What is Cloud Technology?
Do not overthink this subject.
The ‘cloud’ metaphor came from David Hoffman, an employee of a company called General Magic.
Cloud computing is a solution to a new world problem caused by the exponential increase in data (estimated at 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day) and devices (nearing 50 billion) on the internet and used by business, making it near impossible to keep information, programs, and systems running in-house without the need to employ a task force of nerds.
How did it start?
The concept was born from the need to balance computer network resources as far back as 1996. The first big name in the market had to be Amazon which popularised storage online with its Simple Storage Service called S3. Some years later, in 2008, NASA's OpenNebula, was the first big name open-source software for deploying private and hybrid clouds.
Interest has increased by 400% over the past decade so Cloud computing is a real tech trend.
What is it now?
"There is no Cloud. It's just someone else's computer."
Cloud storage as of today, really means storing your files on someone else’s computer (server) which you access and manage with an App on your cell phone or program software on your PC.
Depending on whose Cloud or PC you use as a service provider (host), you get a variety of function options to choose for both private and commercial use. The two main distinctions in this tech space are deployment models and then service business models.
This is the most popular option by the total number of users worldwide.
Services are made available from one’s preferred service provider, direct to the individual for consumption, and because of their type of client, there is a strong focus on the individual’s needs and you will always find in their service offerings a solution for storage and back up of photos, home videos, homework documents, etc.
Customers do not have any control over the location of the servers, development or deployment of the Apps and Programs on the host… which is fine because they really don’t need too.
The costs and resources of the service provider equipment are shared by all users of the host, so this option really is about general access and the benefits which stem from a cost-sharing business model.
Most service providers in this category provide a free option and when you want extra services you get a choice of subscriptions.
An example of this type of deployment model would be easily found in the SMME market place, like a guesthouse needing to manage a small database of their clients, and yet their staff are in multiple locations. They use the data for monthly newsletters and their online booking system.
The largest public cloud solution comes from Amazon.com.
This deployment model is also known as an internal cloud solution. Here you will find a server or servers with exclusive use for a single group of users, normally in one organization.
The types of services from the host provider are determined by the group needs and often include some customised care and tweaking. Greater and direct control of the data and applications are available with this solution.
These Cloud tech environments are normally protected by a firewall overseen by the group’s elected IT department.
An example of this solution in action might be a car rental company needing to share information between its booking offices around the country, its regional car depos, its head office, and its repair centre. In addition, their solution is able to work with their on-road service teams and of course their clients and 3rd party booking agents.
As the name suggests, this option integrates a mix of solutions using the best of Private and Public cloud offerings.
Common in this deployment practice you will find two or more servers which are usually integrated together in some fashion, but still operating as separate entities with their own skill set.
This division, in a manner of speaking, allows for the separation of powers, and therefore manages access control to data and services a lot better, but at the same time when working together overcome a single server or service provider’s boundaries and limitations.
The Hybrid Cloud is well known for its scalability, security, and flexibility.
This sort of deployment solution might be used in the banking or finance industry, for example: you might have teams of users needing data about sales and analytics, but also needing restricted access to extremely resource-intensive data. The same set up also needs to cater for highly sensitive and privileged data access for select higher-end users.
It takes a village.
The final deployment option is when a hybrid or private Cloud solution, or perhaps a mixture of both, have their resources woven into a joint venture through direct negotiations, and the uses are predefined by this resolution, resulting in a community who benefit from one another’s involvement.
For example: a data centre managed by the Department of Tourism, which enters a joint venture sharing information with travel agencies, large hotel chains, travel companies and of course guest services apps.
Altogether, they collate data, sort, and then offer refined service options to the tourists.
In return, each member of the community is fed with helpful and relevant real-time information on the tourist's social economic impact and spending trends.
Each entity in the community benefits and the entire industry is boosted.
Night shining clouds / cloud-like phenomena in the upper atmosphere of the Earth. I’m sorry, I had to add at least one cloud joke.
