A complete beginner’s guide to the cloud

Cloud computing is everywhere. Well, almost. A search for the term on Google produces about 112 million results. And every IT company going is offering some sort of ‘cloud-based solution’ or ‘cloud computing system’.

The thing is, cloud computing can be a tricky concept to grasp if you’ve not run into it before. Different companies use the term to mean different things, so it’s hard to understand exactly what they are talking about.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing isn’t anything new. The cloud is just the internet, so when you use cloud computing you run software and store data on the internet, instead of on your own computer.

Here’s an example. Traditionally, companies have a central server, on which they store important files and data. That server is also often used to run centralised software, like the firm’s customer database.

With cloud computing, you can take all the functions performed by that server and do them on the internet. So, instead of storing the data on a physical server in your business, you would rent a server on the internet.

Similarly, you can use that server to run your customer database – the only difference is that you’ have to log in over the internet to access it.

You’re already using cloud computing

You’re probably already using cloud computing for something. For instance, if you use Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or Google Mail, you’re using the cloud for your email.

However, the beauty of the cloud is that you can use as much or as little of it as you like. If you just want to dip a toe in the water to see if it works for you, you can. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing, and you only have to move systems and services over that you feel comfortable with.

So, what are the advantages of the cloud?

  • Your upfront costs are lower. Averaged over several years, cloud computing doesn’t tend to offer huge savings over buying equipment outright. However, you usually pay a monthly charge for services, spreading the cost over a number of years.
  • There are lower management overheads. The monthly fee covers everything. Sometimes you don’t even need to worry about backups (although it’s usually a good idea to keep a copy of key data locally). In short, cloud computing can mean the end of unpredictable IT charges.
  • There’s more flexibility. You only have to pay for what you use, and cloud services can grow or shrink as you need them to. For instance, if your company plans to take on more staff, using the cloud makes it easier to expand without buying costly new equipment.
  • Remote working is easier. Because you have to log in over the internet to use cloud computing services, they’re inherently well-suited to mobile working. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the office, on the road or at home. All you need is an internet connection and you can crack on.

Of course, turning to cloud computing does means entrusting your data to another company. That’s why it’s important to find a reputable cloud computing provider which will store your data safely.

In fact, I’ve found most decent cloud providers have stronger security measures than you’ll find in your own office, so a move to the cloud can actually improve your IT security.

That’s not to say cloud computing is suitable for every business or situation. However, I’ve found that most companies including small businesses that currently use IT support can see benefits from moving at least some of their IT services into the cloud.

Jonathan Edwards is MD and founder of Integral IT, a preferred IT support partner to many UK businesses. Jonathan has been working in the IT support industry since 1996 and is a Microsoft Certified Professional. He is actively involved with all aspects of client relationships and ensures Integral's IT support is of the highest quality possible.