Even with so much talk about the cloud, it's hard to find a simple explanation of what the cloud actually is, or what benefits your organization can achieve through cloud computing. "The cloud" is simply external storage and access to documents, applications and technology infrastructure. Your cloud provider hosts the hardware and software on their infrastructure, and they manage both routine tasks such as backups and user provisioning as well as non-routine tasks such as upgrades.
Cloud Computing Basics: Technology-As-A-Service
People often think of the cloud as a technology deployment decision, but the reality is that moving some or all of your technology to the cloud is actually a strategic decision that can have a tremendous impact on your organization's speed and agility in adapting to business growth and evolution.
Most cloud offerings are described using the descriptor "as a Service," because your company does not have to purchase hardware or software directly. Instead, you work with a cloud provider who guarantees performance and uptime in a service level agreement. Unlike traditional technology purchases, you pay a monthly or quarterly subscription fee based on a metric such as the number of users, the amount of storage you use or the number of transactions processed. The ability to pay as you go for top-shelf technology means you can conserve capital for other needs and treat technology investments as an operating expense.
Available Types of Cloud Services
Organizations may choose to use the cloud for a subset of their technology needs, or they can use the cloud for all of their technology requirements depending on their specific needs. Here is an overview of a few of the available cloud technologies, and the benefits each can provide to your organization.
Infrastructure is the hardware necessary to run a network or data center. Buying Infrastructure-as-a-Service means you get access to the infrastructure, without having to purchase, install, maintain or fix it. Your cloud provider is responsible for ensuring that your hardware is adequate to meet your stated response time requirements, to keep the hardware running and up-to-date.
You never have to worry about aging or obsolete hardware, and you do not have to hold part of your IT budget in reserve in case you need to buy replacements for hardware that fails. You get the benefit of enterprise-level infrastructure and performance at a predictable cost.
Platform-as-a-Service provides the software technology stack that you need to support your business solutions, but not the business solutions themselves. It would typically include the operating system, the database to store your information and any necessary middleware or other technology.
If you own business or other application software licenses but don't want the hassle of maintaining complex operating systems, PaaS may be a good choice. You have the assurance of guaranteed performance without worrying about complex database regulation or other technical challenges.
Software as a Service enables you to use application software without having to buy licenses upfront. You pay for access to the application on a subscription basis. Along with access, SaaS providers usually provide the platform and the infrastructure, simplifying your IT deployment. The SaaS provider also handles all your routine IT tasks such as backups and disaster recovery plans for the specific applications you subscribe to via the cloud.
UCaaS: Unified Communications as a Service
Unified communications includes VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony, instant messaging, integration with business software for fast access to customer information in call centers, presence notifications and sophisticated calling features such as follow me roaming, call forwarding and more. Provisioning and maintaining a unified communications system requires a unique set of skills and expertise, but the business benefits are undeniable. UCaaS can result in the ability to use advanced communications features reliably and at a lower cost than managing a complete system in house.
VaaS: Video as a Service
Video is becoming a more mainstream communication method, and it commonly replaces a large part of business travel (and the associated expenses). However, video systems use a variety of protocols, and it isn't always easy to get disparate systems to communicate. Conference room quality video equipment can be expensive, but VaaS puts high quality, simple and reliable video capabilities within the reach of every company.
DaaS: Desktop as a Service
According to an IDC Research study, the average cost of desktop deployment is over $600 per user and can easily exceed that number in complex environments. Buying PCs, helping users resolve issues, and deploying software upgrades adds to the cost, but DaaS makes the costs more manageable and predictable while also increasing user productivity. DaaS allows remote provisioning and maintenance of either virtual or actual desktops, including operating systems, productivity solutions such as Microsoft Office and the company's business solutions.
Any or all of these cloud solutions may help you to streamline your business operations while freeing up your IT resources to work on more strategic projects. The real beauty of using "as a Service" solutions is that you can mix and match the services you choose to precisely match your budget and the needs of your business.