The cloud has become one of the most ubiquitous new developments in IT in recent years. All manner of cloud services have sprung up, and cloud computing is powering some of the most widely used online applications – think of iTunes, Dropbox, Kindle and Google Docs. These are all cloud services.
While most visible cloud services are consumer-oriented – and this is ostensibly where most of the cloud uptake has occurred – cloud computing offers powerful, wide-ranging applications for businesses across the entire gamut of IT.
Cloud computing does require a significant change in mindset – from the idea of IT being owned to a model where it is leased. But perhaps the biggest shift in thinking that you need to adopt when approaching cloud computing is to see it not as a technology or a set of solutions, but as a business model. Cloud computing is an approach that makes it possible to perfectly align IT with business strategy and needs – in ways that offer unprecedented business flexibility and agility.
Cloud storage is the storing of data in data repositories “in the cloud”, rather than in a business’s in-house network. Typically the data is housed in a third-party data centre, in virtualised storage pools that can be configured according to your business’s needs. These primary data repositories are usually fully redundant: they’re backed up to a different location, to protect against data loss and ensure efficient disaster recovery.
Your business leases a certain amount of data storage capacity from the cloud provider. You get fully managed storage capacity without having to worry about managing your own data storage centre, with all the consequent IT resource requirements, both physical and in terms of IT staff.
You access your data by means of an Internet connection. Most cloud storage providers will supply a data access interface as part of the service, which allows your users to store, view, access and manage the data.
A good cloud storage service therefore gives you a way of securely storing all your business data at a fraction of the cost of building your own data centre, along with full data management services, high levels of data security and redundancy, and complete ease of access.
Here are some benefits of cloud storage:
You don’t need to provision your own data storage capacity
By using cloud storage you won’t need to build your own data storage facilities, with all the associated hardware, software, security and management costs. Your data storage becomes an operational expense, rather than a capital expense – and you don’t need any upfront investment.
You only pay for the storage you actually use
Because you are leasing your storage capacity and only paying for the storage that you actually use, your data storage costs are much more tightly linked to your actual business needs. You won’t be paying for storage capacity that you’re not actually using.
You can increase or reduce your storage as needed
Data storage needs can fluctuate. Your business may have a typical baseline amount of data that it needs to store in any given period, but as day-to-day business needs change, so too can your data storage requirements. For example, you may need temporary additional storage capacity for a marketing campaign. Cloud storage allows you to “burst” or shrink your data storage capacity as you need to – quickly and easily.
You don’t need your own data management resources
Cloud storage removes the burden of having to hire and provision your own IT staff to manage data storage. Managing data, with all the attendant security, availability and capacity optimisation requirements can be expensive and time-consuming. With the cloud storage model, your cloud services supplier will provide all of these resources.
Your business data is securely backed up
With data having become so critical to business operations and continuity, one of the biggest fears of any business is data loss. When you use a cloud storage service your data is securely backed up at a secondary location. If anything happens to your primary data repository, all your data can be quickly restored from this backup site.
Your users have access to business data from anywhere
Because the cloud is Internet-based, all your business users need to access the data in your cloud storage is an Internet connection. They no longer have to access their desktops in your premises, or your in-house network (which would also require that you have a VPN capability). And they also don’t need to keep all the information they require to work on their own computers. This effectively means that they can work from anywhere – from customer sites, on business trips or at home – as long as there is Internet connectivity. The result is increased productivity.
Mobile device access and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Data stored in a cloud storage facility can be accessed using mobile devices. Most enterprise-grade cloud storage services provide mobile applications to facilitate this. This mobile functionality is becoming increasingly important in a modern business environment where smartphone and tablet usage is rising exponentially – and where the majority of employees are using their own devices for work purposes (the BYOD scenario). Having mobile data access capabilities can thus greatly increase productivity and business efficiency.
The ability to access a cloud data repository means that all users can access the same file versions no matter what devices they use. There is no longer a need to synchronise the files from desktop to laptop, from laptop to tablet. Every device has access to the same file view, because the data is stored away from the devices. Not only does this save device storage space (allowing for the use of thin clients), it does away with problems that can arise from incorrect file versioning from one device to another. All users always have access to the latest versions of each file that they are working on.
Richard Vester has been in the ICT industry since 1997. Richard has been intimately involved in the service provider and communications industry in sales, product development, operations and product marketing roles. Richard has a deep understanding of the underlying market and the infrastructure, support and products required to deliver best of breed Converged Solutions to businesses across Africa. He has worked for some of the leading ICT companies in South Africa
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