What Is Cloud Computing and When Should You Use It?
The term ‘cloud computing’ is relatively new, but in a short space of time, we’ve all adopted it. We now rely on the cloud for everything from checking emails on the fly to editing online documents and even checking our bank balance.
But what does cloud computing mean, and should you be taking advantage of it for your business? To answer these questions, you need to know what cloud computing is with some examples of how you can use it.
What is cloud computing?
Let’s start with some definitions. In simple terms, the ‘cloud’ is just a metaphor for the Internet, whereas ‘cloud computing’ lets you store and access data and programs over the Internet without keeping the data stored on your computer.
Cloud computing supports a vast range of online services. You’re probably using it already but didn’t realize it. From checking your Facebook status to enjoying a movie on Netflix, or streaming your favorite song on Spotify, you’re already tapping into the cloud.
Examples of cloud services
Cloud computing solutions have been available since the start of the Internet. They’ve only gained popularity in recent times in response to the data explosion we’ve experienced and are continuing to experience.
As we store more data online, the cloud has expanded and the umbrella term cloud computing speaks for all of the different types of cloud services, including:
- Cloud storage – file storage and backups, syncing and sharing across platforms and devices.
- Cloud backup – a service exclusively used as a backup storage space where a recent data version is safe in the event of a cyberattack or other cause of data loss.
- Software as a service (SaaS) – all too familiar these days are services accessible over the web from Google Docs to Dropbox to Salesforce.
- Cloud hosting – facilitates all types of information sharing, such as email services, application hosting, web-based phone systems, and data storage.
As you can see, cloud computing is used for many things, but how does it work?
How does cloud computing work?
Cloud computing is an infrastructure that stores data on physical or virtual servers accessible over the Internet. Rather than owning a data center, companies can rent access to space on a cloud server for anything from applications to storage.
The company hosting cloud services is responsible for the vast data centers that provide the storage capacity, processing power, and security needed to maintain the volume of information users sent and receive from the cloud.
Users can access data in the cloud through their Internet browsers or cloud computing software. Either way, users must be connected to the Internet to access cloud services rather than acquire data through downloads and software. This has upended traditional ways of accessing data in particular media.
These days, rather than a company sending you a physical DVD of the latest American Horror Story series, with video-sharing cloud services, you simply stream the data across the Internet to a player application on your viewing device. The same applies to games consoles that run ‘live’ games: there’s no physical disc, and an Internet connection is necessary to play.
When you should use cloud computing
Businesses have increasingly adopted cloud computing over the last decade, and it’s not hard to see why. This technology is a more cost-efficient, flexible, and optimal use of resources than the alternative (storing data locally and maintaining your servers and data centers).
The first cloud computing service, Salesforce, arrived in 1999. Since then, everyone, from startups to big corporations and nonprofits, has embraced the technology for various reasons. Here are a few situations where cloud computing can be helpful for small business:
Testing and development
Creating a testing and development environment entails setting up physical assets, which takes up a whole lot of manpower and time. Then come the installation and configuration of your platform. All this can often extend the time it takes for a project to be completed and stretch your milestones. These setbacks cease to exist with the cloud.
Developing applications is also more cost-efficient with cloud-based infrastructures. They can be easily scaled up or down, and you can develop and deploy web, mobile, and API in a flash.
Data safety and recovery
Cloud technology reduces the financial burden of data protection. By transferring data to an offsite cloud storage system, you no longer need to invest in your own hardware.
Leveraging big data is one of the most effective ways to gain a strategic advantage. Cloud computing removes the high costs associated with CPU heavy data challenges. Thanks to cloud analytics, it’s now possible to obtain big data’s benefits without substantial investment.
Provide audio and video streaming
Media files require a lot of bandwidth and storage space simply because they’re much larger than other content types. By adding these resources to the cloud, you don’t have to compromise on the media streamed quality or user experience. Instead, you can deliver high-quality video and audio to anyone on any device from anywhere across the world.
Software on demand, aka SaaS, helps small businesses solve daily issues and optimize their workflow. We’ll look at some of the most popular SaaS solutions for small businesses, from communication to task management, in the next section.
As you can see, there are many ways to use cloud computing to optimize how you run your business. While the list of the above uses of cloud computing is not exhaustive, it certainly gives an incentive to use the cloud compared to more traditional alternatives.
Useful cloud-based apps for business
Chances are, you’re relying on cloud computing for some aspects of your business life. Everyday actions like firing off an email on your commute to the office or editing documents in Google Docs are cloud-reliant after all. If you’re not using them already, check out these cloud-based apps that make light work of running a business:
Office 365 (paid office productivity)
Many individuals and businesses use the Microsoft Office suite of products, including the mighty Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. Suppose you’re still firing up the desktop versions. In that case, you’re missing out on supercharged cloud versions that allow your team to work collaboratively on documents and several tools for communication between staff and customers.
Google Drive (free office productivity)
Most Google Services, from Maps to Gmail and Google Calendar, can be considered cloud computing. Google Drive is a pure cloud computing service. It provides online storage to work with its suite of cloud productivity apps, including Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and the like. Like Office 365, it works on tablets, smartphones, and desktop computers, and you can work collaboratively. Unlike in Office 365, Google’s cloud apps are free.
Dropbox online storage
This service makes file storage and sharing simple and easy. In the past, it could be challenging to send large files to customers or distributors — or even to coworkers within your own office. Your file might be over the recipient’s incoming email limit, meaning they’ll never receive the presentation you’ve promised them. That all changed with Dropbox. Storing company files and sharing documents and information has never been easier. Simply upload product images, videos, and any other files, and share them with anyone you send a link to.
Instant messenger tools (e.g. Slack, Skype)
Most online communication tools rely on the cloud. The most popular way to communicate with colleagues right now is Slack. Aside from keeping your colleagues in touch, one of Slack’s best features is the option to invite others to join a channel. Without any hassle, you can set up a customer service channel to let your customer get in touch in real-time and ask questions that could lead to more orders.
SalesForce streamlined CRM
Customer relationship management (CRM) is essential for online businesses. With CRM tools, you can track leads and nurture people through the various phases of your sales funnel. Without CRM, you’re missing out on sales opportunities, and that’s what services like Salesforce come in to play. With Salesforce’s cloud-based tool, you can bring leads from a form on your website. With your acquired contacts, you can create automated drip email campaigns and alert relevant team members to follow-up, so nothing slips through the net.
Online tools like Hubspot marketing make light work of campaign management. With marketing apps, you can automate repetitive tasks involving social media and your website and focus on content strategy and content optimization. Hubspot comes packed with features to help draw attention to your message and convert visitors into potential customers.
WordPress website builders
The foundation of an online business is the software it’s built on. WordPress is one of the most popular choices for small businesses. It’s web-based, free, and you can make pretty much anything you want with it.
While not an app, hosting is essential to running an online business. After weighing up the relative benefits of a dedicated server vs. the cloud, many companies are moving everything to the cloud to host theirs, and for a good reason. Cloud hosting brings numerous benefits to small businesses from performance and speed benefits, high uptime and availability, speedy setup, and flexible pricing. EasyWP, for example, provides the fastest and most budget-friendly WordPress hosting available, hosted on dedicated cloud servers.
Make cloud computing work for you
The use of cloud computing for business has been on the rise since 1999, as it can be a useful way to support specific operations and systems. The cloud apps mentioned above cover a wide range of different company areas and save time and improve workflows time and time again. If your business is not using cloud-based services, it might be time to make some changes.
Which cloud computing applications are you using already? Let us know in the comment below!