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Five Questions About the Cloud

by Stacey Papp

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is often discussed in technical terms but these conversations can often create more questions than answers. You don't need to get involved in technical debates, what you need is a business solution that solves your problems. Bringing the hype around the cloud down to Earth can help you identify the value-creation opportunities it offers.

Cloud Computing in Action

Picture a service organization that depends on paper records for vital operations. Over time, files get printed, copied and stored throughout the office, often reaching a point where everyday operations slow to a crawl.

When employees need to track down a specific work order, for example, they walk across the office, open a file cabinet and pore through a bunch of records. More copies of that work order may be made to get that information out to the right people, leaving you with more paperwork. If this same office was using a cloud software service, workers could type in a Web address and go to the website that houses your information behind a login. It’s similar to using Gmail, Facebook, Youtube, etc.

When employees need information, all they have to do is go to the Web address and access the solution. If they're editing a schedule, they don't need to track down the computer with the original file on it, make the change, print the document and post it somewhere. All they have to do is login to the Web application and make the change to a schedule that everybody with authorization can see. Cloud solutions are generally delivered through applications. There are two prominent varieties of cloud apps:

Web apps: Applications that you access by going to a website and logging into the service. It's just like going to netflix.com to binge watch your favorite show on your laptop.

Mobile apps: Applications that you download for your smartphone from locations like iTunes or the Google Play store. This is equivalent to opening the Netflix app on your phone.

Regardless of how you access Netflix, you get the same core functions. The same usually goes for accessing cloud apps through the Web or a mobile device.

The cloud is simple in action - but a deeper understanding of how it works will help you use it to maximize value potential. Here are five essential cloud questions that will help you understand its potential for your business:

1. What is cloud computing?
"Cloud computing" refers to a technology service model in which resources are delivered to customers through the Internet. The cloud provider creates a solution and houses the system within its data center. This includes all of the data that you create and tools you subscribe to. In practice, this means that:

  • Instead of purchasing servers or installing software onto computers, you utilize a service and you don't have to worry about managing background infrastructure.
  • Applications are available on any connected device - PCs, smartphones and tablets, for example.
  • You have access to state-of-the-art apps as vendors make regular updates based on industry demands.
  • Small capital investments ensure you are never locked into a specific solution. As such, you are free to always use the best application available instead of having to get by with a poor option because you already put so many resources into it.

2. Where does data go and is it safe when it's in the cloud?
Cloud data is stored in the service provider's data center and it travels through the Internet to get there. In some cases, cloud vendors have control over data, but many cloud services are designed so that your data can be brought out of your system and stored locally if you need to do so. This leads to two key issues when it comes to cloud security: User authentication and data protection.

If login information for any of your users is compromised, the person who takes that knowledge can use it to cause problems. Good passwords and policies around sharing login data can go a long way in protecting your cloud-based information.

Data protection is primarily up to the vendor – having good security protocols in place is a must.  The key question here is straightforward: Do you trust your ability to protect company data more than you trust a vendor with a business model built around providing technology services?

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3. What does the cloud look like?
Using the cloud in your service fleet is the same as using Facebook, Office365, Netflix and similar solutions at home, except that a good cloud solution is designed specifically for commercial requirements. Working with the cloud is not as intimidating as it may seem at first glance as the technology's complexity is on the backend - which you don't have to worry about.

4. How does cloud pricing work?
Most pricing models operate similarly to a magazine or newspaper subscription. There are usually small entry costs that cover getting the plan set up. From there, you are simply paying a subscription fee based on the resources you need.

If you need to change your subscription, no problem. You can add new services or drop ones that are not relevant to your business. The specifics of how to do this may depend on your service level agreement, but most cloud vendors will offer you flexibility.

It is possible to end up spending more on the cloud over years of use than you would for an a single technology investment, but cloud apps are constantly changing to meet industry needs, providing consistent, ongoing value. As such, you may gain a much greater return on investment than you would if you were to purchase new software suites every few years.

5. Where's the catch?
You've probably heard enough cloud hype to think it may all be too good to be true. The last thing you need to know when considering the cloud is the catch - a cloud solution is only as good as its service provider.

Cloud technology itself is only revolutionary in that it makes apps and services accessible through the Internet. From there, the quality of apps, security of the solution and availability of your data is dictated by the vendor.

The real secret beneath all of the hype surrounding the cloud is that success depends on finding a vendor that will care about meeting your business' needs. With a trustworthy vendor handling the background systems, you can spend your time focused on business innovation. Choosing the right cloud service provider paves the way to value creation. 

Check out our Resource Center for more content about selecting the right vendor and building strong relationships.

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