While you do get a few hybrids in this section, there really are, in my opinion, only five main options. There is some technical jargon included here, so you might want to go and get yourself some coffee.
Infrastructure as a service, or IaaS for short.
This is a basic layer in the Cloud computing model. Popular examples of names of services are DigitalOcean, Linode, Rackspace, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco Metapod, Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine (GCE).
Platform as a service, or PaaS.
This is an offering by a service provider for building applications. Some examples are Salesforce Heroku, and AWS Elastic Beanstalk. (Odd name I know)
Software as a service / SaaS.
This is generally a combination of SaaS and IaaS in a service model used at a company.
Examples are: Google Apps, Salesforce, Workday, Concur, Citrix GoToMeeting and Cisco WebEx.
Mobile "backend" as a service, known as MBaaS.
This is basically Cloud computing architecture that offers mobile applications access to the servers / storage / databases / other resources in order to operate.
Function as a service, or FaaS.
This is what provides a platform for host service clients to develop, run, and manage application and functionalities without the difficulty of building and maintaining the infrastructure themselves.
Serverless architecture is something else you might hear of, and it is also known as serverless computing. This is about function as a service as well. You might hear about software design patterns where applications are hosted by a third-party service provider, eliminating the need for server software and hardware management by the developer.
If you managed to get through this section, you are officially a computer nerd and know as much as I do.
Why business should use Cloud Solutions!
Let me start with some stats from research:
Money is everything to business right? So let’s start here:
Cost saving is the biggest pro. Cloud tech saves substantial capital outlay costs for in-house equipment. With less equipment, you need less nerds, which means less staff costs and labour matters.
The fees that come from tech upgrades and maintenance are essentially avoided all together because host Cloud suppliers absorb these costs.
Most Cloud computing suppliers use subscription payment methods - pay-as-you-use only.
Edge. Impressive deployment time, reduced teething problems, and an increased range or scope of tasks are core benefits linked with the use of Cloud technology in business. When comparing a company using this tech versus one that is not, it is obvious which company has the edge.
Simplification. Tech is no longer something you need to learn yourself or even spend much time or funds on training staff. Most Cloud solutions sort data, information, attachments, media, programs, and sort them into more efficient ready to use platforms. Cloud computing is of course all about centralization of information, which already solves several business challenges and makes work life so much nicer.
Accessibility. Access using mobile devices to data, documents, programs, and even other humans like your staff, suppliers and clients, is one of my all-time favourite reasons for embracing this technology. Wherever you have internet, you have an office.
Reliability. Most service providers offer a Service Level agreement which guarantees delivery 24/7 and also multiple failsafe and back-ups systems. Most also offer around the clock technical support. I am yet to hear from a business that has experienced any major Cloud hosting problems. Expectations are met, you get what you pay for when it comes to Cloud tech.
Planet Friendly. This reason is becoming more important for businesses because it is starting to affect earnings. The growing trend is Clients and Suppliers who prefer trading with green companies.
Cloud tech reduces carbon footprint through avoiding the over-provision of hardware. Having less equipment and allowing e-home-offices (I just came up with that name) are two examples of how Cloud computing is better for mamma earth.
Even the fuel saved by staff avoiding travel to an office each day is a huge planet saving consideration, not to mention all the money they save as well. Don’t even get me started on the benefits of a paperless office.
Security. A Cloud service provider’s full-time mandate is to manage data. It stands to reason then that most of their focus is on security, and, as a result they are more efficient than in-house security teams which share their attention across all sorts of IT concerns.
In general, Cloud security teams, programs and Apps are on the ball for security.
Another big consideration when it comes to security around data or cybercrime for that matter is that most attacks and breaches come from in-house staff. Using a 3rd party supplier reduces this risk.
Flexibility. By nature, the Cloud tech landscape is client-centric, and this means you can chop and change the use of an App or solution within a services provider’s bouquet of options with relative ease because that is how they have designed their offerings. With a good service provider you also get excellent support to help with some custom solutions, you need only ask.
