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Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing

We’re in the age of big data. With the exponential increase in data use, it’s becoming ever harder for companies to keep vital information, programs, and operating systems up and running on conventional in-house computer servers. In a bid to cut costs, ensure better security and become more agile, cloud computing has taken the world by storm.

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The recent COVID crisis boosted cloud adoption further and forced real-time digital transformation upon the majority of enterprises. According to research by The Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), 69% of companies have recently hastened their migration to the cloud – with 91% of decision-makers describing this strategy as having played a critical role in their continuity. 

What is cloud computing?

Most of us are using cloud computing every day, even if we don’t realise it. We use online services or cloud applications to make calls, send emails, watch films, share, store and edit documents, play games and even watch TV.  Cloud software enables users to access all the features and files they need without having to keep the bulk of them on their own computers. 

Users send their personal data to cloud-hosted servers so they can store their information to access later. These apps are for personal use, however, cloud-based apps are even more useful to businesses as they allow them to access large amounts of data over secure online network connections. 

Cloud computing describes services that are hosted over the internet. These services can be divided into three main categories:

  1. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
  2. Platform as a service (PaaS)
  3. Software as a service (SaaS)

There’ll be more on those later. 

Cloud computing has been around as a term since the 1960s. The cloud metaphor was borrowed from telecoms network schematics, where the public telephone network was represented by a picture of a cloud. This was to illustrate the series of connections making up the network as electronic ‘stuff’ that can’t be seen. 

Clouds can be private, public, or a hybrid of both. A public cloud sells services to anyone on the internet, whilst a private cloud is a proprietary data centre – or data centre, depending on where it is in the world – that supplies hosted services to specific people – setting access and permissions for them. 

Whichever type of cloud computing is used, its aim is to provide simple yet scalable access to computing resources, IT and telephony services.

How does cloud computing work?

When it comes to understanding cloud computing it can be useful to examine it in terms of two interfaces. Those are the front-end and backend of the computing system. The front-end of the system lets users access cloud-stored data via internet web browsers or cloud computing apps. 

The main component of cloud computing, however, is related to the backend. This is the aspect of the system that’s responsible for the functionality that allows the storage of data and information. 

The backend is made up of servers – including central servers, databases, and computers. 

 

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The central server uses ‘middleware’, a type of software that ensures seamless connections between the devices linked by cloud computing. Cloud providers generally keep multiple copies of data to mitigate the risk of security breaches and data loss. 

Rather than buying and running their own IT infrastructure or data centres, companies can hire out access to resources – including applications and storage – from cloud service providers. 

This means they can avoid the upfront costs and complexities of having to buy and manage operations in-house. They can simply pay for what they need as required from the cloud computing provider. 

What is cloud computing vs. traditional web hosting?

While cloud computing and web hosting can look similar (since they have similar setups and deliver similar results) there are critical differences between them. 

Web hosting is the process of offering remote location and maintenance for files, and server space to support web projects. There are two types of hosting: virtual or dedicated. In the first instance, a company pays for a certain amount of space on a server. The second option assumes that the site owner pays for full control over one or more servers. 

Cloud computing is more scalable than traditional web hosting. Cloud storage represents storage located in virtual space. Instead of paying for fixed space on a virtual or physical server, users pay for resources used. When an application or website experiences higher or lower levels of traffic, the cloud servers can quickly scale up or down automatically. Cloud hosting removes the need to manually add or remove server space. 

What are cloud computing features and benefits?

Flexibility

Over time, companies may want to scale. With traditional hosting, users have to change their plan or service provider to do so. Cloud hosting offers extra flexibility. Scaling doesn’t require a server restart and can be done at any time, in real-time. Flexible payment options mean companies don’t have to overpay for unnecessary space. 

Users can also connect extra resources, such as RAM or network bandwidth, in just a few clicks. For example, if you’re about to launch an advertising campaign you will hopefully receive a good response and more site visitors than usual. In the cloud, you can respond immediately to this extra load and avoid crashes or downtime. 

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As it can be difficult to predict rapid traffic growth, traditional hosting companies are unprepared and unable to scale up in time. When spikes occur, they can then lose users due to server failure. 

Web pages that are slow to load are estimated to cost companies dearly. 40% of users say they abandon websites if pages take longer than three seconds to load. This is far less likely to happen with a cloud-hosted solution in place.

Work from anywhere

One of the other principal benefits of cloud computing is its compatibility with remote working. Cloud computing enables mobile access to corporate data via smartphones and other devices, ensuring everyone is kept in the loop. Staff working remotely or living in different geographic locations can keep instantly up to date with clients, customers and co-workers. 

