How many times have you heard your business colleagues, employees, or vendors say you should move to the cloud? Cloud phones, Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, VoIP, or the many other technologies said to be powered by the cloud. You know that everyone is doing it but you still think in the back of your mind…”What the heck is this cloud thing?”. Well, I wanted to sit down and give you a few answers.
What is the Cloud?
“Cloud” essentially is a buzz word for the promise and convenience of being able to access and files and services from anywhere with little to no IT maintenance or resources required. However, unlike the visual representation of your files floating around in some mystical mist accessible from anywhere using magic, the cloud is actually a massive physical infrastructure by companies that eliminate inefficiencies and improve moderately effective processes, optimizing everything that they can.
Cloud computing and Cloud communications at its core are about utilization and optimization. Physical servers installed at many SMB business continually operate at about 10-20% of their total capacity all while still requiring the full suite of space, power, and cooling considerations as a 100% utilized server. Taking 10 companies that run at 10% and putting them on one server utilizes nearly the same amount of physical resources allows optimization of not only cost but of overall maintenance as well. These cloud companies are also able to invest in much more efficient technologies for power, cooling, as well as physical security. The cloud, in the end, is large data centers that are designed to work with a distributed workforce and are maintained with security, safety, and optimization at the forefront of every decision.
Where does it Live?
The 100% time-tested true answer of where your data lives are …wait for it… it depends. There are many factors that determine where your company holds the data that they use to provide their services to you. Major factors that play into this decision are the size of the company, the type of technology, the geographical footprint of the cloud providers customer base, and the age of the company. Companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Salesforce, or Facebook are massive multibillion-dollar companies that have Data Centers spread throughout the world. This allows for amazing disaster recovery abilities, as many times there can be multiple copies of data in multiple data centers throughout the world. The one thing though is that many of these companies are not 100% transparent about the location of all of their data centers, a very effective tool for security as well as competitive advantages against the other companies.
Some other companies are much more upfront about where their data lives. For example, ShoreTel talks about their UC Cloud Services being located in Dallas at the CyrusOne data center. Depending on your circumstances this may or may not truly be important to you. With today’s internet technology there will be very little difference in the speed of a cloud solution based on the east or west coast. One consideration of moving to the cloud that you must be aware of is if you are in a highly regulated industry that you ensure your cloud solution is appropriate, as some cloud solutions store and share data outside of the country.
What do I Own?
This answer truly depends on the service that you use. In most cloud solutions, including voice, you do not own any hardware but lease the resources and hardware required for the implementation of your solution. In phone solutions, businesses can choose to purchase compatible phones as well, but many times we recommend to just lease so you can upgrade later. In all cloud solutions you are paying a fee to have your data stored on their infrastructure, however, you may want to ensure that you read the terms and conditions, as some providers retain the rights to use your data for whatever they would like as well. In my personal experience I have seen this with free cloud photo storage solutions, but ultimately it’s up to you to make sure your solution does or does not do this. This practice seems to be less common than it was before.
What Impact does it Have on My Business?
Your business can benefit greatly from cloud solutions. The ability to work outside of the office in an increasingly mobile world is becoming more and more of a requirement. The ability to mitigate the worry of having your servers go down and/or losing your data are much less as you have professionals consistently monitoring, maintaining, and improving your infrastructure. Your cost will move from capital expenditures to operating cost and are much more flexible in reacting to your companies growth and contractions. This allows you to control cost as well as quickly add needed capacity, as well as remove unneeded resources.
Moving to the cloud has many benefits and it is the way of the future, especially as more and more services are built with the cloud as it’s backbone, as well as the increasing quality and quantity of bandwidth available for affordable prices. The trick comes in knowing what the cloud truly is and what it isn’t. Your company can benefit greatly from a move to cloud services, but it is always important to understand the overall impact of the change to your business. We recommend bringing in a technology professional to talk about things like bandwidth management, access control, integrations with onsite services, as well as the total cost of ownership.