Why do we need the Cloud?

Following on from my article "What is the Cloud all about", I will discuss trends over the last decade that have led to where we are today, why we need cloud technology and what the business benefits are along with what can be achieved with the cloud.

It is well worth remembering how dramatically the way in which we work has changed over the years. Sometimes it's easy to forget how far we have come.

We are no longer tied to our desks. Many businesses no longer even have offices, choosing instead to work from home. And we are increasingly using many different devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and hybrids.

Being tied to one place no longer makes sense from a security or usability standpoint. Small businesses in particular have to work more dynamically and compete in ways that were unimaginable in the past.

Collaboration and speedy responses win business and create competitive advantage. Instant customer service and easy access to information are now an expectation.

Cloud services provide solutions to these present-day needs and to many others that previously would have required significant IT expertise and resources.

Security and business continuity

We are all used to the routines involved in protecting our computers, ensuring that our operating systems and anti-virus packages are regularly updated. We are now more used to keeping ourselves safe online, avoiding giving out our PINs, passwords and bank details. We are altogether much more cautious when using the internet, and many of us back up our data regularly in one form or another.

Businesses may also have a server (or two) to maintain, adding their own requirements for maintenance and security, along with physical safety and business continuity procedures.

Cloud solutions naturally reduce the overhead of IT support, since in most cases the security and infrastructure are handled on your behalf, typically via a subscription-based service. This means that you and your business will become less dependent on individual computers and devices. And even if the worst were to happen — for example, the loss of all your computers (or office!) — you can pick up a new device, log in and carry on, even if it means working at the local coffee shop.

For most businesses, the security offered by Cloud services is far more robust that we can achieve as individuals or small businesses. However, not all Cloud operators provide the same high standards, so, when choosing a provider, be sure to check out their security standards.

Working (almost) anywhere

With your business data in the Cloud, all the resources you need, such as email, calendars and contacts, documents, spreadsheets, CRM, notes, databases and more can be at your fingertips on your phone, tablet, laptop — even your desk!

The Cloud can provide you with working continuity without your being tied to particular devices or networks. For example, you might create a document at the office on your desktop PC, then continue editing it on your tablet back at home seamlessly, picking up exactly where you left off.

Some services offer great offline synchronisation, so you can carry on working even where there is no internet connection. Other solutions can provide integration with social, messaging, voice and video conferencing products to enable you to keep in touch.

The cloud gives you your office, wherever you are.

Collaboration

Small businesses have always worked with others to get things done, but now the ways of collecting and sharing information have moved beyond phone calls, emails, meetings and minutes.

Documents can be worked on at the same time, even spreadsheets. Social media and instant messaging platforms can be used to find information and people to progress a project far more quickly than traditional methods. Project notes can be added to a central point by all participants from wherever they happen to be in many formats — pictures, scans, voice recordings, videos, text and handwritten notes — for discussion in an online meeting, private chat room or just to be viewed and commented on.

The Cloud has opened up whole new possibilities for collaboration. With data available in the Cloud, business can progress more efficiently and faster than ever before.

Flexible working

Small businesses have always had to work flexibly. New government legislation and the economic climate have made working from home for business owners and staff more appealing. Many businesses are keeping costs low by minimising the office space they need, or by not having a permanent office at all.

Access to your documents, programs and other data can enable staff to work from home and at different hours, while still keeping up-to-date with the team.

Reduced costs

Cloud services can cut costs, not only due to the reduced need for hardware and reliance on particular devices and software, but also due to lower IT support costs, both internal and external. Some businesses may no longer require external IT support. Some may no longer need to maintain servers at all.

Some Cloud services include SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and financially-backed up-time guarantees, providing peace of mind and extra resources that were previously unavailable.

Cloud solutions can make certain paid, conferencing, security, storage, telephony services (and others) unnecessary, providing further cost savings.

Scalability

Traditionally, businesses have required regular injections of capital to maintain growth. In this day and age, where a small idea can potentially take the market by storm, adopting a traditional approach to IT is both risky and limiting.

Modern businesses need to be able to scale up (and down) quickly without paying for resource overheads that may never be used. Resource needs can vary seasonally or even daily. Temporary staff may be required to get through busy periods.

With the Cloud your business can pay just for what it uses and needs, often via a monthly subscription. No longer do you need to pay for servers, hardware and software licences that are not being used.

If your business becomes the next Twitter or Facebook, the Cloud will enable you to scale up your business overnight without collapsing under the pressure.

Conclusion

Cloud services are becoming more and more widely used. Understanding the benefits and solutions they offer can make your business more competitive and dynamic, and save time and money. New ways of working can sometimes be daunting and changes can take time to bed in. There are so many options and possibilities. But by focusing on your business needs and understanding what is possible, a few steps forward, however small, can make all the difference to your business.

