‘The cloud’ sounds like a vast and complicated concept. But actually it’s just the internet – with a little something on top.
You may not be entirely sure what ‘the cloud’ means. If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone. A few years ago, a technology journalist at a cloud company’s press conference put up his hand and said to the serious corporate spokesperson, “When you say ‘the cloud’, you really just mean ‘the internet’ don’t you?”
The reality isn’t quite that simple, but it’s not far off. If you’ve ever shared a document online, or accessed your email through a web browser, you’ve used the cloud. That’s because ‘the cloud’ is a catch-all term to describe the use of the internet to deliver services.
We typically think of the internet as being the huge number of websites that we can access through a browser. But that part – the world-wide web – is only a sub-section of the internet. The internet is really the underlying infrastructure. It’s the vast network of connections that allows data to flow between points almost anywhere around the world.
You can think of the internet as being like a road network. A road can carry cars, but it can also carry buses, trucks and motorbikes. Similarly, the internet can carry web pages, but it can also carry emails, audio/video streams and applications. And it’s the ‘applications’ part that forms the basis of the cloud.
As internet connections and computers have got faster, it’s become possible to run applications and services remotely. This means that the applications that appear to be running on your computer, tablet or phone may actually be hosted hundreds of miles away, on a cloud service provider’s server.
What might those cloud services be? Almost anything you can imagine running on a computer. There are cloud services for just about every possible business eventuality. Microsoft Azure, for example, has more than 550 services at the moment, with more being added all the time. The most widely-used services are for:
- storage – keeping files and data safe and accessible from anywhere
- computing – fast access to processing power for a wide range of business tasks
- backup – maintaining secure archives for recovery purposes
- SQL – scalable databases for just about any conceivable business use
There are many reasons for choosing cloud-based IT solutions over in-house ones. These can include simplicity, cost savings, flexibility, scalability and reliability.
Ultimately, using the cloud means your business can become more nimble and productive. The cloud allows you to use – and pay for – only those services that you actually need; you can tailor your IT solution specifically to your business needs. It grows as you do – flexibly, rapidly and dynamically.
So, that technology journalist was partially correct. The cloud is the internet. But it’s also a whole lot more, it can give your business a real competitive edge.