What is Cloud Computing, and What's the Big Deal?

Posted by: Stephanie Donahue on June 30, 2014

I know what a lot of you are thinking. Hey PAITgroup, this isn't a new topic. Why are you just now blogging this? Here's why. If you're like me, you have a lot of friends, coworkers, and family that are with it when it comes to technology. You probably also have a lot of friends that have no idea about any of that stuff. Any time I'm catching up with an old friend or meeting someone new, one of the first things that comes up is where you work, or what you do. When I tell them what I do here at PAITgroup, one of the first questions I hear is "What do you mean cloud computing?" Now instead of explaining it, I can just send them here.

Cloud computing isn't really new, it's been around since the 1950s, so why is it such a hot topic right now? And what is it? In short, it's the ability to access virtual servers over the Internet to work with data, like pulling information from a cloud, instead of using your hard drive or local hardware. There is an important distinction between cloud computing and working on a local network. Though technically data stored on a local server is accessed remotely, it's not using the Internet to do so.

So what does cloud computing mean for a business? The ability to store large amounts of company data, and access it from anywhere, is a game changer in this day and age. We're no longer restricted by physical location, physical security, and space. Employees don't have to be on the same network, let alone in the same state, to collaborate and contribute. Also, the cost of equipment and maintenance is drastically reduced.

Cloud computing can also impact the way you do business with other companies. When you're dealing with so much virtual information, the focus shifts from physical products and on premises installations and into something called Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS. A primary example of this is the new Microsoft Office 365. It used to be common to purchase a software license for Microsoft Office and install it on your computer. Now with cloud computing, you purchase a subscription to Office 365 and rent that software. You can access it from any computer that has Internet access, because you're still paying for the right to use it. You can also install that software on a select number of devices, and access it for as long as your subscription is active. Cloud computing has also created markets for Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

It all sounds simple enough, put information on a remote or virtual server then access it over the Internet. We do that all the time. So what's the big deal, and why is cloud computing considered so controversial? Well you're relying on connectivity to be able to access and work with your information. That means your access can be controlled by a third party, like your friendly Internet Service Provider or media company. What happens if you lose your Internet connection temporarily? What happens if you have exceeded your bandwidth and can't download or upload anymore. Or your cost of bandwidth gets too high? What about if your connection is slow or unpredictable? All of the productivity you planned on when you moved to the cloud is now being eaten by something you can't control. When data is stored in the Internet it's harder to govern it. Who owns a picture once it's uploaded to a server, the person who took it or the person who stores it? How do you control who has access to it? There are obviously a lot of questions.

Cloud computing is definitely gaining traction. According to BusinessWire, 75% of businesses surveyed reported the use of some sort of cloud platform, and that number continues to grow. That's why it is so crucial to not only understand what cloud computing is, but what it can do. There's a good chance you'll be using it soon enough.

Topics: Business Intelligence, Cloud, cloud computing, Microsoft Office, SAAS, Office 365

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