This article was written by Steve and Christine Munden of iBizify.net Ltd, an independent provider of cloud solutions and services, bespoke software, web and mobile development. If you would like to know more about the benefits and implications of cloud technologies visit https://ibizify.net/cloud or call for an informal chat on 01296 252 010.

What is the “Cloud” all about?

Over the last few years Cloud technology has really taken off among small businesses. Most businesses now make use of it in one form or another. However, there is still some confusion, because the Cloud is often inaccurately referred to as a single entity or product, rather than the very broad range of technology that it actually represents. Sometimes it is described in a way that makes it sound like an invisible, self-powered entity beyond the comprehension of "normal" people.

In this article, we hope to deliver some much needed Cloud clarity, explaining exactly what it is, along with some important things to consider when choosing a Cloud provider.

Why Cloud confusion?

Cloud technologies have existed since the 1950's. However, only in recent years have computer, mobile, broadband and 4G technologies made possible the Cloud products, services and solutions that we have today. And while early Cloud technology was limited to large enterprises, today's Cloud is available to everyone.

Much of Cloud technology's history is irrelevant to modern small businesses and individuals, but this hasn't deterred the industry and the media from using historic enterprise jargon to describe the technology. Some have taken advantage of, and misused, Cloud terminology to make things sound bigger or better than they really are. Certain brand and product names have popped up using the word 'cloud' when they have little or nothing to do with Cloud technology. Often Cloud is described as 'anything on the internet', which is also misleading. The traditional revenue streams of some small business IT providers can be threatened by Cloud technologies. This has led to some resistance, resulting in some negative and misleading press from these channels.

The 'cloud' name itself has caused confusion — being itself an abstract representation of third-party services — and so appears vague and rather mysterious.

Considering all of these factors, it's no wonder that there is so much Cloud confusion.

Cloud is a utility

Before the national grid, those who wanted electricity had to buy and maintain their own generators and be sure they could meet their needs during peak times.

These days, we expect electricity to be available on tap. We just pay for its delivery and for what we use. We do not own or rent the power station. Cloud solutions are very similar.

Traditionally, if we wanted business-class email, document management, back-up, security, web hosting, conferencing and many other services, we had to install one or more servers or devices, often in our own offices. We had to resource the staff to maintain and support them.

By using Cloud services we can have all of these things on tap — the Cloud service provides the products, service, maintenance and security — and we pay only for what we use.

Cloud services give us access to many more tools and resources, at the same time reducing our need for IT support and maintenance. By having our services hosted externally we can also work from anywhere without being tied to the office. And Cloud technology can lower our costs, while increasing security and mobility. In short, we can now work more flexibly and dynamically than ever before.

What is the Cloud made of?

In simple terms Cloud services consist typically of a large stack of computers and special hardware and software to manage them.

The computers are linked together to provide an almost infinite number of resources. Simple tasks might be carried out on one computer or spread over many. Applications can be scaled up to support a massive number of users, or scaled down as required. Cloud technology removes the limitations of hardware by pooling resources in a way that is transparent to those using them. This is sometimes referred to as 'elasticity' or 'elastic computing'.

Large-scale Cloud infrastructure is typically arranged in huge data centres, some the size of multiple football pitches, like the Microsoft one pictured above. This Microsoft data centre is almost entirely autonomous and incredibly secure, with automatic replication and 'self-healing' capabilities.

The Cloud does all the hard work, while we usually receive the results via the internet. The Cloud is not just 'anything on the internet'. A cloud can just as easily be private, without any internet connection whatsoever — you could build a small private one in your spare bedroom if you so desired! An internet connection is what usually connects us to the Cloud, but is not the Cloud itself.

Today, Cloud technology, together with broadband, 4G, mobile devices and modern PCs, allows individuals and businesses to benefit from services that were previously only available to large enterprises.

We can now all enjoy improved efficiency, reduced costs, reduced maintenance and better security.

Good Cloud, bad Cloud

Unfortunately, as in all industries, there are the good, the bad and the ugly! It makes sense to be selective, even if you make just a partial move to the Cloud.

Consider the following:

  • What are the provider's motives and objectives?
  • To what official security standards do they conform?
  • Who has access to your data and how is it managed?
  • What hardware and software platforms do they support?
  • What is their up-time promise and historic performance?
  • What compensation is available should things go wrong?
  • How does the provider manage changes that may impact you?
  • Where geographically would your data be stored and whose laws apply?
  • Is the provider clear, open and honest about all of the above? If not, why not?

