The Cloud is the (relatively) new buzzword in office computing. To those of us who started our careers in the 90s or early 2000s, we’ve grown up in an office filled with computers that were becoming more and more a part of how we worked, until now we can barely imagine doing without them.
Cloud computing is simply the logical next step in this evolution. If you have a Facebook account, Gmail, or have ever used Google Docs, then you’re already familiar with some of what the cloud can do.
To get you started, here’s a neat little video from CBeyond that introduces the cloud:
What is the Cloud, in a Nutshell?
The cloud, most basically put, is hundreds of thousands of servers connected to the internet where you can store your stuff and – this is the important part – get to it wherever you are in the world. You can do it with your iPhone using Apple’s iCloud, or you can do it with an Amazon Kindle. If you lose your Kindle, you don’t lose your books – they’re there in your Amazon account so you can download them again.
Even more ubiquitous than iPhones and Kindles are Facebook and Gmail accounts. If you used to use only Outlook, and your laptop died, you lost all of your emails. That concern is now utterly a thing of the past. Likewise, you can access your Facebook account from any internet-capable device, anywhere in the world, because none of the data is stored on a device you use.
That is the most basic, and commonly experienced, form of cloud computing. It’s simple, but its possibilities are endless. Imagine a digital camera that doesn’t need a memory card – it simply sends all of your saved photos straight to the cloud via a cheap 4G connection. We’re not quite there yet – mobile data can’t handle too much traffic cheaply. But it’s coming soon.
What Does it Mean For My Business?
If you’re a business owner, large or small, you can benefit from using more cloud-based services. The number one reason for this is that it turns large CapEx (capital expenditure) spends into more manageable OpEx, because cloud services are usually billed monthly.
More than that, they’re much cheaper and more flexible than their physical counterparts. You usually only pay for what you need right now, not what you think you’ll need in a year’s time.
You can have your entire company’s email and file system, as well as its accounting, payroll, and any other specialist software you need, available from anywhere. You can also host everyone’s actual computer on the cloud, allowing you to only install cheap thin clients in your office.
Your staff can access their computer, which is simply a virtual image, from a $200 thin client, their own laptop, or their mobile phone. And it’s all cheaper than having a full-scale computer network installed.
What Are the Disadvantages of Using the Cloud?
Naturally, any new technology has its leading edge of early adopters, but most people are scared off because of one or another flaw or an expense. In this case, the problem is bandwidth and internet connectivity.
Simply put, if you have a lot of your dealings in the cloud, you need a lot of bandwidth to move the data back and forth to whatever device you’re accessing it from. This can be costly, especially if most of your staff are on the go and using their mobile devices and 3G or 4G connections.
The other issue is that if you have no internet, you have no network. You not only have no mail or connectivity with your colleagues, but you also don’t have access to your computer and the software you use on a daily basis – even if you’re in the office.
These are drawbacks that are getting smaller and smaller every year and, despite them, cloud technology is generally proving to be more cost effective and more convenient than traditional solutions.