Most suppliers don’t have contracts which hold you to very stringent terms, therefore they work hard to keep you as a client for fear of you moving onto a competitor. The force for client choice is strong here.
Have I managed to convince you Cloud tech is worth a try?
But now who do you choose?
Who are the best service providers?
No one company is the same, and it can be rather daunting trying to work out who is best for your business, or who to even start with. I mean, spend just a few minutes on Google searching, and you find nothing less than 70 companies.
So how do you choose? I can offer 6 steps for consideration in order to ensure you make the best choice.
Create a priority list of needs and a list of wishes.
If you are in a larger company with more complex needs you are unlikely to find a service provider that ticks all your boxes. This means you will need to strategically assess which services are more important than others and go with the service provider that ticks the most important boxes for you. For example, what is more important for your company?
Research service providers by visiting the website links and video links I have offered in this article. If you include the time to read this article, visit the sites I have provided and watch the videos linked, you will need about 4 hours in total. Once done, you will be a total expert!
Don’t skip this step because creating a needs and wish list will save you time and money in the long run.
Let’s move onto creating a shortlist of companies by selecting the service providers that meet most of your needs and wishes.
Now, are you asking how to decide which company to start with from the shortlist?
You might have to try a few. So embrace this fact, and move onto step 2 and 3:
Check out who your competitors are using as a service provider. If they have been using a company for some time, and with some apparent success, then try the service provider they are using first.
Check reviews. This is another sure way to make a confident decision. Other company’s complaints are brilliant red flags to assess your future risks. Learning from other company’s mistakes saves time and money.
Allow for a trial period. In most cases, you will need to learn how to use the platform yourself and then allow your team time to do real life tests. 1-3 months is a good average testing period.
During this testing window, keep an open line of communication with your staff. This is so important because without their feedback you will never know the weaknesses of your system and be able to adapt.
In addition, make sure you have an objective check point list to ensure primary goals are being achieved.
During step four, simultaneously work on step five. This involves testing the support desk of the service provider.
Pose some questions and challenges to them and see if you get an adequate response. If they fall short on support, you might be putting your business at greater risk later down the line when you really do need some help with major problems.
Be prepared to spend a little at least.
You get what you pay for. When you are prepared to spend some money, you can be sure you will get a lot more options - from extra restoration tools, more features, and a lot more space and better support, it is worth it.
Let’s look into some top options currently reviewed on the market and those I would recommend you considering when making your lists:
The solution has been around for a while and has stood the test of time. This is a content management platform system.
Video on Box: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hsO11vSbx8
Video about Box versus Dropbox video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGn7MPCNj9k
Dropbox can be installed on most computers and devices and it is one of the solutions my company uses.
Not so good:
How to use Drop box video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Nan6Zt6bzw
This really is the one I might choose if data security and privacy were an extreme priority for the work I do, fortunately I don’t, in my own company, deal with too many sensitive bits of information.
Not so good:
Explainer video on Spideroak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxshXT85GvI **
Microsoft Cloud services
There are many cloud services linked to Microsoft including OneDrive, Office 365 and Azure. (Azure is reported to have some way to go before it manages to compete for market share)
Let’s get into the service offerings:
Not so good:
Explainer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w4JeZhnJis
Google App Engine & Google Compute has several offerings such as: Gsuite, Google Cloud Print and Google Drive, to name just a few.
Not so good:
Explainer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D3X6Xl5c_Y
Google verse Amazon video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05d6yEsfuNw
Made by BMW. Sorry, no, it’s made by Pro Softnet Corporation.
Not so good:
Review video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSOLUR4ZR0
Apple’s product offerings:
Not so good:
Explanation video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTbtXQU_P3Y
What about the other providers?
Many of the bigger players have similar service offerings and really only differ when it comes to collaboration options with each other’s platforms and then it comes down to prices.
Then some of the rest tend to go in a direction focusing either on security, or storage, or restorations / backups, or ecommerce.
