Is Your Company Ready to Ride the Cloud Yet?

According to a May 2015 Forbes Magazine article, 78% of U.S. small businesses will have fully adopted cloud computing by 2020, more than doubling the current 37% as of today.
This editorial is Part I of a multi-part series on Cloud Computing. Here we will provide a general overview of what cloud computing is. In next month’s editorial we will describe some of the most obvious benefits of cloud computing for small businesses. Following that, Part III will further provide the technical details of the three service platforms and four general deployment options available for accessing and using the cloud. From reading this series of editorials on cloud computing, you will learn all you need to fully understand cloud technology, and how you can immediately start using it to your benefits in a very cost-effective way.
The idea of cloud computing or, “the cloud,” may be confusing to some, but cloud computing is not a mystery, it is another technological invention/innovation, some say the fourth IT revolution after the mainframe, PC, and the Internet. But, we can get a full grasp of the concept of cloud computing by way of an analogy, by comparing the latest IT innovation revolution to an earlier technological innovation/invention, what is simply called the “electrical grid,” meaning our national (and global) telecommunications networks. Think about the beginning of the 20th century state of electrical energy. Before the advent of the massive interconnected electric grid, factories, manufacturers, businesses, corporations, villages, towns, individual homes, and any other institutions or dwelling places, created their own source of electrical energy with the use of generators, combustion engines, motors, dynamos, alternators, external circuits, ac-dc current, etc. Now, practically anyone can access electricity, an obvious absolute necessity in the modern age, so long as they have the ability to “tap” into the system. All of this happened through a long, complicated, and complex series of engineering and scientific inventions, stages, developments, and expansions. As the (inter)national electric grid developed and expanded, simply tapping into it provided a better means of getting electricity for everyone. Companies stopped generating their own electricity with steam engines and dynamos. Nowadays individuals and businesses simply pay a utility company for access to the national or global electric grid.
Well, you can sort of think of the developmental inventions and stages that go into the growth and expansion of the powers of the Internet in the same manner. Think for a minute how you have (had) to connect to the Internet. A business, large or small, was able to access and take full advantage of all the Internet has to offer, provided they had access. Access to the Internet, on the other hand, required making use of up-front financial investments in expensive hardware infrastructure, and then setting up and maintaining software application communication networks. Add to that all of the time spent on the heavy lifting of managing all of that hardware and software. Finally, your financial investment was ongoing because you were paying into the maintenance of the system, regardless of whether you were actually using it. Everything has changed now since the advent of cloud computing.

