cloud computing
So you’re ready to take your business to the next level, checked the IT forecast and discovered that today and tomorrow are going to be … cloudy. Joking aside, cloud computing has really taken off in the business world, with a number of household-name companies using remote servers and networks to store data and access services. If you use a tablet, smartphone, web browser or online services like Dropbox or Gmail, you’re already connected to the cloud. If you’re not already on the cloud, it may pay to consider getting in on the act.

According to IT research firm Gartner, cloud computing has made it past the early development stage and is now in a strong phase of ‘productivity’. So who have been the first to sign up to these services?

How cloud computing gives business the edge

Cloud computing is the sharing of IT resources where services such as apps, storage, data centres and servers are delivered to an organisation through the internet on a pay-for-use basis. The converged infrastructure and sharing of services in a single cloud can be relatively small, or large enough to provide global-wide resources – for instance, a cloud used by 2 countries with very different working hours such as France and Canada.

Sharing cloud services also eliminates the need to pay for hardware that slowly becomes outdated and needs replacing. With users paying for an infrastructure, everyone contributes to keeping the technology up to date and other mutually desirable aspects.

Business computing is becoming more virtualised and the resulting decrease in user involvement, combined with pooled resources, results in lower labour costs, fewer human errors and greater productivity. In other words, local servers and personal devices are no longer needed, as all are shared on the cloud by different users, and fewer employees are required. Businesses such as IBM have reportedly reduced 50,000 offshore staff in the past few years as the need for software development and business processes has dropped due to cloud computing and automation software.

A castle in the clouds: kings of the industry

Venture capitalists and IT start-ups have joined the cloud in increasing numbers. Internet security firm CloudLock, app software developers CloudMunch, and portable apps provider ElasticBox have all enjoyed millions of pounds in funding for their growing businesses.

Big businesses aren’t slow to harness cloud computing either. As usual, industry super-giants Microsoft, Amazon and Apple got in early and quickly turned this new form of computing into profit.

Here’s how:

  • Amazon is top dog on the list of corporate cloud provision, with a price list ranging from a few pennies to £3,200 an hour for the services of a supercomputer. And though other companies, such as VMware, OpenStack and Citrix, would leap at the chance to acquire some of its enterprise customers, the internet giant shows no signs of sharing any of them. Even NASA and the CIA use Amazon Web Services.
  • Netflix uses the cloud to manage scalability, streaming its massively popular shows and films during peak hours and dealing with the lull in between times. House of Cards has nothing on the Netflix competition to win viewers from other hit shows, and they’re doing it with the help of cloud computing.
  • Instagram went from launching on a single computer in California to providing selfies to 3 million users in only 6 months. What one server couldn’t handle, the cloud managed easily. Next time you see a nauseatingly sunny photo of a colleague on holiday, you can thank the cloud for making such digital gloating possible.
  • Xerox won’t be making paper a thing of the past, but with the help of its Cloud Print Solution, customers can use printers wherever they are. Not one to rest on their laurels, the company is also offering small and medium-sized business their own cloud service.
  • Apple is a regular pioneer when it comes to IT. Its iPad and iPhone digital personal assistant and knowledge navigator, Siri, sends users’ queries to the cloud and receives answers from it – or if the user has a strong accent, the reply: ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.’
  • SoftLayer may not yet be as well known as other IT companies, but IBM and EMC are both seeking to acquire the private cloud and web-hosting service provider, with offers of more than £1.3 billion ($2 billion). Microsoft, with its enterprise cloud Azure and cloud-run Xbox games, seems content at the moment to stay out of this deal.
  • Google is another unsurprising entry. Its Compute Engine cloud caused a stir on release, and now the big data cloud app, Google BigQuery is claiming its place beside other big business-orientated Third Platform developments.

Don’t keep your feet on the ground – find a cloud

Few stragglers have opted out of (or not yet joined) cloud computing. Facebook prefers large data centres – but for how much longer? Cloud users who praise the flexibility, disaster recovery measures, automatic software updates and security of the cloud might point to the data security breaches and privacy issues that have recently plagued the social media network as persuasive reasons to leave behind hardware-heavy, twentieth-century vibe before Facebook makes itself obsolete – an interesting case all businesses should take into account.