I get asked daily by my reseller partners, their clients and my friends and family, “what is the cloud”, so I thought I would break this down to the very basics in my opinion.Because the term can refer to so many different things, it’s no wonder that so many people ask “What is the Cloud?” If you’re someone who is wondering this yourself, you’ll be pleased to find out that the answer is not as confusing as you might think.

So, What is the Cloud?

The Cloud, or cloud based computing as it is also commonly called, simply refers to a technology that allows customers to store data and access software or platforms through a third party-managed network. Its greatest advantage is that it allows businesses to scale their IT infrastructure to meet changing needs without making capital investments in new applications and hardware (or spending money to maintain resources that are not being used).

Cloud computing vendors like make this possible by billing customers on a per-use basis, and supervising all hardware maintenance and any software upgrades for the client. Not only does this approach offer a considerable amount of flexibility and cost savings to the end user, but it also frees the customer of worrying about IT management. Quite simply, it turns business computing into a service that can be used for a fee.

Who Uses Cloud Based Computing?

In the early days of cloud technology, cloud based computing was primarily aimed at enterprise users (i.e. businesses). While this is still the technology’s primary application, the recent explosion of consumer mobile devices has led many cloud computing companies to start catering their services towards personal use.

Personal Cloud Users

The personal cloud computing user is typically looking for data storage that will be accessible from a mobile device. Cloud storage providers like SugarSync and FlipDrive have tailored their services to this specific market by incorporating features that allow photo, music and video file sharing and streaming among users. Many companies attract new personal users by offering free cloud storage in small quantities so that potential customers can sample their service.

Enterprise Cloud Users

As mentioned, the majority of cloud service customers still reside in the massive enterprise market. Enterprise customers range from small businesses to large corporations, but all of them usually implement cloud services to some degree for data storage and Software as a Service (SaaS). A growing number of businesses have also begun to incorporate Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to either replace or augment their current hardware.

What is the Cloud? – The Future of Computing

It has become en vogue to talk about cloud technology as if it is somehow the flavour of the month. The truth of the matter is, however, that we have barely scratched the surface when counting the ways in which this technology will revolutionise our world.

With our seemingly endless appetite for personal remote and wireless technology, and an ever-growing need for greater global connectivity in the workplace, cloud computing solutions are quickly becoming an essential part of everyday life. Whether at work or at play, chances are you are already using cloud technology on a daily basis without knowing it. With that in mind, “What is the Cloud?” becomes a question that we should all know the answer to.

Definition of Cloud Computing Services

The definition of cloud computing is fairly straightforward, but nailing down exactly what individual cloud computing services do can be a bit more difficult. As far as the average enterprise, business consumer is concerned, however, “Cloud computing” simply refers to using software, infrastructure or platforms as a service instead of a product. In lay terms, instead of buying desktop software, storage drives, and other hardware as was traditionally done in the past, users can now access these items over a network through use of a cloud computing service.

 Types of Cloud Computing Services

Cloud computing services can generally be broken down into three categories: Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. Services can be provided through either a private cloud network (accessible only to specific users) or a public cloud (an open network accessible to anyone), but the end goals and typical user experience is the same.

The following represents a brief definition of the three types of services offered by cloud computing service providers, and their advantages:

 Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

  • Also referred to as IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service is usually used by enterprise customers (i.e. businesses) as a way to increase data storage capacity without purchasing additional hardware. Additional cost savings come from the client being able to pay only for storage space used, instead of for the maintenance of an entire server.

 Platform as a Service (PaaS)

  • Platform as a Service, or PaaS, allows applications and other tools to be developed and stored by the user on a cloud server. Once in place, the applications and additional tools are managed by the cloud computing vendor who makes them available to your specified users by way of the internet.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

  • The third type of standard cloud computing service available is SaaS, or Software as a Service. This extremely popular service offers a single software application to clients through a portal. The application and all related data are managed, and hosted by the service provider. This allows customers to have access to the latest software packages from anywhere for a monthly usage fee.

 Overall Advantages of Cloud Computing Services

  • Aside from the benefits associated with specific services, there are three overall advantages offered by cloud computing companies and their services: cost savings, scalability, and system management. Clients pay only for the amount of time spent actually using the service, are able to instantly scale subscribed services to meet changing business requirements, and allow the cloud computing provider to manage all software and hardware. The end result is that the business saves money, becomes more adaptable, and increases its employees’ productivity. Not a bad set of outcomes for any company wise enough to switch its software and hardware management over to cloud computing services.

Cloud Computing for Small Business Owners

The idea of cloud computing for small business owners is a relatively new one, but one that most experts predict will catch on quickly. And, given the tremendous money-saving potential and flexibility provided by integrating cloud computing services into the workplace, how could it not?

Cloud Computing for Small Business Today

Based upon the results of a Techaisle survey conducted in 2010, a mere 37% of all small business owners know what cloud computing is. Even more astonishing is that, even among the estimated 29% of businesses that are currently using cloud technology, a sizeable portion of them do not realise it.

Indeed, it seems as if cloud computing for small business is in a sort of Dark Ages where the majority of small companies are needlessly shelling out money each month to maintain outdated IT systems and software. This extraneous cost does not only adversely affects the outcome, but also hamstrings small businesses as they attempt to keep pace with an increasingly internet-based world.

The Future of Cloud Computing for Small Business

There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, as most industry experts predict that the global market for cloud technology will increase from its current $8 billion, to approximately $14 billion by 2014. The driving factor for this growth as it relates to small businesses is expected to be something referred to in cloud jargon as SaaS or Software as a Service.

SaaS offers the opportunity to use the latest software for a relatively small monthly fee in place of traditional desktop software that requires a one-time purchase (usually at a hefty price tag) followed by additional periodic charges as updates become necessary. Software conflicts and poor system performance are also reduced by SaaS cloud computing solutions because most cloud computing companies that offer the service strip down their software for maximum effectiveness.

Moreover, cloud computing services like SaaS are available to business owners and their employees wherever an internet connection is accessible. Gone are the days of having to wait until you’re back in your office to run certain applications. As cloud solutions become integrated into more work places, services like SaaS will increase productivity and efficiency in ways that we could only dream of in the past. The future of cloud computing for small business is a bright one indeed.

The Future of Cloud Computing for the Enterprise

That’s a post for another day……

Author

Mark Winter
Managing Director – Asia Pacific 
Cloud Distribution