well. You name the service and there is most likely a cloud equivalent for it. This doesn't always mean they are better than desktop or server software for your company. That depends on a lot of factors and it is relative to your situation. Engage a trusted technology consultant who is agnostic of software vs. cloud service and you will find many often used applications and services that make a lot of sense to move to the cloud, will often result in lower costs, additional features, collaboration, sharing and are accessible from anywhere, anytime on just about any device.
If you have questions or would like to know more email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 859-272-7135 extension 5.