The Novelty of Cloud Computing
The “cloud,” in many ways, is a metaphor for the complex set of matrices and networks that makeup, not only the Internet itself but, also how businesses gain access to it and use it to their business and financial fullest. So, cloud computing is a new IT delivery model, now accessible over the network (Internet or intranet). As with the national electrical grid, the present structure and powers of the Internet were definitely not formed in one day by a “Big Bang” or anything of that nature. Nevertheless, cloud computing, emerging as it did from evolutionary changes, maturity, development and advancements of technologies over the last 50 years, is revolutionizing the use of computers and the Internet.
Well, just as inventions and developments made it the case that permitted anyone to access the electrical grid, where the only investment was access, and not complicated and expensive hardware configurations and software servers and networks, the same with cloud computing. You don’t need to go out and buy a computer or computers, or write any code or set up a communications network. In other words, cloud computing lets companies consume computer/internet resources as a utility — just like electricity — rather than having to build and maintain computing infrastructures in-house.
This immediately suggests certain direct benefits for any business, large or small, where huge sums of savings in time, money are gained; plus, there is little IT knowledge involved. Together these combine to create an immensely cost-effective, fast, agile, flexible, and on-demand internet access system where you only pay-as-you-go—the cloud. Now, individuals and organizations only have to pay for the resources they have used, and give up the need to be paying for unnecessary resources, just like when you turn off your electric, you stop paying for the service. Think of a light switch. That is another good analogy of how the new Internet delivery portals and access systems, the cloud, can be understood. Instead of infrastructure and software, all you need for accessing the delivery systems is a self-service portal into the cloud. On-demand Internet access and service is analogous to electricity, seen as a utility, where a consumer now can just turn on or off an on-demand switch to use as much, and only as much, electricity as required. The same now with the Internet—Internet access and service as a “public” or “private” utility (more about that in Part II). This now enables zero-downtime deployment in order to ensure high effective teamwork and action, while at the same time reducing deployment risk because when you are not connected to the cloud, it is not your responsibility, and it eliminates the need for expensive capital investment.
As wonderful as saving huge sums of money, time, labor, and other business investments, is, nevertheless cloud computing is just not all about the sums of time, money and labor you will save. That’s because, with cloud computing, there is an enormous array of wonderful benefits and business solutions, including speed and agility, scalability and economies of scale, sustainability, customization, reliability, maximum optimization, globally integrated, faster time to market, and prototype development with increased efficiency when you want to expand and diversify. In fact, cloud computing has been credited with increasing competitiveness through cost reduction, greater flexibility, higher elasticity and optimal resource utilization.
It’s not a stretch to say that aside from a locally installed desktop operating system and browser (or increasingly, from a single mobile device) a lot of today’s small business technology needs can be fulfilled almost completely with cloud-based offerings. So, cloud computing aims to transform the way a small (or any size) company does business. Cloud computing is considered by many IT experts as the tool dominating the next generation, being able to offer cheaper, faster, portable and safer operations for all kinds of companies, whether they are small, medium or large. Amit Cohen, CEO of FortyCloud, a large IT consultancy firm, thinks that “the forecast of tomorrow’s computing is definitely cloudy”, as “companies are more and more realizing that they can save immensely by having their files and systems in the cloud”. This is backed by some research by Microsoft, showing that 62% of companies using cloud services report significant benefits of IT productivity, and 45% of small businesses said they should adhere to cloud services this year (Forbes Magazine, June, 2015).
This is the very basics of what cloud computing provides and offers. Cloud computing has created a reverberation in the IT landscape. The cloud adoption rate is increasing dramatically. Some key players presently developing and implementing cloud computing include: IBM, HP, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, NetSuite and VMware. It is high time for businesses to consider cloud computing for potential turbulent business challenges ahead. From a number of definitions of cloud computing online, I prefer to use the definition by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). According to NIST:
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
Breaking down the NIST definition, we get this set of unique characteristics that makeup the fundamentals of cloud computing. Mentioned in the definition are: (a) on-demand network access, (b) shared pool of configurable computing resources, (c) rapid provision and release, (d) minimal management effort, and (e) minimal service provider integration.
With cloud computing, there is no need to deploy huge infrastructure and software, given the shared pool of configurable computing resources; this allows on-demand network access, or an “anywhere, anytime availability”—the ubiquity of the Internet. Plus, with the cloud, small businesses have immediate access to, and service from, a sophisticated technology (and before the cloud very costly) without the need of an IT consultant or tech worker on the payroll; there is minimal service provider integration. Now small businesses have high-power access and delivery systems with the Internet that were available to only the largest corporation just a few years ago; there is rapid and cost-effective provision and release.
All of these characteristics of cloud computing now provide opportunities for small and medium companies that can put them on equal terms with large companies in terms of their IT infrastructure capabilities. This lets small businesses compete with more rigor and quality in the market. Because of all these characteristics, it is now why systems in the cloud have since become such a growing trend among all kinds of businesses, given that they facilitate access to next-generation IT services.

Cloud-based systems are particularly valuable to small and mid-tier companies in North America who have small IT departments that are already overworked keeping key systems running. For SMBs, cloud-based continuous delivery of new technological enhancements for Internet communications, along with subscription-based pricing and only pay-as-you-go, allows small business budgeting for services to become predictable and manageable. Look to next month’s issue for much more on cloud computing.

Story by Mark Joseph Manion