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Seek advice and never assume all Cloud services have the same standards! Don't employ a Cloud service if you don't know how and where your data will be handled.

Conclusion

In this article, I have touched on this history of cloud technology, described briefly what it is and how it works. I have also touched on things to consider when choosing a cloud provider.

In a second article - "Why do we need the Cloud?" - I will discuss trends over the last decade that have led to where we are today, why we need cloud technology and what the business benefits are along with what can be achieved with the cloud.

This article was written by Steve and Christine Munden of iBizify.net Ltd – an independent provider of cloud solutions and services, bespoke software, web and mobile development. If you would like to know more about the benefits and considerations of cloud technologies visit https://ibizify.net/cloud or call for an informal chat on 01296 252 010.

Learning to be a regular Tippler

Row of wine glasses

If you are naturally a Binge learner or an Abstainer (see https://blog.ibizify.net/post/Are-you-a-Binger-Regular-Tippler-or-Abstainer to move to being a Regular Tippler will mean learning a few new habits.

Start by looking at your schedule and working out when you can put aside some regular time - even if its 15 minutes every Tuesday morning - block it out in your calendar now. Be warned - be realistic and honest with yourself and you have to be disciplined in making it a priority. As a binger also watch that you do not stretch your time and spend an hour or two instead of your expected 15 minutes…this will not work in the long term and is not changing your habit! If need be set up an alarm or a phone call so you have a trigger to stop.

Use the first regular slot to work out what you want to learn and break it down - So social media - is it Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter (or all 3). Technology - is it Word, Lync, OneNote, or how to use your iPad and list out the sorts of things you want to know and set some priorities. A mind map also works well to help break down a subject – concentrate on defining and documenting what you want to learn so you can revisit it easily and add to it when you need to (OneNote is great for this too).

In the next slot work out some resources - all the social media sites have some great help sections. I recommend using an application like Pocket to collect your sources as it is easy to use the browser tool to add to your resource collection when you find a useful article but don't have time to read it then. However you may also turn to books or formal courses - but note that researching which courses is a separate task. Subscribing to blogs, magazines or newsletters so there is always something in your Inbox is another way to gather resources on your subject.

During the third slot, you can start working through your resources. Target one task you would like to master and ensure you don't just read, but do the practical too - actually trying it helps the learning to stick - even if you end up deleting your efforts or only doing part of what you need to do. Part of the new habit is working out how learning can be broken down, saving progress so you can easily pick it up again next time. Save a little time at the end of the session to write some notes or cross off priorities and perhaps choose your next learning task to tackle.

Daily short tipples are ideal and will get you in the habit of building on little bits of learning, a slightly longer weekly tipple also works well if you stay focussed and stick to the time - don't be tempted to skip a week - if you have to move the time, fine but try hard not to skip it completely especially for the first few months.

If it doesn't settle down into a manageable pattern, review your schedule again and adjust the timings based on your experience so far or set some more difficult to move boundaries like learning with a friend or finding a suitable trainer and booking a course. For instance, iBizify.net can provide bespoke training on all aspects of Office 365 based on your specific requirements - either 1 to 1 or as small groups.

Finally, have fun with your learning, vary your sources, revisit what you want to learn and practice what you learn as often as you can! Let me know how you get on.

Are you a Binger, Regular Tippler or Abstainer?

When it comes to your business how often do you sit down and invest time in learning something new? We all work very differently but a bit like drinking, your attitude to learning can affect your business. So do you fit into any of these descriptions?

Binger – There are long gaps between learning but something triggers a huge time investment – maybe some new software, a client needing something different, the competition raising the game. You immerse yourself and learn quickly, leaping forward, getting the changeover completed as soon as possible. And once you have learnt all you need you relax back and reap the rewards…until the next time.

Abstainer – If it wasn't for the fact that you can't do what you need to do without learning something new, you really would not bother. You normally know what you need to know and it's always worked in the past so you don't waste time until it no longer works. You wait as long as possible before changing anything and you may feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing software or your processes.

Regular Tippler – You like to feel you are not missing out – just a little learning each week to build your knowledge and master new skills. You like learning but have to balance it with your other business goals. You realise that new software can open up new possibilities in ways of working, efficiencies and savings but take a steady approach to change, learning and planning but always moving forward and exploring.

With most people it varies over time and you may fit in to all three categories depending on what you are learning about.  Where do you fit?

P.S. I went to a very inspiring talk at The Late Breakfast Chalgrove by Penny Mallory who challenged us to work outside our comfort zone – and I decided that it was time I did my first blog post and invited people to follow and share our pages. I shall pass on the challenge and say learn something new today!