So much confusion over a single word. Here’s a layman’s explanation that I hope will help non-technical types.
What is the cloud? It’s a difficult question to answer with a single sentence. This is my best shot:
The cloud is a collection of data centres and networks that delivers internet-based programs and services.
A better answer, which shows why the cloud is so important, requires a little more story.
Do you remember a time before mobile phones? Some of you may not remember there even was such a time. You had to physically enter your office to call someone. If they called you back while you were out, you had to go back to your office to pick up the message.
It seems bizarre in hindsight, when today we make and take calls from any place with reception.
Despite this freedom from fixed-line phones we still had to go to work. The problem was that a company’s programs, and the information they contained, often could only be accessed from inside the four walls of the office itself. Remote access technologies had made it possible to login from elsewhere but it was never easy enough to see widespread adoption.
Now things are different. The cloud is the replacement of server-based programs with internet-based programs and services that can be used wherever you have internet access.
Just as your mobile phone lets you make calls outside your office, the cloud lets you use your business programs from anywhere.
If you have enough reception to make a call on your mobile, you can also log into your office files and programs. And you can often do it from your mobile phone as well, or a tablet.
Working from anywhere conjures up images of tapping away from a deck chair by a pool. But the implications are more profound, are still emerging and will transform industries.
Take cloud accounting software. Business owners can look at their profit and loss reports at the same time as their accountant without either leaving their offices.
Accounting firms now sell “virtual CFO” services where they monitor monthly or quarterly the financial health of a business and discuss strategies with the owner. It’s a lot easier to do this by logging into your cloud accounting program through your browser rather than shuffling a data file by CD in the post.
Other industries are facing their own transformations, at different paces and in different ways.
BoxFreeIT’s mission is to help businesses survive and prosper through this period of change by showing them how to take advantage of these new cloud programs and services, and to provide a forum to discuss them.
There is some debate over how much change the cloud will bring. A little company called Accenture made a cute video of kids talking about this topic, and they seem to agree it’s a big deal.
Postscript: Is the cloud just a remote server?
Often you will hear people say the cloud is just a remote server or a remote application. It’s not.
When you take a server or program from your office and put it in a data centre elsewhere, you’re really just using a longer cable to connect to your computer. Remote solutions let you outsource their management but don’t change the nature of the technology.
Cloud programs and services are built especially to take advantage of the internet and can handle thousands or millions of businesses. Why is this better?
It’s all about ratios. A remote application usually has a ratio of one to one; one application for one business. If you have 100 businesses you need to maintain, protect and upgrade 100 applications.
A cloud program such as Google Apps has a ratio of 4 million to one. Google can invest all its money in maintaining, protecting and upgrading a single application for 4 million businesses. They are all on the same version and it is upgraded invisibly.
Cloud programs have several benefits. For example, they are designed to talk to other cloud programs very easily, often for free. Remote applications struggle to do this and are much more expensive to integrate.
You can usually trial a cloud program for free for 30 days, add or remove users easily and use it on mobile devices. This is difficult or impossible with remote applications.
Some companies prefer greater control and are more suited to a remote application. But the vast majority will be better off using cloud programs.
Every software company in the world is racing to develop cloud versions of their software if they haven’t already. Microsoft, probably the biggest retailer of hosted or remote applications, has committed to replacing those programs with cloud alternatives.
Why? Technology is easier to deliver, easier to share and easier to consume using the cloud.