The US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as:
"...a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."
Cloud computing stems from a 1960s concept known as ‘time sharing’, which was developed to address the concern that a single user would make inefficient use of computing power but a large group of users would not. It is based on the sharing of computer resource by multiprogramming and multitasking in order to maximise the use of expensive processor time.
Today, we see a streamlined and improved version of this concept. As multiple users access applications and collaborate through internet-based computing, the cloud lends itself to an increasing demand for on-the-go mobile solutions and easy to use and manage technology in the workplace.
The cloud is always on and everywhere, and, as a result, users have access to apps, desktops and files no matter where, when, or how they wish to log in. All that is required is a connection to the internet.
Cloud computing offers several benefits for businesses and end users. Six of them are:
Pay per use: Computing resources are measured at a granular level, enabling users to pay only for the resources and workloads they use.
Self-service provisioning: End users can develop resources for almost any type of workload on demand. This eliminates the need for IT administrators to provision and manage computing resources.
Migration flexibility: Organisations can move certain workloads or applications to or from the cloud - or to different cloud platforms - as desired, or automatically, for better cost efficiency or to employ new services as they emerge.
Elasticity: Companies can scale up as computing needs increase and scale down again as demands decrease. This eliminates the need for large investments in local infrastructure, which may or may not remain active.
Workload resilience: Cloud service providers often implement redundant resources to ensure resilient storage and to keep users' important workloads running -- often across multiple global regions.
Broad network access: Capabilities are available over the network and are accessed through standardised mechanisms that afford use by various platforms (e.g. mobile phones, tablets, laptops and workstations)
Resourse pooling: Cloud computing resources are available to multiple consumers, or 'tenants', with a variety of scalable physical and virtual resources that can be assigned and reassigned according to customer demand. Features such as processing, memory, storage and network bandwidth can be adjusted to suit client needs providing full agility and value for money.
Measured service: Cloud providers can automatically control resources via metering capabilities. Services can therefore be optimised depending on usage per customer depending on a variety of reasons including billing, predictive planning, and effective resource use.
There are three types of cloud deployments: public, private and hybrid.
A public cloud is provisioned by a third-party provider and allows for standardised applications to be used by many people and organisations at the same time.
Data and applications are stored and hosted, often across multiple servers and hosting sites, by a third party and protected by a firewall. If you’ve ever used internet-based email or Google docs you’ve used a public cloud.
One of the main benefits of leveraging a public cloud is the ease of scalability. Public cloud resources are offered on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis, so an organisation can subscribe to only those services that they need, while having the option to increase (or decrease) their usage in the future.
The public cloud is often favoured by smaller businesses because of more manageable costs. Transition tends to be easy, and with pay-as-you-go subscriptions, there’s no need for upfront investments.
A private cloud offers similar benefits to a public cloud in that it provides computing as a service within a virtual environment. But, it operates through a private network that is completely controlled and used by a single organisation, either internally or hosted by a partner service provider.
If purchasing and implementing the software and infrastructure yourself, initial costs are higher than they would be when moving to a public cloud. However, the long term efficiencies tend to outweigh the initial investment, especially if you contract with a third-party provider who can offer you the infrastructure and licenses as part of the arrangement.
A private cloud couples all the benefits of public cloud (i.e.collaboration and continuity) with greater control and security for the organisation. They can tailor it to suit their specific IT preferences and requirements. As such, it’s often the preferred cloud solution for larger organisations or those with strict information governance obligations.
A private cloud allows for the most secure data protection and is the recommended option if security and control is absolutely paramount and your business is classed as part of a high security industry. However, the capacity of a private cloud can be limited by the amount of servers a company can deploy.
Many organisations take the hybrid approach, using a combination of private and public platforms. With a hybrid deployment, users have the option to keep sensitive data in-house, whilst storing the rest on a public cloud.
By combining these components, businesses can see an average reduction in overall IT costs of around 17 per cent. You then have the option of running workloads where they perform best, improving your network efficiency.
With a private architecture, there is the added benefit of flexibility in the form of cloud bursting. This is a type of hybrid deployment where an application can run in a private cloud until the demand for computing capacity peaks; here, it can ‘burst’ into a public cloud. In this way organisations only pay for extra cloud resources when they are needed. It’s a cost-effective option for SMEs too.
