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“The Cloud” Explained
These days, if you listen long enough or read far enough about small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), you’re bound to hear a lot of polarizing ideas about “The Cloud” and how it is revolutionizing everything—both positively and negatively. However, even while it remains a perennial topic in the media, many questions still remain in the minds of those who are less-than-technical.
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Often, confusion abounds when service providers try to explain just what the cloud is—and more importantly, why it is so important to the future of their business. There are fears about security that persist as well, creating hesitation in the market which can hinder the progress of more efficient, cost-effective IT solutions. This guide will arm you with information and tactics to help explain “The Cloud” in real terms, and help dispel the myths surrounding this computing evolution. You’ll also learn about the numerous advantages cloud computing provides and understand why it is so important for businesses.
The Basics of Cloud Computing
It may seem obvious, but it’s important: Cloud computing has nothing to do with anything in the air or atmospheric conditions. A simple definition that people can wrap their heads around when trying to understand the cloud typically works well. Simply put, “the cloud” refers to a type of computing that is not done locally on your desktop, servers, or small devices (phones, tablets, etc.). That’s it—no mystique, no complication.
To take it a step further, users may need clarification on how the cloud actually works. This is where it’s important to stress how and why the cloud offers value to an end user; a hesitant user may feel pressured to shift their business to the cloud, for instance, but may not understand exactly where the benefits and value lie.
When users access the cloud, computing resources such as processing power, information, and storage are handled offsite at third-party data centers that a user’s local machine or device connects to. These data centers are often massive in size and scale, with an infrastructure capable of offering computing resources far beyond those that can be achieved on a local machine for a comparable price.
Because the demand on local devices is decreased via cloud computing, it’s important that end users know they are able to take advantage of reduced costs while having access to a greater range of services and resources. Cloud computing essentially employs shared services to maximize the effectiveness of computing at such a large scale to deliver a more effective and efficient solution that uses less power comparably than all end users would use collectively. In the cloud, resources are shared by all cloud users so they are able to be shifted and targeted by the data center to meet the demand of users at specific times and locations. For example, business hours in Asia, Europe and North America all occur at different times around the globe - but a data center can allocate specific resources at their respective times to meet the demand of multiple users.
Many users understand this explanation of a cloud computing system, as it is more efficient than on-premise computing, and it can save money for businesses.
And that’s not even including the time and salary required to hire dedicated in-house IT technicians to manage the more unwieldy aspects of a computer network that would otherwise be fully managed by a Managed Service Provider (MSP) in a cloud system. However, the final piece of the cloud computing puzzle comes together when understanding how cloud computing has changed the industry from an on-site, physical hardware sales to a service-based platform model.
To this end, it helps to understand that the cloud is referred to by some as “on-demand computing,” because the end user only uses the computing resources they need for the time they need it, and only pays for what they use. This varies significantly from the more traditional model of computing, where an organization would buy all the dedicated hardware they ever would need to perform any and all functions they will ever need, and pay to support, repair, replace, and augment these systems consistently and endlessly. This is a real value for the end user, and it is a compelling argument; to be able to pay for only what you use without the worry of buying and managing complex physical computer system sounds like a very good deal.
Finally, it’s important for the end user to understand how and why cloud computing is specifically important to managed IT services, because this is a major differentiator from the common break/fix IT provider. On-demand computing IT businesses, most notably Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS all deliver fundamental cloud computing capabilities to customers for a fee. This shift to service-based computing is growing fast due to high computing power and performance, low cost of delivery, and the ability to rapidly scale to meet demand. Cloud vendors are growing, but it also appears that their clients are growing as well. A recent report shows that companies that take advantage of cloud and similar IT technologies have a much higher growth rate than their competitors. This is a huge factor when understanding the cloud, because the results are not just technological—moving to the cloud literally enables a business to perform better and more profitably, according to this study, and they can expect to see tangible profit and growth from their decision.
