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John 08 Feb 2010

What is cloud computing? A beginner’s guide to the cloud

Keyboard with cloud: what is cloud computing?The last couple of years have seen lots of talk in IT and business circles about “the cloud”. Also sometimes called “cloud computing”, many people think it’s an idea that could change the way companies organise and manage their IT.

The problem is that the cloud is a tricky concept to grasp. So what is cloud computing and why has it got people excited?

What is cloud computing?

In simple terms, “the cloud” is the internet. So when people talk of cloud computing, it means that you access software and services across the internet, instead of running them on your own computer. It’s quite possible you use the cloud already, without realising it. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Word processing:
    Say you want to write a letter. The “traditional” way to do this would be to run a program like Microsoft Word. But if you want to use the cloud, you can log on to Google Docs and write it there. Everything happens within your web browser and your letter is saved online, so it’s there next time you log in.
  • Managing email:
    Many businesses run an email system from a server on their premises. All email goes through this server, which ensures messages get routed correctly. However, cloud-based email removes the need for this server. Instead, everyone in the business connects to an email service online.

At the heart of the cloud is the idea that the resources you need – the files you use, the programs you work with and the computing power itself  – are all accessed across the internet, instead of being contained on your own computer or within your own business.

There are heaps of cloud computing applications already. For instance, you can edit spreadsheets, do company accounts, manage projects and edit photos – all on the internet, through your web browser.

Advantages of cloud computing

Services like these can seriously reduce the hassle for companies who don’t want to install and set up software on their own computers. However, they only really hint at the wider possibilities of the cloud, which has a number of advantages over installing and managing extra hardware and software in your own company:

  • Predictable costs. Most cloud services charge a flat rate per month or per user. It means you can budget with confidence and avoid significant capital expenditure.
  • Lower support burden. Cloud services tend to include support as standard, so your business doesn’t have to budget extra or worry about training tech staff.
  • Flexibility. It’s much easier to increase capabilities and capacity. Generally, all you have to do is to ask your cloud provider (and pay a bit more).
  • Location doesn’t matter. Because cloud services are accessed online, you can use them wherever you have an internet connection. You don’t need to be in the office.

Cloud computing is still in its infancy. Many online hosted businesses don’t yet feel comfortable transferring their valuable data across the internet, or allowing it to be stored on servers owned by another company. However, it is a concept that’s gaining momentum and, for some services, it has the potential to save you significant time and money.

Where next?

We have several products that allow you to process data and run applications in the cloud:

  • Hosted Exchange gives you the same sort of email system used by large companies, minus the infrastructure costs.
  • Hosted SharePoint is a cloud-based collaboration tool that you can use to work together, share files, set up an intranet and more.
  • Custom servers can be scaled up to provide the power you need, let you install any application you like – and we take care of management and support.
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One Response to “What is cloud computing? A beginner’s guide to the cloud”

  1. james fenton says:

    Hi – great cloud blog, please check our recently published blog on the cloud at: http://fenton-it.co.uk/it-support-blog

    regards,

    James

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