The term "the cloud" derives from its apparent nature; the cloud is essentially 'everywhere' all of the time. As a result, everything is accessible in real-time, providing users with the most up-to-date solutions and the most up-to-date files. Synchronisation among users is automatic. And otherwise lengthy and complex updates and installations can be streamlined.
A central server configuration manages the cloud computing system. Information is stored on central or distributed servers, controlled and maintained by third party providers. Here, apps, files and digital assets are hosted and supported securely and in real time.
Licensing is flexible and cloud services can be purchased through pay-as-you-go subscriptions, so you only pay for the services you use or the number of users you have.
The cloud can be further categorised into three common service models:
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) - a third-party provider offers virtualised computing resources such as virtual machines and storage over the internet - examples include Amazon S3 and Google Compute Engine.
You might already be part way on your journey to the cloud. If you are using business apps such as Gmail, Quickbooks, Office 365, or web-based apps for HR, you’re already utilising cloud components.
Businesses can make a transition to the cloud with minimal disruption, gradually, through three integral steps.
You can make a natural progression to the cloud by starting with your files, followed by apps and desktops. Once the migration is complete, the cloud enables employees to log in and access the most up-to-date files, data and documents from anywhere, on any device.
The concept allows for the easy adoption of modern working initiatives such as bring your own device (BYOD), working from anywhere, and hot-desking. Business flexibility and productivity are improved as a result.
By 2020 it’s projected that around 50% of the workforce will be millennials - of whom, 45% said they would accept a lower paying job if it provided more flexibility on device choice and mobility.
Employee behaviour is often dictated by culture, and many factors that influence a good culture are centred around flexible working. More than 54% of employees value work-life balance over pay. Research into agile working styles reveals that 36% of employees would prefer agile working over a pay rise.
As a result, job satisfaction is becoming more reliant on non-financial factors such as work/life balance, the commute and career development. By enabling access from anywhere, cloud computing supports more agile working environments.
The use of contractors and freelancers is growing. According to research by the UK Office of National Statistics, self-employment increased from 3.8 million in 2008, to 4.6 million in 2015.
Cloud solutions make collaboration with non-permanent workers, off-site contractors and partner teams more efficient and productive. Most notably, since the synchronisation of the cloud promotes consistency across all files, contractors can work remotely and outside of structured working hours to complete tasks, without the traditional restraints of local desktops.
Developments in technology have changed customer expectations and they are now more demanding than ever. They expect faster response times and more connected experiences.
Customers will opt for the businesses they feel are the most customer-centric. With increased data acquisition - thanks to cloud solutions - companies are better able to predict customers’ needs and expectations.
The cloud allows you to make yourself more available for feedback, and allowing customers to communicate easily and efficiently across clouds means you are better equipped to adapt your services to suit their needs.
The cost implications of downtime when systems are offline can be crippling; depending on the size of your business, it can cost up to millions of pounds per hour. Combined with the additional costs associated with premium call-out charges and costly IT staff, valuable time and money are lost.
The likelihood of system failures and outages with a cloud solution is considerably reduced, since most cloud providers aim to achieve the coveted five nines. This refers to the desired percentage of availability of a given computer system, in other words, 99.999% uptime.
By distributing storage and compute resources across multiple servers and hosting sites, cloud computing aims to achieve an almost 100% certainty of uptime.
Another worthwhile observation here is the increase in women in the workforce. With this comes a growing number of working parents and caregivers, who are finding it even more difficult to be office based, and to whom connectivity and agility are necessities.
Learn how to move your company to the cloud with this helpful guide
Market research reveals that the four primary goals driving companies to invest in cloud solutions are lower cost of total ownership, enabling business continuity, development speed and replacing on-premise legacy solutions.
Trends within cloud solutions are running parallel with shifts and expectations of agile working. Within 5 years, contractors could make up 50% of the workforce, with permanent desk locations becoming a rarity.
With desktop virtualisation, application virtualisation, and file sharing services all enabled by the cloud, mobility is supported in the form of internal collaboration, remote working, and enhanced agility for all members of a team. Regardless of location or device, users are able to access up to date files and the applications they need to be productive. Collaboration is made easier and businesses are open to worldwide talent acquisition, without the usual restriction of location.