Laying Out the Origins of Cloud Computing
As we all know, the idea of cloud computing isn’t exactly new, but for a non-technical audience it can be difficult to connect the term to any tangible experience that they have with computers. So, it’s important for SMBs to understand that it didn’t arrive out of thin air in the 21st century. Its origins go back to the days of mainframes and terminals—mainstays in enterprise computing for decades prior to the small personal computer/laptop. In some ways, the cloud is essentially a return to a style of computing that is now reinvigorated with new ideas, new functionality, and more power than ever before. Here’s a brief history lesson: The origins of the cloud can be traced back to the 1970s with the advent of mainframe/remote workstation systems, popularized by IBM as virtual machines and the VM Operating System. The core idea is consistent with cloud services today—a highly powered, centralized processing system would share resources and time as needed with workstations or terminals. Additionally, note that the image of a cloud and the usage of the word cloud goes back to the 1970s to denote networks on early telephony schematics, even used in Internet precursors ARPANET and CSNET. Advancements over the 1980s gave rise to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the 1990s—dedicated point-to-point data circuits that allowed telecommunications companies to switch and move traffic as needed to use overall bandwidth more effectively. Development continued throughout the decade and into the 2000s, culminating in the first modern private and hybrid cloud computing systems in early 2008.
The Cloud Today—as a Utility?
A variety of cloud computing options exist for businesses and consumers today, with more and more organizations offering cloud services and more end users adopting cloud-based architecture to meet their needs. “Moving to the cloud” is a priority for businesses today in order to maximize their IT needs and reduce costs. This migration is dramatically changing the relationship between IT providers and their clients, shifting from a hardware-based, break/fix model of delivering IT management to a service-based deployment of cloud-based software and services built on infrastructure not owned or maintained by the client. Modern cloud computing, in its structure and delivery of service, is quite like common utilities such as electricity; one may not know where and how their cloud services are actually located or even how they work, but they are delivered consistently to the end user every day. They are generated at a massive central location, and service is delivered as needed to customers, who only pay for what they use. In this respect, moving to “the grid” in the early 20th century is much like “moving to the cloud” today. Instead of being responsible for generating one’s own electricity, for example, the grid system revolutionized the world with its simple, cost-effective, and reliable delivery of service that just cannot be outdone by independent efforts offline.
The same is true for the cloud; the total cost of ownership for comparable on-site services, as well as the maintenance and upkeep of hardware and infrastructure, makes locally deployed options unviable. Additionally, the energy expenditure and processing power needed would be prohibitive at best for most small- to medium-sized businesses. Cloud computing represents an opportunity for SMBs to take advantage of greater services at a low, predictable price.
This idea of cloud services as a utility can transform the way an MSP discusses their business, as well as how managed IT services are viewed. Instead of feeling as if they are paying a flat fee for what was once an ad-hoc expense, managed IT services delivered through a cloud-based (SaaS) platform are closer to that of their needs for running water and safe, reliable electricity; it’s just a necessary part of running a business in today’s day and age, and it is consolidated, delivered and priced as such. This powerful idea represents perhaps the most important point surrounding how cloud computing is evolving the way we use computers today.
Answering Questions about Cloud Security
The most common reasons listed as a barrier to entry to cloud adoption are security concerns. There are many misconceptions that come with cloud computing that seem to revolve around the transmission and/or storage of data from one site to another, and the receipt of information and processing delivered to a local machine from unknown sources. Because the general public is not usually privy to the security policies, best practices and risk mitigating efforts of SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS companies, they tend to be unaware of the extent that cloud platforms are secure (or whether any real actual threat may be posed to their infrastructure and information). It can feel natural for SMBs to feel less safe—much of how the cloud is deployed, implemented and managed is out of the hands and management of the business. Additionally, when it is considered that data can be stored on servers that are shared with competitors’ data, public cloud options appear less secure than a local option. And then there are the increasing amounts of media reports on data breaches that seem to crop up daily. Taken together, it would appear that cloud is empirically unsafe compared to a local option. However, this is not necessarily so. Cloud companies are investing heavily into security, with data encryption and rigorous processes to ensure hackers are kept out, and information cannot be accessed by unauthorized users. It’s important to also understand that a majority of breaches are internal employees, having no direct correlation to whether that data was stored locally or in the cloud.
