What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing refers to the practice of delivering computing services to end users through the Internet or a similar computing network as a service. This is in contrast to the traditional approach of providing these services ‘on premise’; running in an organisation’s office on that organisation’s infrastructure. For example, data storage can be considered cloud computing provided that the data is stored on distant servers, but so too can virtual desktop infrastructure, web-based email services such as Gmail and other hosted applications. In summary, cloud services involve any system where your data and software is run by a provider’s system.
Services offered through cloud computing have become more and more popular in recent times, prompting questions from IT managers about whether their businesses stand to gain more than they lose by adopting such services. Although it might be frustrating to hear, the answer to that question is that it depends, because cloud computing is not all benefits across the line. As with anything, it comes with both advantages and disadvantages, and it is important to understand these prior to committing to deploying systems.
Advantages of Cloud Computing
Here are the most important upsides to be had from taking up the cloud computing:
- First and foremost, cloud computing is convenient. Users can access cloud computing services at almost any time and from almost anywhere provided that they have access to the Internet. As a result, the employees of your business can keep in touch and continue working so long as they have even a smart phone with them.
- Purchasing computers and then keeping them updated to the latest standards is an ongoing expense. If your business is using cloud computing services, then those concerns are handed over to the service providers. Although you have little control over the update process, you gain access to the latest technologies because service providers are incentivized to update their services.
- Although this particular feature is not true of all such services, cloud computing is often scalable. Simply put, your business can easily adjust the IT resources that it is getting from its service provider as its needs change. Furthermore, service providers often provide discounts on more long-term arrangements, making for an easy way to pick up discounts.
- Using cloud computing makes your business more responsive to changing circumstances. You can easily scale up or down your business's IT resources. Similarly, you can add or remove services in a shorter timeframe.
- Cloud computing can reduce IT costs in two ways. First, there is less need for the fixed costs of procuring the needed software and hardware. Second, there are fewer variable costs due to the reduced need for IT maintenance on your part.
Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
In contrast, here are the downsides to adopting cloud computing, listed here to present a clear and complete picture of its consequences:
- Cloud computing services are extremely complex and can go down, rendering your business helpless until the service provider solves the problem. Although service providers aim for high uptime percentages, no provider can assure 100% uptime.
- For the most effective usage of such services, your business and its employees require a fast and reliable connection to the Internet. Deficiencies in either factor can cause your business's internal processes to grind to a halt should you adopt cloud computing. As a result, cloud computing services have not one but two points of potential failure.
- Cloud computing can be more expensive than alternatives. For example, it is possible that over the medium term, the monthly cost of cloud computing services will outweigh the hardware, software and maintenance costs of a traditional on premise solution..
- You must consider whether you are willing to trust the service provider with your business's information. Do you trust your service provider to erase your business's information once your relationship is over, or do you believe that your service provider might make nefarious use of that information in some manner?
- Security is one of the most important concerns with cloud computing services. You should not use cloud computing services if you are unwilling to risk your information by putting it up on the Internet. Similarly, if your service provider is inexperienced or error prone, then you might be the one who ends up paying the price.
- Cloud services can result in ‘vendor lock in’. Once your data and systems are safely in the hands of the provider, it is very difficult and costly to change providers at a later date should you wish to do so.
- Cloud services are typically inflexible. While on premise solutions can be customized and integrated, cloud solutions need to be able to cater for thousands of businesses and therefore must remain standard. As a client, you have no control over versions of software in use or often how the software is configured.
So should you move to the cloud?
In the end, you are the person who must answer the question of whether your business should adopt cloud computing. You have access to the information about your business that is most relevant to an honest analysis of the costs and benefits involved for your particular situation. Remember not to fall for the shining promise inherent in the latest technologies, but also remember that sometimes that which glitters is indeed gold rather than fool's gold. Some businesses are well positioned to gain from taking up the usage of cloud computing, while others are not and might even find its usage outright detrimental.
Use your discretion.