Usually when we say that business is cloudy, it’s not a good thing. Cloudy implies fuzzy and unpredictable. Wouldn’t you rather have clear and predictable instead? Financially speaking, of course you would. This is why people cock an eyebrow when somebody says you need to go off to the cloud somewhere.
You know, this is really a problem of semantics more than anything. When we talk about cloud computing, cloud storage or cloud networking, we’re not talking about dealing with fuzzy logic, quantum mechanics or anything else that you can’t quite nail down. The “cloud” with respect to IT and telecommunications services is quite determinate. The metaphor of the cloud is more about not having to be personally concerned about the details of how something is being accomplished rather than once you turn your back it’s a free for all.
Let’s take cloud storage for instance. This is becoming the most popular cloud service because it works for both business and non-business users. Everybody has data. Today most of that data is spinning on hard drives in personal computers. Some of it is stored in solid state memory chips inside tablets and smartphones. There are two services that the cloud can provide your data. First, it can safely store a copy in case disaster strikes and your hard drive crashes or you leave your laptop or smartphone in a taxi. If nothing else, there are thousands of personal photographs or client records amassed over the course of years that won’t disappear forever in an instant.
Second, the cloud can provide a central repository that you can access from whatever device you have at the moment and from wherever you happen to be. Sure, there are remote access programs that let you reach into your PC from across town. That assumes that you leave your computer on all the time and that a specialized client is available that will work on all devices for all types of data. It’s not quite the same as going to the online cloud “warehouse” to fetch a copy of whatever. In fact, it is getting to the point where you don’t have to fetch at all. All of your devices can sync with the cloud so that they either have a copy of the file locally or it appears to the user that they do.
Cloud storage as automatic backup makes sense because we all pretty much suck at remembering to backup files ourselves. You can improve this a bit by adding an external disk drive with a program like Apple’s Time Machine to automatically make copies whether you are paying attention or not. Still, if your house or office burns down you lose everything in the ash heap of melted hard drives.
The cloud gets away from the problem of having everything in one place where it can be destroyed all at once by keeping a copy hundreds or thousands of miles away. But the cloud also backs up its own data. Remember that the cloud is not some vaporous collection of neurons in the sky. It is realized as a secure data center with racks and racks full of hardware. That’s hardware that can fail just as surely as your desktop PC or local server. Cloud providers need RAID and other protections for disk data along with battery and generator backup power to ensure that those files will be there when you call for them.
The business model behind the cloud is that very large data centers operated by dedicated service providers who specialize in cloud services can give hundreds, thousands or millions of clients all the disk storage, servers and bandwidth that they could possibly use at a lower cost than having each and every client replicate that data center on a smaller basis.
The secret to a successful cloud is virtualization. This is a technique where a fixed pool of hardware resources is sliced and diced so that it can be apportioned to customers as needed. The virtualization software makes it appear to each customer that they are in control of 1 or 100 or 1,000 separate servers and Terabytes worth of disk drives. In actuality, there are fewer actual hardware servers than there are virtual servers because few applications need to hog a whole server to themselves. Sometimes, however, a virtual server will encompass more than one physical server because it really, really needs that much power. It doesn’t matter to the application, the client or the cloud whether a particular server is physical or virtual. The job gets done and the client gets billed by the capacity used.
One specialized cloud service is hosted VoIP, also called hosted PBX or hosted voice. This is a telephone switching system that handles your internal and external phone calls exactly as the most modern in-house PBX system would. The difference is that all you have in the building are phone sets and a SIP Trunk connecting your network to the service provider. Like cloud computing and storage, you pay for what you use and never have to make a capital investment. When you need more, you simply order more and you have it in a flash.
Does the idea of the cloud make more sense as a resource and potential cost saver over what you are doing now? If so, get more information on cloud computing and communications services and compare prices with doing everything yourself. That should definitely make things a lot clearer.