Here are the rest of the other options doing well at the moment and some notes:
Amazon Web Services. https://aws.amazon.com/. You might wonder why I have not written a larger section about this company. Well the reason is simple, they launched before anyone else and are very good. They are used in over 70% of the fortune 500 companies. They have micro billing, mp contracts, and reliability is just about the best. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is essentially PaaS and the Amazon Elastic Cloud offers a platform for developers and students. They are launching some Machine learning programs which will be a big new market very soon.
BlueLock Cloud Services. https://www.bluelock.com. Data recovery specialists.
** Which is way too long, but the most appropriate one I could find.
CertainSafe. https://certainsafe.com/. Digital Safety Deposit Box. Reports claim bulk data breach of cloud-stored files are impossible. That just sounds like a dare to me. They authenticate users to servers and vice versa. Secure file sharing. Retains past file versions. Secure chat.
Overview Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACuqjtQUYyU
Citrix Cloud Platform. https://www.cloud.com/. This solution is powered by Apache CloudStack, and they claim to be able to reliably and efficiently orchestrate both traditional enterprise and cloud-native application workloads within a single solution. (Their words, not mine).
Explanation video, part 1. (I have only added part 1, but if you like what you see you can find the rest on their channel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmdbZwTbJ0o
Egnyte. https://www.egnyte.com. Excellent integration with some loading issues but still popular with applications such as Office 365 or Gmail.
Customer service review video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38QqCzkrCtE
Joyent Cloud. https://www.joyent.com. Used by Dell for supporting its own cloudware, this suggests to me they have to be very good.
One of their videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLF0tadSjao
MediaFire. https://www.mediafire.com. Has a good user interface and sharing feature option. Unfortunately the Adverts with their free accounts can be annoying. But we all have bills to pay.
Explainer video, review site, with someone with a very husky voice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCRg-maPGOI
pCloud. https://www.pcloud.com. They are affordable. Their interface is intuitive. Unfortunately they have no collaboration tools. There is however decent integration with other Microsoft products and you can edit files online without downloading them.
Explainer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAdgHhkfDi8
RackSpace Cloud. https://www.rackspace.com/cloud. Offers OpenSpace code. SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Good rep online.
Advert type video explainer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFZfYmWF-aU
SugarSync. https://www2.sugarsync.com. They have a nice dedicated desktop interface and a good mobile App. It also has File Explorer integrated with protected folders.
Review video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEkX6FOWUHM
SalesForce Cloud. https://www.salesforce.com/eu/products/service-cloud/overview/ . Uses the Ruby platform. From Google: Salesforce has selected AWS as its preferred public cloud infrastructure provider. Regardless, they have a reputable name. I have not use them yet.
Demo Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_PIXVea9aM
Tresorit. https://tresorit.com. Offers end to end encryption and has some nice enterprise packages available.
Explainer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChohPE1dj9k
Problems with Cloud Tech?
A company might find it difficult to migrate their business from one supplier to another if they wanted to and this has nothing to do with contracts. It is more of a technical challenge: for example moving hosting and cloud applications to another platform may result in inoperable or non-responsive Apps or even broken data files. EG: Apps developed on Microsoft Development Framework (.Net) might not work properly on a Linux platform.
There would also be the added challenge of support issues between providers who are competitors.
Infrastructure is entirely owned and managed by the service provider. Your only control is at a user level and what data you allow the service provider to work with.
Please remember, you cannot avoid giving suppliers access to important business data, especially in multi-tenant cloud architecture. This does mean it is possible for a really good cybercriminal to exploit loopholes and vulnerabilities within a system.
There are very few cons with Cloud Tech. Human error accounts for a majority of cloud tragedies. One other small issue, but less frequent, is the interrupted internet connection. In South Africa, the biggest challenge is data costs, a problem we need to solve before we can fully embrace online storage.
So, time to get your head into the cloud.
Please feel free to send any questions or comments. My other articles are at: https://www.jeanpierremurraykline.co.za/media_jeanpierremurraykline.html
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Published May 2019Read more articles