Everyone has heard of cloud computing by now, but just what does this shift in IT and hosting approaches hold for the future of the business world? Understanding the pain points of traditional in-house systems and dedicated hosting can help us see exactly what small- to medium-sized businesses stand to gain by joining the cloud.
Cloud computing represents a completely new way to think about what an IT department is for and if you even need one. More importantly, it represents a chance to get a return on investment for IT hardware and services in a better way than traditional systems. Let us look at some of the current options that exist and how the cloud compares to them.
Problems with Traditional Infrastructure
In the early days of business computing, even the smallest business had to purchase hardware, set up servers, create networks, and maintain them to take advantage of the many advantages served up by the internet. Even companies that were not technology-based found themselves with a costly IT staff and mountains of expensive hardware that needed constant maintenance.
Unlike other needs, which could be outsourced, the infrastructure needed to take advantage of all the internet offers was not something you could have piped in from an outside source. This is where dedicated hosting offered an early glimpse into what this change in direction for IT infrastructure had to offer.
Dedicating Hosting: The First Step Toward Cloud Evolution
Dedicated hosting involves allowing a third party to maintain a company's servers and other equipment at an off-site location. Servers are accessed remotely and configured by the staff for web hosting, databases, e-commerce applications, and any other required functionality.
Companies usually end up saving a lot of money on the related expenses of maintain a data centre, such as HVAC costs, security systems and generators. Additionally, most dedicated hosting companies offer disaster recovery plans and redundancy to protect their customers. Since disaster recovery systems can cost a lot, this signifies major savings for most companies.
However, not everything works perfectly with dedicated hosting. Server machines have a set limit of how much bandwidth or usage they can handle. When a company using dedicated hosting has a sudden spike in usage, their hosting machines may not be able to quickly handle this increased bandwidth. It sometimes takes dedicated hosting companies more than a day or two to add more capacity, which may be too slow for some businesses. How does the cloud change all of this?
Cloud computing technology uses similar concepts to dedicated hosting but takes things a step further. Instead of having dedicated servers used only by your company. Cloud providers have massive pools of servers, which work in harmony to serve up needed functionality to clients via the internet.
The internet has developed quickly from simply serving up static web pages to providing fully functional applications without any local installation. The amazing power is fully unlocked with the cloud, where not only infrastructure, but also even the applications are utilized the same was as other utilities and services your company needs.
Software as a Service
Most small businesses have rather basic computing needs. They need email access, accounting software, word processing systems, web access, and collaborative presentation tools. Instead of paying for individual installations of each software package required, the cloud serves up the applications you need via the internet.
With just a few simple tools, any computer can start accessing these functionality tools immediately without installing anything more than a web browser. The true beauty comes in the fact that the use of these applications, and the documents created within them, is no longer limited to a single computer. Executives and salesmen on the go can access their documents from a mobile device, public internet station, or home laptop. This freedom makes everything run smoother, especially with large, international companies.
Infrastructure as a Service
Cloud computing is not simply limited to replacing traditional local instances of applications. It also works perfectly for hosting web services and e-commerce sites online. Paying for bandwidth is an expense that many growing businesses are shocked to discover. A huge increase in popularity can also lead to a huge bandwidth usage bill. This is where the scalability of the cloud becomes very important.
Since every computer in the cloud has your applications loaded and has the ability to provide them, if your website experiences a sudden increase in traffic or bandwidth usage, the cloud simply creates another instance of the service needed and keeps things going smoothly.
With cloud computing, you pay for what you use. It is much easier to establish the expenses connected to a single transaction or visitor when you do not have to worry about overreaching your bandwidth quota. Unavailability caused by a site not being able to handle increased traffic is even worse than a big bill. Do not miss out on new customers because your out-dated infrastructure does not have space for them!
The concepts of dedicated hosting and the cloud also work together quite well. Some companies offer a combination of dedicated hosting and cloud services for businesses with unpredictable usage patterns. If your site maintains a steady amount of regular visitors but occasional spikes in popularity, these hybrid sites could be the key to maintaining reasonable expenses.
Hybrids are essentially dedicated servers setup to handle the normal, expected traffic flow. However, when needed the dedicated server is able to access resources in the cloud to handle spikes in bandwidth usage. Hybrids offer an excellent middle-ground option for companies who have a hard time estimating their usage.
Is the Cloud Secure?
The idea of putting all your data, documents, and security in the hands of a third party rightly concerns many who are considering switching to cloud technology. The truth of the matter is that most cloud hosting sites are more secure than any local business could hope to be. Cloud computing companies have experts on hand to insure the most up-to-date security patches and methodologies are applied to all your systems.
The very nature of cloud computing lends itself to higher security standards. For instance, if an operating system or program vulnerability is discovered, cloud applications can be instantly updated to correct the deficiency. In contrast, traditional local installs may be vulnerable until the end users respond by installing a patch. Increased security is just one of the many benefits of using the cloud.
Changing the Future
The business world is already changing due to cloud computing. Staying current in all aspects of business is what it takes to stay competitive. Cloud computing is set to closely align a company's costs with their actual IT usage. Don't let out-dated IT infrastructure drain away your company's time and money.
You may be surprised at just how easy it is to get your small- to medium-sized business started with cloud computing. Some companies can switch a small business over to the cloud with only minimal server configuration changes. Your existing network and computers may be all you need to step into the future of cloud computing.
At the time of writing, Jonathon Linnell is an Digital Marketing Consultant for UKFast.net Ltd, a leading provider of managed cloud and dedicated hosting solutions. He has worked in both independent web agencies as well as industry leading internet service providers, supporting a vast amount of businesses and working in many different industries has given him a great insight in to how technology is affecting online behaviour and commerce.
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