What is the Cloud?

“We Scots love to talk about the weather: Dreich. Haar. Pure Baltic. So if you stuck your head out of the window and looked up when you first heard people talking about ‘the cloud’, we don’t blame you”

What is the cloud? How does it work why is everyone talking about it? Everyone talks about the cloud but apart from another bit of techie jargon do you know what it is and how it can benefit your business?

As an IT provider, we are always talking about techie things and love to attach names to technologies or systems that make perfect sense to us but if you are “not in the know” then it’s just another bit of techie jargon.

If you are a non-technical IT decision-maker and don’t know what the cloud is you are potentially missing out on a great set of technologies that give a massive boost to your business both in available tools and also flexibility.

To help demystify this we have put together a series of documents to explain in jargon-free way how the cloud can benefit you as well as your business. This has been split into four parts.

  • The basics (this document)
    • What is the cloud?
    • Why is it called the cloud?
    • What are the benefits?
    • What are the downsides?
    • How do you choose a provider?
    • How can you safely transition your business to cloud services?
    • Where can you go for help?
  • Microsoft Office 365 – part 1
    • What is it?
    • What are the services?
    • What are the benefits?
    • What are all the different subscriptions?
    • What are the costs?
  • Microsoft Office 365 – part 2
    • How secure is it?
    • My server just stores files can I get rid of it?
    • Can I easily get access to the company data files from anywhere?
    • What about backups?
  • Microsoft Office 365 – part 3
    • What is Microsoft Azure?
    • What about the applications?
    • Can I move my legacy application to the cloud?
    • Can I run my business with a completely remote IT systems?

Please click here for a downloadable copy of this document

What is the cloud?

In simple terms, ‘the cloud’ describes data, software and services that are accessible through the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive or company server.

After you’ve created an account, you can access cloud computing resources from anywhere with an internet connection, whether that’s Aberdeen, Adelaide or Abu

Using the cloud to store information is no different from using the server that lives in
your computer room, except it is fully managed by a third party.

Why is it called “the cloud”?

IT engineers like to draw pictures. It’s not just because they’re budding artists: simple illustrations are easy ways to describe computing systems to fellow engineers and laypeople.

Engineers use a cloud symbol as shorthand for ‘the internet’. You can describe network connections between two locations by drawing two lines with a cloud symbol connecting them in the centre.

For example, using Microsoft Visio you can show a connection between two offices:

The cloud simply represents all the “stuff” in the middle
which is not relevant to the drawing

What are the benefits?

Now that you know what cloud computing is, it’s time to answer the burning question: How can it benefit your business? Let’s count the ways…

  • Reduce Overheads
    • Managing your IT infrastructure takes up company resources, making it a significant business overhead. By moving many parts of your IT system to the cloud, your business will no longer need to manage:
      • Hardware and software
      • Security updates
      • System reliability
      • Data backup
      • Disaster recovery
      • Keeping the service secure
      • Management, monitoring and maintenance
      • Service performance and speed
  • Scale with your needs
    • Cloud services let you choose the amount of storage and number of user accounts you need, making them suitable for businesses of every size. As your business grows, you can upgrade to more comprehensive versions of the service
  • Instant updates
    • Moving services to the cloud gives your business far more flexibility and agility. Cloud services are accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. The service that you use in the office is the same as the service used remotely. That’s a significant benefit for businesses with offshore or remote site teams, and those with travelling employees
    • This also means that if you update something it is immediately visible to everyone whether they be in the office or not
  • Automatic Backups
    • Data loss can devastate a business. When you use cloud services, that’s less of a concern as the provider has a responsibility to keep the infrastructure running for you. So long as you set it up right everything gets backed up and this simplifies your disaster recovery and business continuity plans
  • Cherry-pick your services
    • Cloud computing lets you choose the services that are most suitable for your business. At a minimum, most companies use cloud email services, but increasingly, companies are seeking to make every computing programme essential to their business operations accessible via the cloud
  • Remote Access
    • Moving services to the cloud gives your business far more flexibility and agility. Cloud services are accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection. The service that you use in the office is the same as the service used remotely. That’s a significant benefit for businesses with offshore or remote site teams, and those with travelling employees or people working from home

What are the Downsides?

Even the best things in life have their downsides (with the exception of a cold beer on a Friday evening). Despite its many benefits, cloud computing does come with some risks:

  • You don’t own anything!
    • Access to cloud services is usually subscription-based, meaning you lose access to the service when you stop paying for it
  • You need a stable Internet connection
    • While you can access the systems from anywhere, their performance is dependent on the speed of the local Internet connection. You’ll see a slower service the slower the connection
  • You’re entrusting a third-party provider
    • Although the majority of cloud services have robust security measures in place, you are still putting your faith in a third-party provider to protect your data

How do you choose a Provider?

Choosing reliable providers is one of the most important things to get right when transitioning to cloud services. In the real world, you wouldn’t trust just anyone with important information about your business.

You should apply that same reasoning to cloud-based services. Asking questions about your provider should help to inform your decision. Due diligence checks should include the following questions:

  • Is the provider well known?
    • You should be able to check this through a simple Google search
  • Can you speak to other customers who have used their services?
    • Check third-party review platforms like TrustPilot and Google Business, or independent forums.
  • Can the provider tell you where they will store your data?
    • Remember, GDPR and data protection laws still apply when you use cloud services, so you need reassurance that you’re not storing sensitive data in the wrong country
    • Even if the primary data centre is in the UK, you’ll need to check whether the provider replicates data to another centre in a different country or whether it plans to transmit your data via an unencrypted connection
  • Can you find out the company’s financial standing?
    • If the provider goes out of business, you could risk losing access to the service and your data

How can you safely transition your business to cloud services?

A provider that meets the appropriate standards should instil you with the confidence needed to adopt their services.
But there are still a number of steps to take to ensure a smooth transition to the cloud.

  • Work with your provider
    • It’s not a good idea to start the transition without your IT team or external provider’s involvement. You should engage them early in the process so that they can offer their insight and advice
  • Check your Internet connection
    • A slow Internet connection will slow down performance. If you’re planning to work from one central office, you” need to ensure that your Internet connection is good enough for multiple employees to use at once
    • If you plan to work remotely, make sure you and your teams have Internet connections stable enough to use the cloud services effectively
  • Establish work processes early on
    • Every workplace has processes to ensure efficiency and consistency. Yours will probably need to change when moving to a cloud-based system, so make sure everyone has the appropriate training and establish best practices as soon as possible
  • Get your budget right
    • You should make sure you understand the ongoing costs of your cloud service subscriptions. It’s important to check for additional costs which may arise when your resource requirements increase
    • Look out for the cost of those “add-on” services that you didn’t know were not part of the base subscription

Where can I go for help?

Moving to cloud services is definitely a job for the IT department. If you’d like to transition to a cloud-based system, you should always consult your IT team or external provider in the first instance.

They’re best placed to understand the implications of a move to cloud services. They’ll also know how to deal with
dependencies that you might not be aware of.

If you don’t have access to IT expertise, you can appoint an external IT provider to support you.

Please click here for a downloadable copy of this document

Who are Simblox?

Simblox is a managed IT service provider based in Aberdeen who looks after and advises businesses of all sizes within Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire on their IT.

We are all about customer service and hate the “techie” jargon that is so often used to confuse people. Technology should only ever be adopted by a business if it benefits the business and not just because “its cool”.

Established in 2005 we have many years of experience helping businesses get the best from their IT investment.

I have a question?

That’s great just ask, we are more than happy to help any business whether they be a customer of ours or not, our role is to make IT easy to understand so please just complete the form below.

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