A Brief Introduction to Cloud Computing
Cloud computing refers to the practice of storing, managing and processing data via remote, on-demand computing resources accessed across the internet. Cloud services can either be public (hosted and managed by a third-party), private (hosted and managed by your business) or hybrid (a setup that combines both public and private cloud architectures).
Cloud service providers offer a wide range of solutions providing varying levels of control and flexibility to the customer. These solutions can broadly be divided into 3 service categories:
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): On-demand, virtualized computing resources that can be used by businesses to host websites, applications and store and manage data.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Scalable access to environments and platforms designed to facilitate the development, deployment and management of applications. PaaS allows businesses to develop custom apps without having to establish and manage the supporting software and hardware.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Perhaps the most accessible cloud service model, SaaS makes software programmes available to business customers on an ongoing subscription basis. Unlike the traditional software licensing model, SaaS sees the developer manage and maintain the software instance and underlying hardware on behalf of the customer, with updates and new features introduced automatically.
Common cloud service providers include the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud. These organisations offer a vast range of cloud solutions, encompassing IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings.
Over the last decade or so, the cloud has had a profound impact on the form of business technology. Affording effortless flexibility and scalability, cloud solutions continue to grow in popularity, with the cloud computing market expected to increase in value from $677.95 billion in 2023, to $2.432 trillion by 2030. Today, around 92% of businesses already host some element of their IT in the cloud, a figure that is likely to rise sharply in the coming years. If your business is yet to explore the potential of the cloud then you should do so now to avoid being left behind.
This might have you thinking: why is it important that my business moves cloudward? Put simply, the cloud offers numerous business benefits, many of which are difficult or even impossible to realise using traditional on-premises hosting. Here are 5 key benefits the cloud can bring to your business in 2023:
Due to reduced reliance on physical hardware, the cloud reduces or eliminates many of the costs traditionally incurred in the running of IT infrastructure. Infrastructure-as-a-service for example, allows businesses to rent networking resources, storage, virtual machines, compute power and more without the requirement to invest in the underlying servers and networking equipment. This reduces the cost barriers to many IT projects, by removing the need to acquire and maintain on-premises hardware.
Additional cost savings can also materialise as a result of the inherent scalability of cloud services. The rigid nature of on premises infrastructure can often result in resource overprovisioning, as you’re forced to engineer redundancy into your computing systems to accommodate peak demand. This results in most of your capacity lying unused most of the time: capacity that you’ve paid to install and manage. The cloud works differently. Thanks to ubiquitous pay-as-you-go pricing, the cloud lets you pay for the level of resources you actually use, be it compute power, storage or data transfer. SaaS vendors offer similar scalability, with the ability to add and subtract service users on a monthly basis, ensuring you’re only paying for the number of accounts you actually need.
Many years ago, it was common for businesses to express reservations about moving their data to the cloud, with many believing it to be less secure than on-premises hosting. Fast-forward to 2023 and it could be argued that the opposite is true.
Today, cloud service providers offer unprecedented IT security. As a result cloud adopters frequently report fewer security incidents, with 94% seeing security improvements following their transition to the cloud. Cloud service providers leverage multi-billion dollar security budgets to maintain the integrity and security of their data centres, with Microsoft recently announcing an increase in its annual cybersecurity spending, from $1 billion to $4 billion.
Such levels of investment translate to security controls and technologies that many businesses would struggle to apply to an on-premises setup. Microsoft Azure provides a case in point, which safeguards its services with unique threat intelligence that focuses on fast-moving threats like DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. These advanced capabilities, combined with over 3500 dedicated cyber security experts, ensures Azure’s services remain on the forefront of the global fight against cybercrime.
Additionally, cloud platforms and services often come packed with in-built security controls that users can action to safeguard their assets and restrict access to their data. For example, Microsoft integrates robust access control mechanisms and data loss prevention features into its much-lauded Microsoft 365 product line. This empowers users to take ownership of their sensitive data, and maintain confidentiality and security in line with the requirements of GDPR and other data protection standards.
Other security perks on offer include encryption, automated threat detection and response and automatic security updates to ensure the cloud-hosted software you’re using is always optimised to counter evolving cyber threats. While cloud service providers do their utmost to create a secure, stable and reliable cloud environment for their customers, it’s important to remember that your business remains ultimately responsible for safeguarding the data it stores on the cloud.