With access limited to authorised users, multiple levels of security, control, and encryption, cloud computing puts up sophisticated protection against online criminals and hackers. Concerns about security have required public cloud providers to offer more complex, secured authentication and APIs in order to provide greater security and scalability. With private versions of the cloud, you control every aspect of your security.
Centrally controlled systems make for better collaboration and productivity. With traditional IT systems, email threads can become tangled, document versions can become out of sync, files can get lost, and mobile workers can feel isolated. Cloud solutions tackle these issues and makes working practices more seamless and streamlined.
But one of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is around maintaining the systems. Batch testing, upgrades, installations, etc. are a drain on IT resources and management. Because with the cloud applications and systems can be maintained more easily, your IT teams can be better utilised to focus on the core competencies of the company, on innovations, and on learning about new technologies.
Collaboration is at the centre of any cloud operating business. It is arguably one of the main reasons for the need to shift to cloud computing.
Aside from continuity, sharing and communication, collaboration can be enabled further through hosted apps, hot desking capabilities, and mobile access.
Add audio-visual technology to the mix and you have an environment that is conducive to collaboration.
When we think of satisfying the needs of a modern -day workforce, millennials and generation Zs thrive in a digitally-literate culture that supports flexible working patterns, globe-trotting and BYOD initiatives.
The cultural benefits that come with the cloud are compelling. From an improvement in agility, collaboration and flexible working, it supports the innovations that are improving a work/life balance, removing the obstacles of location, country and time. Work becomes something you do, rather than somewhere you go.
It supports the modern approach that a workforce should be performance driven rather than attendance driven. Management will focus less on how long employees spend at the office, but rather the results produced from the time and effort spent.
One study reported that 42% of workers would swap a portion of their pay for the ability to telecommute. On average they’d be willing to take a 6% pay cut.
A need to accommodate the digitally-literate generation, as well as working parents and caregivers, offers businesses a responsibility to consider cloud solutions. People can work longer hours remotely, and giving people the freedom of autonomy results in increased self-determination, productivity and job satisfaction.
It also contributes to employee satisfaction, self-motivation and productivity, since cloud users are given the choice to work when, where and how they want, enabling trust and questioning the traditional working structure.
Thanks to cloud-hosted apps, virtualised desktops and collaborative apps such as Citrix FileShare or Microsoft Office 365, employees can work from anywhere, anytime, on any device. The cloud provides everything through one central access point, meaning everything can be connected to through the internet.
The cloud offers significant benefits in scalability. Users access the resources they need in line with their requirements, paying only for what they use. This type of flexibility helps businesses become more efficient.
Rather than long-term licenses, the cloud allows you to employ services on a pay-as-you-go service, paying monthly per user as required.
Because most cloud applications and service operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, there’s no upfront investment or licensing agreement to be tied in to. As a result, sophisticated, advanced IT provisioning becomes more achievable for small businesses, allowing them greater access to the benefits historically afforded larger organisations, like security, collaboration and agility.
But it's not just the cost of the cloud itself that is beneficial. The cost-saving implications and enhanced efficiency that migration to the cloud offers could potentially deliver significant cost savings for businesses.
A cloud solution means your data is very safe and highly available, so if you spill coffee on your laptop or the building burns down, the cloud can be accessed from other devices. This reduces potential downtime and maintains a productive workforce in the event of disruption.
The data is essentially ‘disaster-proof’. Whether it’s down to loss, theft or natural disaster, local systems are not the only thing storing your data, and files can quickly be relocated and restored. Devices can be wiped remotely, so no need to worry if things fall into the wrong hands.
The cloud isn't immune from network and other outages, but most providers offer high availability and significant levels of uptime.
Businesses run on files and data, but the way they're stored and accessed is outdated, unsecure, and inefficient. By migrating to the cloud, your files are more secure with bank-level encryption, and you can send and receive large and sensitive files with no restrictions. File sharing through the cloud also makes it easier to comply with industry regulations, thanks to secure and compliant archiving.
