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31 August 2011

The Cloud

It is often said that the Cloud is the biggest innovation in computer technology since the introduction of the internet and maybe, even, the PC as the standard for computer usage.

It has fundamentally changed the way we interact with others and how business operates – yet it is still has a long way to go to be accepted by some business sectors even though most people interact with the Cloud in their everyday lives in some form or other.

So what are the advantages for business of all sizes and how can Cloud use add value to most business processes.

Universal access – the principal advantage is the ability to access one’s data literally any time anywhere on a true 24/7 basis. Because data is stored, and applications are operated, in the Cloud, business processes can be accessed from any computer where there is internet access. In many respects, computer technology has come full circle, in that our desktop computers – or indeed mobiles or tablets – have become little more than dumb terminals whose only purpose is to serve as a gateway to our data in the Cloud. And this of course points to the next advantage -

Lower infrastructure costs – the more applications that are operated in the Cloud, the less requirement there is for internal office IT infrastructure. Complex servers and by extension, costly IT departments can be reduced in size as more processes can be moved “off premise”. In theory a business could operate with no servers but group internet access thus avoiding the need for backups and expensive IT maintenance.

For smaller organisations this greatly facilitates the setup cost and process and can save considerable initial capital costs.

Software as a service –  Cloud applications have, in most cases, fundamentally changed the charging structure for business software. With on premise software, there is usually a hefty initial cost for the licence and and an expensive charge for training, both based on the number of users.

With Software as a service (“SAAS”), there are no upfront costs and charges are frequently based on a rental basis – pay as you use in effect. This will have a considerable impact on making a decisions as to what software application to use as it is a “try it – buy it – if it doesn’t work, stop it” process.

Security – The first question asked about the Cloud is “ is it secure”? The answer is a resounding “YES!”. Cloud services are generally hosted by dedicated service providers where data security is paramount – any one in doubt about this should refer to the service level agreement of organisations such as Amazon (who apart from being one of the largest online retailers, is also one of the of the largest hosted application providers) – security protocols  and data backup is of the highest standards.

And consider this – if laptops and computers are not used for data storage, the theft of a laptop from a parked vehicle for example, would not lead to the loss of sensitive data. The failure of a PC hard drive would not lead to the loss of many hours of hard work.

The above is a brief summary of the advantages of the Cloud – one thing is certain that it will continue to develop and enhance the way businesses operates.

*Richard Messik August 2011