For example, contact centre agents can access customer information using cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software on smartphones or tablets. – whether they’re working from home or travelling. They can quickly share that information with other employees anywhere in the world. 

Some 20% of companies worry about the cost of transitioning to the cloud. What they should be focusing on, though, is improved ROI than investing in cloud IT infrastructure will bring in the long-term. Transitioning to the cloud, in any case, saves companies at the setup stage since there’s no need to invest in expensive hardware like servers and data storage devices. 

Once in the cloud, accessing data is cheaper because there’s no need to pay for features that are unwanted. Most cloud computing IT services, after all, are ‘pay as you go’. That means that you can access storage space to the exact extent that it’s required and won’t be charged for it. 

Automatic updates

SaaS cloud providers usually take care of regular software and security updates on behalf of their users. This means users don’t have to put any routine software maintenance issues on the calendar. Thus enabling them to focus on running core aspects of their business. 

Disaster recovery

A big factor contributing to the success of any company is control and business continuity. No matter how in control a company is over its own processes, some things remain out of its remit. Even a small amount of downtime can have a huge negative impact on productivity, revenue, and brand reputation.

While it can’t prevent all outages, the cloud can help you mitigate disaster by speeding up recovery from these events. Cloud-based services can help businesses recover from all types of emergency scenarios – from natural ‘act of God’ disasters to power outages. 

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Security

Web hosting has a high-reliability factor, but cloud security has surpassed its capacity in many ways. In the cloud, as well as protecting against malicious attacks and keeping data secure, web application firewalls and advanced monitoring systems assist in ring-fencing data.

While some companies worry about keeping their data and communications secure when it’s not kept on site, the cloud is capable of carefully monitoring security – far more so than a conventional in-house system. RapidScale claims that 94% of businesses saw an improvement in security after moving to the cloud. 

As well as the firewalls and monitoring systems, the reason data is so secure in the cloud is because it’s encrypted when transmitted over networks and stored in databases. Encrypting data makes it less accessible to hackers or to people without the right levels of authorisation. As well as this, most cloud-based services offer extra layers of security which can be set by the user. 

The cloud also helps companies to meet government compliance requirements. 

What are cloud computing deployment models?

There are three main cloud computing types: private, public, and hybrid. Each has aspects that are more or less suitable for different companies.

Private cloud computing

In a private cloud scenario, users receive data delivered from a company’s own data centre. Private clouds help companies build and maintain their own underlying cloud infrastructure. 

It’s a cloud model that offers convenience, versatility and allows companies to stay agile. At the same time, the private cloud option enables companies to retain control over the management, control and security normally associated with local data centres. 

Internal users may be billed for services via IT chargeback. Some common private cloud technology vendors include VMware and OpenStack.

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Public cloud computing

A public cloud model involves a third-party cloud service provider delivering cloud services over the internet. Public cloud services are provided on-demand, usually by the hour or minute. However, it’s also possible to set up longer-term commitments for some services. 

Customers pay only for the CPU (central processing unit) cycles, storage, or bandwidth consumed. Some well-known cloud service providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the cloud computing Google Platform. 

Hybrid cloud computing

Hybrid cloud models combine public cloud services with on-premises private cloud solutions. That’s with both cloud systems automated and synchronised in an all-in-one solution. Businesses can run mission-critical workloads or handle sensitive applications on a private cloud then use the public cloud to take care of spikes in workload demand. 

The aim of a hybrid cloud is to create a unified, automated and scalable environment, taking the best a public cloud model can offer while keeping control over mission-critical information.

What are the types of cloud computing?

There are three main types of cloud computing service models, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. These are as follows:

IaaS

Infrastructure as a service(IaaS) providers supplies users with virtual server instances, as well as storage. Cloud providers utilise APIs that allow users to migrate their workloads to a virtual machine(VM). Users are allocated a certain amount of storage space and they can start and stop the VM as well as configure it as desired. That’s alongside the ability to decrease or increase their storage capacity. 

     Pros of IaaS

  • With IaaS, users don’t have to buy their own hardware. They can deploy their own platforms and applications within the provider’s virtual machines – machines that offer the same kinds of capabilities as those of physical data centres. 
  • It’s a flexible and dynamic model that’s easy to deploy.
  • It’s cost-effective since it’s provided on a ‘pay as you go’ basis.

     Cons of IaaS

  • Because it uses multi-tenant architecture, IaaS could be more exposed to security threats. 
  • If a vendor suffers outages, these are passed onto users.

PaaS

Platform as a service (PaaS) is a model whereby cloud providers host all development tools on their infrastructures. Users can access the tools via APIs, gateway software, or through portals. PaaS can be used for initial software development or DevOps, after which the PaaS provider can go on to host the software on behalf of users. Common PaaS providers include the Google cloud platform and AWS Elastic Beanstalk.

