An Overview of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a term we hear almost every day. What is cloud computing? This seems to be a very common question. TELUS Canada and IDC Canada published a study about cloud computing in June.

It surveyed 200 Canadian business executives and IT directors from large Canadian companies with 500+ employees. The study covered a variety of industries. The study revealed that 63% of Canadian companies did not have sufficient knowledge or only had a basic level of information to decide whether they would use a cloud service.

Eweek.com has published a recent article that shows there is a lot of confusion around cloud computing. Citrix Systems recently conducted a study that included over 1000 people in the U.S. According to the study, most people believe that cloud computing is linked with the weather. 51% thought cloud computing could be affected by the weather. The study found that 97% of respondents use cloud services, including online shopping, file sharing, and online banking. A further 59% of respondents stated that they believe the “workplace” of the future will be in the cloud, which is somewhat surprising given the widespread use of cloud computing.

The above insight mirrors the findings of our clients. Organizations may not have a deep understanding of cloud computing, which could lead to them missing significant opportunities to grow their businesses by reducing risk and cost. We hope this article will provide insight into cloud computing and help you evaluate its suitability for your business needs.

What is cloud computing?

It is important to first understand the origins of cloud computing. Cloud computing was most likely created from the use of cloud images to represent a networked computing environment.

One quick Google search will bring up a variety of definitions for cloud computing. A Wikipedia definition of cloud computing I found is that it provides computing services to computers, such as software, data, and shared resources. It is similar to electricity grids but over the internet.

What are the different cloud computing models?

It is important to be familiar with the three types of cloud service models. These are software as a Service (SaaS), platform and infrastructure (PaaS), and cloud computing.

SaaS is the most well-known type of cloud service. SaaS can also be called on-demand software. SaaS software and associated data are hosted centrally and can be accessed via a browser over the internet. Here are some examples of SaaS. MailChimp is one example of SaaS. It’s the app we use to send our newsletters. Another example is Google Apps, as well as Dropbox. The list keeps growing.

PaaS is a platform that provides a computing platform as well as the required solutions for facilitating the deployment of applications. It does not require you to spend money on hardware or software. Examples of PaaS are Microsoft Azure and Google App Engine.

Clients can avoid purchasing servers, software and data centre space through the IaaS model. These resources can be provided as an outsourced service. Rackspace and Amazon’s Elastic Compute cloud are two examples of IaaS.

It’s important to understand how cloud computing is distributed, in addition to the different cloud service models. There are four main delivery models: public, private and community.

A public cloud is a cloud that provides infrastructure and solutions for the general public. It is usually owned by large organizations that sell cloud services.

Private clouds are only for one company. Private clouds can be managed by an organization or a third party. The infrastructure may be on the user’s site or elsewhere.

A community cloud is a shared resource that supports several users and supports them with common interests, such as regulatory concerns.

A hybrid cloud is a combination of two or more clouds (e.g. a public cloud and a private cloud), that are linked by technology to allow data sharing and portability. Egnyte is an example hybrid cloud computing solution. It’s a file storage and sharing service.

What are the benefits of cloud computing

A webinar I attended earlier this year featured a roundtable of CFOs discussing the main benefits of cloud computing. These were some of the benefits mentioned:

  • On-site installations are more cost-effective than on-site ones
  • Access to the Internet from any location, at any time via an Internet connection
  • Reduction in dependence on IT support
  • Cloud solutions are often easier to deploy than solutions on-site
  • Cloud solutions allow organizations to purchase larger products with more functionality that would otherwise be prohibitive for them if they were purchased through an on-site non-cloud solution.
  • Because IT is no longer responsible for managing the IT infrastructure, IT can concentrate on value-add activities rather than managing it.
  • Cloud solutions are often used to achieve the following:
    • Get more timely financial information
    • Optimizing business processes
    • Employees can be connected and staff can work remotely

What are the potential risks and concerns of cloud computing?

Cloud computing has many drawbacks. No matter whether you’re evaluating cloud computing or on-site options, it is important to consider the potential risks that could affect your sensitive information. It is important to consider the risks associated with cloud solutions within the context of similar risks that you might face with on-site solutions.

Security is the most important concern. Security with cloud solutions is better than traditional on-site solutions for most small and medium-sized businesses. Cloud solution providers are able to invest in the skills and capabilities needed to deal with evolving and emerging threats. Many small and medium-sized businesses rely on IT support in part-time or none at all. These factors, along with the constantly changing IT risks, suggest that many small and medium businesses can’t keep pace with information security threats. A reputable cloud provider should be capable of providing assurance that addresses the following security concerns:

  • Access to data – All users should follow a strict authentication process to gain access to their data
  • Transmission – Data should always be encrypted when it travels from your site to the cloud service provider.
  • Network Security – Cloud provider’s network should be protected by strong security
  • Physical access – The cloud provider should demonstrate strong controls over physical access at its facilities, where your data will reside.
  • Data security – The cloud provider should be able guarantee that your data is encrypted while it is “at rest”.
  • Privacy and compliance – Your cloud provider must be able provide assurances that it can keep your data private and conform to any applicable standards and legislation.

Another concern is the availability of cloud solutions. It is important to evaluate the consequences of a cloud solution being unavailable due to circumstances like an internet outage, or technical problems by the cloud provider. These concerns need to be considered in the right context. Internet outages, particularly those that last for a long time, are rare. Reputable cloud providers are able to demonstrate high levels of uptime performance and skilled resources available to resolve any problems. What is the risk associated with an on-site solution? How do you feel about downtime when using on-site solutions? Can you get 24/7 support if you are facing a serious problem? A hybrid cloud model can help reduce availability risks. Egnyte is an example of a hybrid cloud for file sharing and storage. This option allows you to keep a local copy of your data in case the internet goes down.

Two contexts raise concerns about data access. The first is how do I get my data back from my cloud provider? Another question is what happens if my cloud provider goes out of business. These questions should be answered by your cloud supplier. They should also be included in your end-user agreement. If you want to retrieve your data from your cloud supplier, it is important to know what format it will be in. For example, if you use cloud-based accounting software, your data may not be returned in the same format that you originally entered.

Data backups are another important consideration. We have seen it happen in smaller companies that backup routines are not maintained or tested properly. Cloud providers that are trusted reduce this risk. Many cloud providers have multiple backup locations in the event of a site failure.

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