A closer look at the Cloud

An insider’s guide to moving your company’s network to The Cloud

Author Bill Jest is a Senior consultant at Wem Technology recognised by Microsoft with the Gold Datacenter competency.  Wem Technology’s emphasis is on establishing and developing long-term relationships based on understanding their clients’ businesses, to provide IT solutions and services that help prevent unexpected expenditure and enable them to get the full value out of their IT investment.  They are part of a group of companies specialisng in business development centred around an established chartered accountancy and a telecoms division. All the companies in the group work to the same high ethical standards.  You can request a free Cloud Readiness Assessment for your business from Wem Technology by emailing info@wem.biz

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “the use and access of multiple server-based computational resources via a digital network (WAN, Internet connection using the World Wide Web, etc.).”

But what on earth does that mean?

The easiest way to not only understand what cloud computing is but also gain insight into why it’s gaining in popularity is to compare it to the evolution of public utilities.   For example, the evolution of electricity:  Back in the industrial age, factories had to produce their own power in order to run machines that produced the hard goods they manufactured. Be it textiles or rails for the railway and using machines gave these companies enormous competitive advantages by producing more goods with fewer workers and in less time. For many years, the production of power was every bit as important to their company’s success as the skill of their workers and the quality of their products.

Unfortunately, this put factories into two businesses: the business of producing their goods and the business of producing power. Then the concept of delivering power (electricity) as a utility was introduced by Thomas Edison when he developed a commercial-grade replacement for gas lighting and heating using centrally generated and distributed electricity. From there, as they say, the rest was history.

The concept of electric current being generated in central power plants and delivered to factories as a utility caught on fast. This meant manufacturers no longer had to be in the business of producing their own power. In fact, in a very short period of time, it became a competitive necessity for factories to take advantage of the lower cost option being offered by public utilities. Almost overnight, thousands of steam engines and electric generators were rendered obsolete and left to rust next to the factories they used to power.

What made this possible was a series of inventions and scientific breakthroughs – but what drove the demand was pure economics. Utility companies were able to leverage economies of scale that single manufacturing plants simply could not match in output or in price. In fact, the price of power dropped so significantly that it quickly became affordable for not only factories but also for every single household in the country.

The shift to cloud computing

Today, we are in a similar transformation following a similar course. The only difference is that instead of cheap and plentiful electricity, advancements in technology and Internet connectivity are driving down the costs of computing power. With cloud computing, businesses can pay for ‘computing power’ like a utility without having the exorbitant costs of installing, hosting and supporting it on your business premises.

In fact, you are probably already experiencing the benefits of cloud computing in some way but maybe had not realized it. Below are a number of cloud computing applications, also called SaaS or “Software as a Service,” that you might be using:

  • Gmail, Hotmail or other free e-mail accounts
  • Facebook
  • NetSuite, Salesforce
  • Constant Contact, Exact Target, Mailchimp or other e-mail broadcasting services
  • SurveyMonkey and other survey tools
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • All things Google (Search, AdWords, Maps, etc.)

If you think about it, almost every single application you use today can be (or already is) being put “in the cloud” where you can access it and pay for it via your browser for a monthly fee or utility pricing. Increasingly we no longer purchase and install software, but instead access it via an Internet browser on a subscription basis.   This is also leveling the playing field by making software solutions that only the largest businesses could afford available to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

The top 5 questions business owners have about cloud computing

Q1: What if my Internet connection goes down for an extended period of time?

While this is a valid concern that should be addressed in the company’s business continuity plan your IT service provider should overcome it in the following ways: Set up and use multiple broadband connections with automatic fail-over; use the 3G/4G mobile network; or work from home, a branch office or local serviced office.   The Q2 response is also relevant.

Q2: What happens if the Internet slows to the point where it’s difficult to work productively?

Your IT service provider can resolve this by keeping a synchronized copy of your data on your onsite server (if you decide to maintain one), local PC as well as in the cloud.

Here’s how this works: Microsoft offers a feature with Windows called “DFS,” which stand for Distributed File Systems. This technology synchronizes documents between cloud servers and local servers in your office. So instead of getting rid of your old server, your IT service provider keeps it onsite and maintains an up-to-date synched copy of your files, folders, and documents on it. If the Internet goes down or slows to a grind, you simply open a generic folder on your PC and the system will automatically know to pull the documents from the fastest location (be it the cloud server or the local one). Once a file is modified, it syncs in seconds so you do not have to worry about having multiple versions of the same document.

Using this process, you get the benefits of the cloud with a backup solution to keep you up and running during slow periods or complete Internet outages.

Newer technologies also exist to synchronize important files and folders to your users’ devices, so no matter what happens with the Internet, you are still operational.

Q3: What about security? Is there a big risk of someone accessing my data if it is in the cloud?

In many cases, cloud computing is a more secure way of accessing and storing data. Just because your server is onsite does not make it more secure; in fact, most small to medium businesses cannot justify the cost of securing their network to the same level a cloud provider can. And most security breaches occur due to human error: one of your employees downloads a file that contains a virus, they do not use secure passwords, or they simply e-mail confidential information out to people who should not see it.

Other security breaches occur in on-site networks because the company does not properly maintain their own in-house network with security updates, software patches, and up-to-date anti-virus software. These are far more common ways local networks get compromised than a cloud provider getting hacked.

Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s cloud offering, and they have more security certifications than any other cloud provider and offer many technologies to help secure your information and protect it accordingly.

Q4: What if our IT service provider goes out of business? How do I get my data back?

Your IT service provider should give you network documentation that clearly outlines where your data is and how you can get it back in the event of an emergency. This should include detailed information of emergency contact numbers, information on how to access your data and infrastructure without needing your IT service provider’s assistance, a copy of their insurance policy and information regarding your backups and licensing.  They should also ensure that you always retain ownership of your data.

In fact, you should never hire any IT professional that will not give you this information.  At Wem Technology we also make sure our clients can have a physical copy and back up of the entire network to enable their systems to be migrated to another cloud or in-house server if and when required.

Q5: Do I have to purchase new hardware (servers, workstations) to move to the cloud?

No! That is one of the greatest benefits of cloud computing. It allows you to use older workstations, laptops, and servers because the computing power is in the cloud. Not only does that allow you to extend the life of hardware, but when the time comes for replacement it allows you to buy lower cost workstations and laptops because you do not need the expensive desktop computing power required in the past.

For more of your cloud questions answered download the Microsoft paper ‘9 myths about moving to the cloud’.