       Pros of PaaS

  • PaaS offers a speedy way to develop software 
  • It’s a cost-effective way to create and test apps using data analytics. 
  • It allows for easy migration to the hybrid cloud. 

      Cons of PaaS

  • The multi-tenant version opens up an extra threat to security issues. 
  • The user experience depends on the vendor’s speed, reliability and support.

SaaS

Software as a service (SaaS) is a highly popular on-demand cloud-native model that’s seen huge uptake over the last few years. 

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SaaS delivers software applications over the internet. These services are commonly known as web services, and users can access them from any location and on any device with an internet connection. In the SaaS cloud model, users can access the application software and the databases. Common examples of SaaS applications include DropBox, Microsoft Azure and Salesforce.

      Pros of SaaS

  • With SaaS, there are no hardware components or setup costs involved for end-users. 
  • Users can access web applications and cloud resources on any device and upgrades are automatically applied. 
  • SaaS cloud is scalable and easily customisable.

     Cons of SaaS

  • Users have very little control and there are a limited number of utility computing solutions available. 

How to move to cloud computing

It’s actually simple to get set up in the cloud, especially if you opt for SaaS where you can sign up for a service, see how it works and understand how it benefits your company. 

To ensure your migration is successful, think about your current data centre environment and software components. Even if you’re a small business you will probably have lots of apps, some developed internally or others as packaged software. When you’re peeling off applications and moving them to a cloud environment, think about how this will impact your overall business.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Are there common business services used by multiple apps?
  • Are these common business services self-contained?
  • Does each app have its own architecture?

Instead of moving all apps directly to the cloud, it might be a better idea to simplify your internal computing environment first. Consider compliance and privacy issues, as well as security and the data management specific to your business before making a decision. You can then make an informed decision on the best cloud model and type for you.  

Cloud computing security

With large-scale breaches becoming commonplace, it’s essential to find the most secure cloud storage for your data. A provider that offers zero-knowledge encryption as standard is a must. This means the vendor does not store a copy of your encryption key. Without the key, a provider cannot access your files. Even if the servers are accessed illegally, your information will still be inaccessible to anyone but you. 

If you’re only worried about protecting especially sensitive files, you can find a provider that allows you to isolate those requiring higher security, making other files more accessible. 

Two-factor authentication is a feature you should consider too. This is usually in the form of a code that’s generated on a specific device, such as a smartphone. Unless hackers have access to your phone and the password, they can’t get into your data – adding an extra layer of security. 

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What are some examples of cloud computing?

Cloud computing underpins an endless array of services. These range from consumer services like Gmail to the cloud photo back-up features on smartphones. Other examples of cloud computing include Netflix, which relies on the computing power of the cloud to run its video streaming service. 

Many software vendors also offer their apps as services over the internet. These are often available on a subscription basis and are as diverse as IBM, Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype, Microsoft Office 365, Google docs and more.

What is the future of cloud computing?

Today, in this world of digital transformation and the IoT, everything can be connected digitally to cloud computing. The cloud has changed everything when it comes to jobs, services, apps and platforms. In combination with other tech developments like AI and machine learning, the rise of the cloud has been a true revolution.  

It’s predicted that companies will continue to deploy combinations of cloud-based software products and on-premises solutions. This deployment will enable more and more companies to create hybrid IT architectures, allowing them to compute and store data precisely as they need. 

Is it time to learn about RingCentral cloud computing solutions?

If you’re after a cloud-based telephony system, RingCentral could be the ideal choice. It offers you a comprehensive communications solution that can bring together global teams and customers. The straightforward pricing plans mean it can also deliver the ideal solution for startups and small businesses.  

RingCentral’s Global Office offers a full cloud PBX service in over 40 countries. By accessing plug-in devices you can start making calls right away, without having to invest in expensive hardware and equipment. Everything’s provided in one flexible online package. 

RingCentral’s unified communications solution delivers everything from intelligent IVR and auto attendants to basic features including call forwarding and call screening. With RingCentral, small companies can access enterprise-level solutions with pay as you go options that reduce costs and offer the option to scale up or down whenever needed. 

Whichever cloud solution you choose, it’s a technology that brings a host of benefits to the majority of companies. It enables businesses to forget about managing infrastructure and focus their energy on core business operations. While there are a few limitations with cloud computing, migrating to the cloud whether fully or partially, undoubtedly brings with it a host of advantages. 

Author

    Sam O’Brien is the Director of Digital and Growth for EMEA at RingCentral, a Global VoIP, video conferencing and call centre software provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as G2 and Hubspot. Here is his LinkedIn.

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