Additionally, the differences and various characteristics of public clouds and private clouds are important to decipher. One of the most contested debates in cloud security revolves around “public clouds” versus “private clouds,” and whether there is a less- or more-secure option. The major differences an end user is interested in are that with a public cloud, services are shared across multiple servers at the data center, and to optimize space and optimize processing power, data is stored on the same servers as other end users and businesses. Private clouds dedicate independent server space and other resources to specific clients, ensuring there is a physical and digital gap between one organization’s information and the next. This is particularly helpful for organizations seeking HIPAA and PCI compliance, but does not indicate a more secure system. In fact, because of the extent and impact that a public cloud breach would have on not one but many end users, many public cloud providers pay even greater attention to public cloud security, making public an even more secure environment than any local system could be.
As more and more organizations deploy cloud-based IT services this year and beyond, it is clear that the way users engage with their computing needs is evolving at a rapid pace. For the hesitant SMB or average end user, it can no longer be avoided; cloud computing is here to stay and with it comes a host of safeguards to ensure high levels of data privacy and security. However, a point that must be stressed is that the final portion of cloud security remains with the end user, and the extent to which they manage their passwords, their devices, and access into the cloud networks that are so carefully guarded. And, after cutting through the misconceptions and misunderstandings of cloud computing, it becomes apparent that despite the myths, the cloud has major benefits in terms of efficiency, cost effectiveness, and now security, making it a more stable, viable and secure environment for organizations to conduct business every day.
Understanding this technology is vital because, although users pay for it, they may not entirely grab what it is they are paying for, and that leads to not understanding the exceptional value they have with a fully managed MSP model. Thorough understanding about the ins, outs, and benefits of cloud technology, not only bolsters businesses and brands but also transforms IT provider into technology advisors that businesses can trust to deliver honest information and advice.
DCG Technical Solutions Wants to Help You Embrace the Cloud!
We’re committed to maintaining the strictest security standards in everything we do, which is why our infrastructure, which is in the DCG PrivateCLOUD and is located in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, NV, is managed 100% by DCG. Our centers that host our backup product, Dependable SafeSTOR, are SAS 70/SSAE 16-certified, which assures adequate oversight over the information-processing controls. This enables Dependable SafeSTOR to be a foundation for end-users to build policies and practices for data processing and storage that are SAS 70/SSAE 16 compliant. Clients that use Dependable SafeSTOR receive the regulation and security of a public cloud with an added layer of protection of a private cloud within.
In addition, business-grade encryption—a process where your clients’ data is encrypted as soon as you start backing up—is a must-have security feature in any backup solution. Dependable SafeSTOR takes this one step further by restricting access to this data with an encryption key maintained only by the Managed Services Provider (MSP). Data is encrypted both at rest and in motion through all stages of data storage and transfer. It’s also important to know that the technology powering Dependable SafeSTOR wasn’t retrofitted to support the cloud—it was built in the cloud, for the cloud. Dependable SafeSTOR features single-pane-of-glass management, allowing you to easily manage all of your clients’ backups from a central location. From there, you have remote access to appliances, protected machines, and the cloud. Additionally, Dependable SafeSTOR’s Continuous Data Protection (CDP) technology minimizes the amount of storage used on the appliance and in the cloud. To put DCG Technical Solutions’ cloud-based BDR platform to work for you—as well as a 650+ certified NOC team to provide fully-managed services like backups and disaster-recovery tasks—request a free trial today. It’s time to embrace the cloud! We’re here to help every step of the way. Request a trial for Dependable SafeSTOR™ today and let’s get started.
About Brent Whitfield
Brent Whitfield is CEO of DCG Technical Solutions, Inc., which provides IT Support in the Los Angeles area since 1993. DCG exists to help our clients choose, implement, and manage IT and cloud solutions that are cost effective and reliable. DCG's pro-active approach to IT is ideally suited for companies who depend on reliable IT infrastructure, but don't want to spend a lot of money to keep it that way. DCG was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP Mentor. Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters, and Yahoo Business.