Essentially, all of your virtual assets are centralised, existing in several places across multiple physical servers off-site. This way, security is enhanced, disaster recovery is easier and accessibility is maximised. This helps promote collaboration and fosters adaptable, modern working environments.
Applications are where your users meet your business processes and data; everything from Microsoft Word, Excel or specialised software like Photoshop or Adobe. They are where work happens, and a cloud transition can only optimise their functionality, accessibility and longevity.
A cloud provider can work with you to 'cloudify' these apps. Once this is complete, businesses no longer need to worry about the hassle of licensing, updates and patches.
More and more organisations are migrating their business applications to a cloud platform in order to future-proof their technology. Hosted applications are enabled by a remote cloud infrastructure. They have the same functionality as their locally installed brethren but can be accessed anywhere, from any device, simply through the web browser.
What’s more, whether the user is working on a mobile device, tablet or laptop, they’ll have access to the same desktop experience.
Since work doesn't happen at work as much as it used to, businesses need to adapt to flexible and remote working patterns by enabling the most up-to-date desktop access from anywhere, and anytime.
That's where desktop virtualisation comes in. Platforms such as XenDesktop, are a further extension of the cloud's services, empowering users with the flexibility and agility to access and run Windows desktops from any device. This is achieved by having the operating system, apps and data in the cloud enhancing the benefits of a cloud solution through on-demand access, increased visibility and security, and better management of files and documents.
In addition, all updates are managed centrally, so the most up to date versions are readily available, no matter the device.
Can you log in to your emails on the go? From any device or location? Cloud-based email platforms such as Gmail and Yahoo are making this a possibility. All users need to access, read and send emails is an internet connection and a web browser.
This is a cloud computing service that is evolving to become faster and more reliable. Email exists online, and it's easy and convenient to pick up emails on the go. No need to download applications or software to several devices, just load up your device of choice and log in via your web browser.
Perhaps one of the most widely used examples of cloud worldwide: social networks.
There are currently 1.2 billion people using Facebook worldwide. That represents 11% of the world's population.
And no matter where you are in the world, your Facebook photos, messages and friends are accessible through a web browser and a password.
Social networks can be used for storage, sharing, and communication. With so many varieties, including Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, and more, their popularity is growing discernibly, as the people are becoming more and more familiar with the cloud's capabilities.
Storing locally on a device comes with limitations and restrictions. Not only that, but it opens you up to the risk of permanent losing files through theft, damage or loss. By taking advantage of cloud storage, you have the ability and freedom to access mp3 files, photos, documents and data from any device and any location.
It doesn't matter if a device is lost or destroyed - only the physical aspect will be lost since all data and files exist remotely and can be easily recovered.
What's more, devices can be remotely wiped to avoid sensitive files and data getting into the wrong hands.
A suite of cloud-hosted applications, for example, Google's online suite, makes it possible for employees to work online from any location or device. The virtual office is made up of word processing software, presentation capabilities, a spreadsheet creator and publishing capabilities. This type of working is responsible for a new generation of remote and agile workers, fuelled by cloud capabilities.
The cloud provides a platform for collaboration between multiple users, irrespective of location. Sharing documents via the cloud allows you to invite users to comment, edit, approve on documents.
Working on documents through the cloud means that you are always working on the most up-to-date version, with real-time synchronisation. Eliminates waste, inefficiencies and reduces frustration. Document management, versioning and quality control are simple and automatic with collaboration tools, and visibility and clarity can be restored. Features such as screen sharing paired with video conferencing capabilities mean users can work together on the same documents in real-time.
Used by some of the largest and most disruptive organisations of our time, here's what each has to offer.
A subsidiary of amazon.com, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is an on-demand supplier of cloud computing services. AWS users can connect to their AWS system via any browser, and Amazon hosts the data in server farms across the world.
AWS offers over 90 cloud-based services, ranging from computing, security, storage, database, and analytics, and a range of other technology services. All you have to do is click on their 'Products tab' to see the extensive list. The number of active users exceeds 1,000,000. Perhaps one of its most high-profile users and one of the earliest adopters is Netflix. Other well-known users include Airbnb, Kellogg's and the Met Office.
Microsoft Azure has over 1,000 services and offers the only consistent hybrid cloud on the market. From start-ups to government officials, and 90% of the Fortune 500 businesses, many high profile enterprises run on the Microsoft Azure cloud. Although, there is often talk of an ongoing rivalry between AWS and Microsoft.
