Every industry has its own buzzwords – concepts and ideas that get thrown around, and often become overhyped – primarily by those that have a vested interest in selling you certain products. You could be forgiven for thinking that ‘cloud’ was one such buzzword. After all, it’s difficult to get through a conversation about IT without it sounding like an abstract weather report!
But, the truth is that the cloud has fundamentally reshaped the information technology landscape. Cloud redefines how we procure, consume and pay for digital services. For small and medium-sized businesses, this is particularly important.
Where it all began
Surprisingly, the origins of cloud computing can be traced back to the 1950s. Mainframe computers were prodigiously expensive and were, therefore, reserved for large corporations and respected learning institutes. To facilitate growing demand for computer resources, these institutions allowed multiple users to access the central mainframe through ‘dumb terminals’.
As technology advanced, this sharing of resources became increasingly unnecessary. Computing power increased at an exponential rate and, at the same time, costs plummeted. Why have a dumb terminal connected to a pooled resource when you can have your own powerful personal computer on your desk?
It’s ironic, but we’ve now come full circle. High-capacity broadband and low-cost computers, combined with the adoption of virtualisation, have led to what we now know as cloud computing. Companies with vast computing resources handle the brunt of the work, while our PCs have once again become ‘dumb terminals’.
As-a-Service: The democratisation of IT
For small and medium-sized organisations, the technology playing field was never a level one. Even the most basic business requires a server or two. Add to that, expensive software licenses and the administration costs involved with keeping everything up and running, and the costs begin to mount.
The cloud computing model addresses these issues head-on. It is often described as the next utility, because like gas or electricity, you only pay for what you consume. Both your hardware (infrastructure) and software are available on-demand – all you need to do is turn it on. And just like the mainframes of the 1950s, cloud infrastructure is based on shared resources, therefore the costs are shared too, often making it significantly less expensive. Because these resources are effectively rented, there are no up-front costs.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), provided by Codestone and of course the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, along with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), have levelled the playing field, giving businesses of every shape and size access to enterprise-class solutions.
Despite the hype, many small and medium businesses still have a range of concerns when it comes to cloud computing. Some have security concerns and are apprehensive about moving sensitive data into the cloud. Others struggle to understand what cloud technology will bring to their business, while some simply don’t like the thought of relinquishing control of their systems to an unknown third party.
The truth is that cloud service providers are almost always better positioned to manage a small business’ IT resources than the business itself.
Consider, for example, that small businesses are now one of the most targeted sectors when it comes to cybercrime. SMBs are collectively attacked seven million times a year, costing the UK economy an estimated £5.26 billion, according to research from the Federation of Small Businesses; and these attacks are growing in sophistication with each day that passes. It is simply impossible for most SMBs to effectively protect themselves against these threats.
Cloud service providers like Codestone, on the other hand, run multiple datacentres with built in redundancies and employ entire teams of security professionals to ensure their resources are properly protected.
While the concerns outlined above might have been warranted a few years ago, cloud is now a fully mature model and any kinks were ironed out long ago.
The future: A more intelligent cloud
Cloud computing is evolving by the day, and it’s impossible to say with any certainty where the technology goes from here. Many technology vendors, for example, are now investing heavily in the area of machine learning.
Machine learning is essentially a form of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to find patterns in data and make predictions based on those patterns. Machine learning requires astronomical amounts of computing power, which has made it a largely inaccessible technology to date. But by leveraging cloud computing, it is now possible for even small businesses to quickly analyse large, complex data, gaining faster, more accurate insights and making better decisions as a result.
This is just one of the many exciting developments happening at the moment. There are no absolutes in technology. The only universal certainty is that in order to remain competitive, all businesses, no matter their size or industry, must view themselves as digital companies, and embrace these new ways of working.