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Demystifying the Cloud – Part 1

| James Riley |

Demystifying the Cloud

There has been quite a bit of talk and hype around a concept called the cloud that, I have found, really leaves people more confused than informed. The promise of low cost, rapid scalability, no CapEx costs, and no liability to maintain a system are very promising indeed. The question to ask is how much of this is hype and how much is actually real…I believe the reality is that there is a healthy blend of both.

This blog is the first of two on the cloud. In this first one, we will start by defining the cloud. The second will dive deeper into pros and cons and decision metrics around whether or not to use the cloud and to what degree you should or shouldn’t. Even if you have already moved to the cloud or have no intention of moving to the cloud, these two articles will be beneficial to you as they both will provide some education and tools for evaluating the risk and reward of various cloud and on-premise options.

While there were cloud systems leading up to it, the first publicly accessible and widely adopted cloud system was the Internet. When you connect through the Internet, you go in at one point and come out at another with little to no control or understanding of how you exactly got from point A to point B. In the old days of engineering, when we would draw a network diagram, anytime we had a connection in our network that we didn’t fully control, we would represent that connection with a cloud.

Today, the definition of the cloud has shifted more away from representing how data connects to representing where data is stored, processed, and served. In this modern definition of the cloud, we are talking about servers and systems that reside somewhere in the cloud, offering you varying levels of control and responsibility. So, you connect from where you are, over a connection you don’t fully understand, to a system residing in a location you may not know, managed by people you may not know. This setup offers some great opportunities but also offers some unique challenges. First, let’s dig into understanding the varying levels of cloud systems.

In the most literal sense, if you have a server in your office that can be accessed from the Internet, it is “cloud connected” in that you can connect to it over the Internet, which you don’t have full control over. On the other end of the spectrum are public cloud offerings such as Office 365, Google Apps or the like. Those are the more “extreme” versions of going into the cloud where you truly have no control over any part of the infrastructure or applications that house and serve your data. There are, however, several varieties as follows:

  1. Private Cloud – This could be where you host your own server in your office or datacenter and connect it to the cloud. This is virtually identical to what many have been doing for a long time in terms of hosting their data on-premise. The difference here is that, as you go this direction, you usually start to make your data more accessible remotely via things like VPNs and remote desktop.
  2. Hybrid Cloud – This is really a very broad term that could include something as simple as having your servers, which you own and control, be hosted in a datacenter somewhere or having a hosting provider, such as us, build out an environment, on their equipment, for your use.
  3. Public Cloud – This is where you go all-in and use services like QuickBooks Online, Office 365, Google Apps, etc. Other than signing up and some limited admin controls, you do not have access to maintain any of the systems that host your data. Additionally, the vast majority of Disaster Recovery planning, contingency planning, etc., is covered in your contract with your service provider as they handle most, if not all, of these aspects.

Hopefully this has given you some insight and clarified a little of the hype around the cloud so, at least, you have an idea of what you’re looking at through the haze. Our next step will be to look at the pros and cons of various cloud options in order to give you a framework for evaluating what option works best for you. If you have any questions or would like to talk further about the cloud, IT in your business, the art of brewing a perfect cup of coffee or anything else, please do not hesitate to reach out to us by clicking HERE.