In 2020, the covid pandemic saw almost half of the UK workforce working remotely at its peak. While that figure is lower today, many employees continue to enjoy a remote or hybrid working arrangement that provides a favourable work-life balance and helps avoid costly commutes. The challenge for business leaders lies in providing remote workers with the tools for effective remote collaboration and ensuring staff have secure access to the data and resources they need no matter where they’re working from.
Remote access solutions can take various forms, with solutions such as VPNs and SD-WAN architecture providing secure, remote connections to corporate networks. While such options have their merits, in recent years many organisations have discovered the benefits of fully cloud-native workplace productivity tools.
Foremost among these is Microsoft 365 which provides centralised file storage, shared collaboration spaces that incorporate virtual meeting and chat functionality, group mailboxes and calendars, plus many other useful features that make coordinating remote work a breeze.
One of the best features of Microsoft 365 is the ‘live’ or ‘real-time’ nature of the collaboration it fosters. Gone are the days of sending files via email attachments and waiting hours or even days for revisions to be made. Microsoft 365 features real-time document co-authoring, which allows multiple users to collaborate on a document in real-time, preventing data duplication and inappropriate sharing by maintaining a single document copy stored securely in the cloud. ‘Autosave’ ensures that even the tiniest changes are saved, avoiding versioning issues by giving everyone access to the most up-to-date source of data.
Another key advantage of cloud collaboration software is the cross-platform compatibility on offer. Microsoft 365 for instance, integrates seamlessly with hundreds of third-party applications, including the likes of Saleforce, Asana, Hubspot and Trello. This makes it easy to sync data and workflows across platforms, making for a streamlined user experience that promotes efficiency and productivity.
Improved Resilience and Business Agility
Another key benefit of the cloud that is often overlooked is its role in enhancing business resilience and agility.
The profits of cloud service providers are intrinsically connected to their reputations as providers or reliable, stable platforms and services. The providers therefore go to great lengths to maximise the uptime and availability of their services. This is achieved using both physical and cyber security controls, as well as a range of redundancy measures designed to avoid single points of failure across data centre infrastructures. Geo-redundancy is one such failover mechanism cloud providers use, which involves mirroring services across geographically distant sites. This keeps the service running should one site suffer a catastrophic failure, as other sites are able to step in to provide service continuity.
This redundancy also carries over to the users of cloud services themselves. For instance, if circumstances were to arise that made you unable to access your office, the cloud makes it possible to access data and applications from most internet-enabled devices, allowing you to work from home and continue serving your clients. Similarly, hosting data in the cloud eliminates the risks inherent in local data hosting, making data impervious to the effects of device theft, local natural disasters, office hardware failure or power outages.
In summary, cloud services offer unrivalled uptime, with Microsoft Azure maintaining upwards of 99.9% service availability. Plus, the agility enabled by the cloud means you can quickly and easily adapt your operations around challenging circumstances. These 2 factors combine to deliver a service that will support your business continuity objectives and allow you to serve your customers no matter the challenges that arise.
Access to The Latest Technologies
The Cloud’s growth in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Gartner predicts that over half of IT spending on application software, infrastructure software, business process services and system infrastructure will be made in the public cloud by 2025. It stands to reason therefore, that technology innovators will focus their efforts on their cloud products in the coming years, a shift that began over a decade ago when Microsoft moved its Office product line to the cloud in 2011.
So what does this mean for your business?
It means that you’ll likely have to embrace the cloud in some capacity in order to benefit from the most cutting-edge, innovative business technologies. Technologies like AI, machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) promise to revolutionise the way we work and run our businesses, but such innovations may be harder to deploy and exploit if your business remains committed to legacy IT infrastructure.
What’s more, many traditional IT solutions presents barriers to harnessing the power of data, and utilising automation across segregated applications is often difficult or nigh-on impossible. The cloud helps break down these barriers, with data analytics platforms that make it easy to combine and draw insights from data across multiple channels, and cross-platform integration that allows for productivity-boosting automated workflows.
In short, embracing the cloud may be the key to maintaining productivity and staying competitive in the years ahead. Making the shift to the cloud now will ensure your business stays abreast of the latest technology trends and is able to take advantage of those that emerge in the near future.
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