Cloud computing is one of the most buzzworthy tech developments of the past few years. Everyone is talking about how cloud services can help businesses to be more productive, nimble and scalable.
But what exactly is the cloud? What are the potential risks and rewards for your business?
Defining the cloud
Tech gurus and cloud service providers all have a slightly different spin on defining the cloud. Essentially, the cloud is an Internet technology platform with computing and storage capabilities. Customers can access groups of virtual servers on-demand and providers typically charge fees on a per-use basis.
Maybe the easiest way to define the cloud is to discuss the business needs it meets. The cloud allows developers, website managers, IT departments and businesses of all sizes to quickly develop, test and roll out new tech capabilities without spending a lot on infrastructure and training. Companies can lease software, add IT services and boost storage capacity offsite. Ramp-up times are short and large support staffs are unnecessary.
Types of clouds
Various types of cloud environments meet the scalability, security and performance needs of different users. Generally, clouds for business customers break down into three main categories.
- Private clouds: Also referred to as an internal or single-tenant cloud, a private cloud has a proprietary network or data center that is devoted to a single organization. Employees access it behind the company’s existing firewall. Businesses that need large amounts of data stored for long periods often choose private clouds, which are the most customizable and secure option.
- Public clouds: Public or multi-tenant clouds are comprised of a pool of scalable resources delivered securely to multiple clients as a service over the Internet. Public clouds are the most widely used cloud platform and work well for growing businesses or companies that need immediate access to cloud services to meet rapid increases in storage needs or computing demand.
- Hybrid clouds: As the name implies, a hybrid cloud combines features of both the private and public clouds. Ideally, a hybrid lets businesses take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of a public cloud. Companies that use this type have the security features and customization options of a private cloud. Businesses may begin using certain applications in a public cloud and then migrate them to a private cloud as needs or numbers of users change.
When it's properly implemented, cloud computing offers more security than most offices. Yet many business owners are nervous about having a large portion of their data housed off-site. When you're choosing a cloud service provider, it’s essential to understand what security measures are in place to safeguard the integrity of your data, and to ensure your consistent and trouble-free access to it 24/7.
Businesses new to the cloud and looking for the right service provider might consider first partnering with a technology firm that is well-versed in data-replication standards, encryption and authentication methods.
Why try the cloud?
Cloud services offer flexibility for businesses of all sizes. Large companies can get to market faster, respond to changing customer demand and meet seasonal spikes trouble-free—all with less hardware, software and support costs.
Small businesses can compete using high-tech resources once reserved for the big boys—leveling the playing field and boosting bottom lines. In the rarefied atmosphere of making businesses run faster and smarter, the cloud just might be the ultimate rainmaker.
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist in Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Waits runs a small online antiques business.
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