Microsoft Azure is hailed for its scalability, so is great for growing businesses. The infrastructure will automatically scale up and down to acommodate for increases in volume.
Google cloud computing similarly runs on the same infrastructure as Google. Its modular services consist of data storage, data analytics, and machine learning. Recently, Apple moved some of its iCloud services onto the Google Cloud, prompting the high-profile rivalry between Google and AWS.
Google is commended for offering a future-proof infrastructure and is protected by more than 700 experts in information, application, and network security. Some of its most high-profile clients include Coca Cola, Snapchat, and Spotify.
Citrix is a cloud management platform, used to deploy cloud-hosted desktops and apps to end users. The Citrix Cloud was developed by Citrix systems and released in 2015.
Citrix positions itself as a strategic partner to all of the above cloud providers, including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Intel.
There’s still some hesitancy in making a complete shift. The main concerns for potential cloud buyers tend to be around expertise, security and cost.
IDG reports that business leaders are more concerned about data security within the public cloud, so favour private options.
For public cloud, the top three concerns involve where the data is stored (43%), the security of cloud computing solutions (41%), and vendor lock-in (21%). For private cloud, vendor lock-in rose to the top (24%), followed by a lack of appropriate skills (22%) and security concerns (21%). The top concern for hybrid users was security (24%).
The most cited concern among cloud users as a whole was managing costs (24%) whilst beginners reported their biggest concern as security. However, the number of industries experimenting with infrastructure as a service is growing. And with that, initial concerns and anxieties surrounding resource and security, are starting to diminish. Of current cloud users, 85% are confident in their provider’s ability to provide a secure environment.
Implementation of the cloud also raises logistical concerns. For example, mobile users will need to access business data and services without traversing the corporate network. This concept assumes the user has a reliable network connection, so as soon as you have problems with domestic connections, you have a barrier to reaching the cloud. Similarly, the performance of the cloud depends on the performance of the user’s network and many connections are slower than a local server, opening the door to further limitations and restrictions and frustrations for remote workers.
However, concerns about the security of the public cloud are decreasing which demonstrates that with an increased familiarity with the cloud, security concerns decline.
For organisations that have data residing in different parts of the globe, data sovereignty is a firm priority. The data needs to be controlled and regulated in accordance with that country’s laws, so the concerns relate to privacy regulations and the prevention of data that is stored in a foreign country being subpoenaed by the host's government.
Since cloud computing breaks down geographical barriers, with new approaches including object storage, many are adopting a 'wait and see' approach. An experienced cloud provider will be able to offer complete transparency and demonstrate a strict adherence to an SLA. And in the cloud computing industry, the effects of new legislations such as Brexit are not predicted to change much. However, this remains one of the biggest barriers to full migration since many potential users are adopting a 'wait and see' approach, to fully ascertain the impact of these changes to the law.
Cost is a common concern among leaders considering a cloud migration. Cloud computing uses subscription-based pricing model, with pay-as-you options available. Whilst this attractive to some, since you only pay for the services you use, the shift from traditional one-time investments is problematic for others. The cost of traditional software gradually amortised over the following years of usage. However, these monthly costs are generally quite low in comparison, and come with the added bonus of having someone on hand to update, patch and maintain all of your software, remotely.
But it's not just the services themselves that come at a cost. Businesses are often apprehensive about the role of their existing IT teams, and if potential costs will arise should they need new staff to manage the new infrastructure. But with the right vendor, support will be on hand at all times, and any of these concerns will be addressed before you commit, with ongoing support and maintenance available.
The cloud is enabling a world where we no longer spend time installing, configuring and managing stacks. Where new opportunities for IT workers to expand their roles and develop their skills are created.
Cloud IT doesn’t come with a ‘one size fits all’ solution, and it’s taking place in a variety of forms. In 2015 alone, 90% of enterprises adopted the cloud in some capacity. The last year, in particular, has seen substantial growth in experimentation with the cloud.
It’s also been reported that companies now run 79% of workloads in cloud; 41% in public and 38% in private.
