Computing on the Cloud can save your business money, provide up-to-date technology, flexibility in terms of scalability with how your business grows, and provide data access and print capabilities for mobile workers and their handheld devices.
In short, it is slowly changing the way we work and, looking at the wider picture, could lead to a wholesale rethink of the traditional office set-up- acting as the catalyst for a more advanced and flexible manner of mobile working.
To put the success of Cloud into context so far, Amazon’s web services (AWS) achieved revenues of $500 million in 2010 and predicted $750 million for last year, while Merrill Lynch research predicted that the Cloud computing market will be worth $160 billion by 2013 – with more businesses having to move to Cloud to save money. Impressed, but still not sure what Cloud computing really is? Don’t worry.
In simplest terms, Cloud computing is a remote IT (information technology) service. Instead of your business building its own servers, databases, email system and surrounding infrastructure, a third party company hosts all of your needs at an off-site data centre or server farm – that could be in another part of the country, or even another country in Europe.
Your business still has access to all files, databases, and company information but instead of the office IT person looking after your daily needs, your IT services and solutions become a utility, a little like your water bill, or outsourcing your accounts.
Peter Plested – Director of Sharp’s European Solutions Business Centre- explained to Humans Invent that despite the idea of Cloud computing being quite mature, it is still difficult for businesses to get to grips with the idea that all their data storage and IT resources could be handled off-site and still maintain the necessary integrity and security demanded in the business world.
“A huge number of people are already using cloud services in some form or other without realising it. For example, internet email accounts, personalised social media sites, photo storage, blogs, and wiki’s; these are all software services in regular use. Now it’s a growing trend that businesses of different sizes are moving their operations to the Cloud, but the perception remains that what’s fine for your personal use is in some way unfit for the rigours of business use.
“But, perhaps it is just a problem of de-mystifying the term and recognising that there are genuine business advantages to be found in the technology,” Plested continues. “Imagine a business world where you can start using databases, edit documents, create spreadsheets, communicate with your staff via messaging and email, and never once need to consider the physical aspects such as what type of server rack and disk storage and cooling and capacity expansion and annual licensing. Everything is provided as an online service, connecting your personal PC or mobile device to a remote data centre … a centre hosting the Cloud.
“The big shift comes for the IT team, who have always had the responsibility for building the business IT infrastructure and providing shared file storage and archives, virus protection, software licensing and email services. But these parts are all just services to an end user, and readily fit with a common business model that can be provided to all businesses as a service. There will still be questions about backup, occasional file recovery, disaster recovery – but all of these things are taken care of to a plan agreed between the service provider and the individual customer (at an appropriate service cost).”
The change is really beneficial to new businesses, with the Cloud providing all of the business functions, meaning a start-up can cut its IT costs by simply renting server space, rather than paying for hardware. Typically the services are physically running on shared servers, although the data is logically very isolated and secure. Or, if you are a larger company you can have a more controlled service where you take ownership over a set of servers in a data centre rather than sharing.
While there are cost-saving benefits, and ease-of-use, the biggest topic for debate is security. Multi-national companies, for example, who may have large amounts of confidential data in daily use, have been sceptical about Cloud computing. A survey conducted by Linkedin at the end of 2011 showed that 56% of people’s main worry with Cloud technology was security. For example, there is a worry surrounding sensitive information, particularly if you are in the health or the government sector, as there is still that air of suspicion when asking a remote data centre to look after sensitive information.
“There is traditionally a trust issue,” Plested tells Humans Invent. “IT people will talk about the strength of their firewalls. And you have to ask them, ‘what is the data you are trying to guard?’ If your data is no longer in the office, and on the Cloud instead, then surely a company firewall becomes irrelevant. The protection is built around the data on the cloud and how it is accessed, not the office. This is a big mind-shift, but the perception is slowly changing.”
It’s worth noting just how seriously security is taken at a modern data centre. From the physical aspects of humans entering the data centre perimeter fence, (and doubly so to enter a building or server area), to the electronic access rights of individual users, to the encryption of communications and data stored at the centre, even to the guaranteed up-time of the Data centre provided by onsite emergency generators; all of these aspects are audited to degrees far higher than by any in-house IT provision.
Plested also believes the fact that social networking sites use Cloud technology has made some larger and more traditional companies suspicious. “It is difficult to rationalise business benefits from these very personalised use cases, where mostly it’s free, sharing is encouraged and security appears lightweight or non-existent. In many ways it helps communicate the concept and demonstrate speed of access, but conversely it is a poor role model – Business usage is very secure and is certainly not free.”
Sharp are developing systems to work alongside Cloud computing with the printer industry being an interesting example of how it can aid the modern businessman on-the-go.
“Off the back of Cloud, the future will be more software as a service-based rather than owned,” Plested enthuses. “Sharp are looking closely at on-the-go-working, or mobile working as an integrated business process between handheld devices and office staff and peripherals. We aim to simplify the ‘device to device’ linkages that are often non-existent or prove challenging even to the IT knowledgeable.”
Moving IT infrastructure out of the work place and onto the Cloud has streamlined businesses, offered new technological advancements, increased security and saved businesses money. While there are some traditional environments still stuck in the era of the IT crowd, it is difficult not to see Cloud computing being the norm across all businesses in the very near future.
The interesting debate is how will Cloud computing change business in the future, as it will certainly open up more avenues for mobile working and the traditional office as we know it could become another overhead that must be cut.
But, what other sectors could Cloud impact? Let’s not rule out more changes to our daily routine, or even education? One thing is for sure, Cloud computing has already begun to erode the boundaries of business, making it easier to interact. Unfortunately, it will mean we will all need better excuses in the future for why that report didn’t make it on time.