At present, many organisations are seeing clear benefits of the cloud, while some are still experimenting by moving non-critical applications across first. Others, however are happier to wait and watch to see how this technology evolves on a larger scale before making the decision to adopt the cloud.
According to RightScale, users can currently be split into the following: ‘6% no plans, 14% watchers, 22% beginners, 25% explorers, 33% heavily focused.’
Cloud computing is creating a future landscape where SMEs have the power to disrupt markets they otherwise wouldn’t have had a place in. Previously, it was only the big names who had the money to invest in R&D, growth and innovation. Now, smaller enterprises with access to more agile and secure IT solutions can compete on a larger scale.
And, as a result of the cloud, we're likely to see an increase in data integration jobs, because multiple cloud-based vendors will cause data silos that must be integrated into a cohesive data model. And new roles such as cloud administration and cloud architecture will come to fruition.
IT professionals of larger organisations could find themselves implementing, managing and maintaining private cloud infrastructures, and up until now, smaller businesses weren’t able to compete with large enterprises on an economical scale due to the shortcomings and limitations of traditional software.
Smaller businesses are also at an advantage when transitioning to the cloud since the legacy IT of larger companies can make the shift time-consuming, difficult and costly.
In the past, adopters have tended to be smaller businesses, with restrictions such as vendor lock-ins and critical apps made larger businesses hesitant at first, adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, before moving critical applications across. After seeing the impact however, more and more larger, mainstream names are making the decision to migrate to cloud solutions.
Larger enterprises are adopting managed IT services to improve customer service and relationships. Being able to offload burdensome tasks and responsibilities enables teams to focus more on their business' core competencies and new innovations that enable them to focus their capabilities on growth and improvement strategies.
It’s not just improving the way SMEs compete, but the way in which they operate. Business data becomes disaster proof and protection due to the ability to store data in the cloud, significantly reducing the risk of data loss.
It's important to consider your move to the cloud a planned journey rather than an overnight switch. Consider where you are, where you want to be, and how you will get there.
With a well-designed roadmap, you'll get the benefits of the cloud faster, minimise disruption, control your costs and bring your users along with you.
A natural progression generally sees three key steps:
Moving your files to the cloud shows a fast return on investment, because files sharing touches every department and process, making a big impact right away.
Cloud sharing allows staff to store and synchronise documents, photos, and videos, sharing them with other people across multiple devices. Basic providers include Dropbox, GoogleDrive and Box. But business class cloud sharing (like ShareFile, OneDrive and Amazon S3) makes for a richer, more integrated experience, securing and enhancing the way you work.
A business might then choose to move their applications to a private or public cloud. In other words ‘cloudify’ their apps.
After moving your files, the next natural step is to move your applications to the cloud. Cloud-native applications, also known as software-as-a-service (SaaS), replace the ones you'd otherwise have to install on local servers or individual staff member's computers. Present examples include Salesforce, Sage and Microsoft Office 365. And, rather than purchasing and installing multiple copies, you pay monthly, per user.
As well as cloud-native apps, there are also virtual apps. These are traditional applications that you or someone else put into the cloud (application virtualisaton), making them available as a service, just like a 'cloud-native' app. The best thing is you don't have to wait for those apps to become available on the cloud, as you can simply work with your provider to 'cloudify' these applications.
Transitioning to cloud desktops accrues all of the benefits listed under cloud file sharing and cloud applications but with even greater returns. You simplify your entire IT estate, so you can focus these energies back into the customers, people and your business. What's more, your IT service provider will run your whole tech stack for you, updating and securing everything including back-ups, updates and support for your users.
Virtual desktops also make migration extremely simply, with minimal disruption to your users or the business. Everything is centralised so there's no need to update and install on each individual machine.
And finally, virtual desktops transfer the security of the cloud to everyone who uses them. No matter where users are, or what device they are accessing from, all they need is user credentials and an internet connection to log in and continue working. And if a PC or laptop is lost of stolen, the work can be recovered from the cloud.
The cloud makes everything simpler, easier, faster, and more flexible. That's why so many businesses are fast approaching their journey to the cloud. Each step pays for itself in benefits, whether cultural, monetary, or security-related.
If you think you're ready to take the first step in your cloud journey, talk to a member of the team today.