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Whilst cloud computing isn’t particularly new, more businesses than ever are investing in a cloud-based IT strategy.

51% of business leaders say that adopting the cloud saved their company from collapse during the pandemic, with 27% noting a significant increase in cloud spend. The cloud market is forecast to grow by 15.8% each year until 2030!

We’d say that the cloud is the unsung hero of the pandemic. By enabling remote file sharing, collaborative working and software access — freeing us from the shackles of an on-site physical server — the cloud has allowed businesses to run smoothly and staff to stay safe.

When implemented correctly, there are huge benefits to be had from choosing a cloud-based IT environment. So, courtesy of our team of experts, here’s a quick introduction to cloud services for businesses.

Cloud services for business: what are they & how do they work?

As long as you have an internet connection, cloud computing allows you to enjoy all of the features and files of an IT system anywhere, without having to maintain on-site hardware or keep the bulky amounts of data on your computer. 

Putting it very simply, the cloud is a way of replacing your business’ physical IT infrastructure and hardware with virtual IT infrastructure and services that can be accessed remotely through an internet connection. 

Just like your traditional on-site storage, the cloud makes use of a physical server — except this is not on-site; it’s at a distant location in a data centre. This centralised physical server then hosts a number of virtual, software-defined servers — giving cloud computing its name. Your business data is sent to this cloud-hosted server and stored for later access. This allows businesses to quickly scale up their IT infrastructure.

Cloud environments can provide on-demand delivery of a range of services… 

  • Storage — the cloud can act as a virtual hard drive for archiving all your business files and folders, accessed remotely through the public internet (or a dedicated private connection).
  • Sharing — the cloud can allow businesses to share, add, edit, delete and amend documents. Everyone uses the same hub, and many cloud solutions provide integrated software for working collaboratively — shared docs, calendars and video calling.
  • Backup — although popular cloud data drives aren’t a true backup, there are dedicated cloud backup solutions that have layers of security and encryption — perhaps hosted over a private network — that can give you peace of mind, with 24/7 uptime.
  • Software — the cloud can remove the need to pay outright for a piece of software and install it on your own systems. Also known as Software as a Service (SaaS), software can be accessed over the internet from a central location.
  • Hosting — the cloud can be used for hosting a website or business application, negating the need for physical hardware and infrastructure. It also reduces the reliance on one server, with cloud hosting balancing it across multiple servers in the event of downtime.
  • Infrastructure — also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), everything underpinning your IT network is virtual, rather than physical. This can massively simplify your IT infrastructure.
  • Platforms — Platforms as a Service (PaaS) are cloud-based virtual environments used for developing and managing web applications.

The cloud can be accessed through a website, portal or app on any device with an internet connection. Most cloud-based solutions for businesses have easily-navigable, clear user experience.

Most clouds are accessed through the public internet, but some use a private connection, whilst others can even be a mixture of the two. If you handle sensitive or regulated data — in the finance, banking, medical or public sectors, for example — you may be more likely to use a private or hybrid cloud.

What are the benefits of cloud services for businesses?

Compared to a traditional physical server, one of the biggest benefits of cloud environments is their scalability — they can grow as needed. Whether you’re a small business or enterprise-level organisation, cloud computing can facilitate remote working, reduce overheads and increase efficiency, allowing you to operate more profitability.

  • Scalability — The cloud provides access to more computing power, resources and storage at a moment’s notice. You only have to pay for what you need. Since physical infrastructure rarely runs at capacity, you’ll have a more efficient IT system. It’s agile, too — if your needs grow or shrink, so too can your cloud environment. 
  • Mobility — Without the ball-and-chain of a physical, on-site server, it becomes far easier to access, edit and share files, as well as work collaboratively when away from the office — something particularly important with the pandemic-induced shift in working behaviour. All you need is a suitable device with an internet connection — your location doesn’t matter one jot.
  • Cost & time efficiency — Since owning, running and maintaining servers and infrastructure is handled by a third party, a cloud-based IT strategy eliminates the expenditure and overheads associated with managing your own physical, on-premise IT infrastructure. This, in turn, can reduce complexity. The speed and ease of access can also make your business more productive.
  • Insights — Many cloud environments and solutions can be integrated with your analytics, so you can learn more about your current and target consumers. Data is an incredibly powerful commodity, and the right cloud solution will help you maximise it and use it to your advantage.
  • Security — Whilst many tout security as a downside of the cloud, reputable providers place great importance on the security of their products. As well as managing and providing updates, encryption procedures keep things relatively safe from unauthorised, would-be cyber thieves. In fact, in a survey, 91% of business leaders said that the cloud helps them with data compliance!
  • Consistency — By ensuring that everyone has access to the same documents in the same formats, people aren’t working in silo and saving their own, outdated versions. Collaborating on the cloud keeps things quality controlled.
  • Loss prevention — As we discussed, cloud-based solutions host your data on virtual servers. Any issues at your office (or with your local hardware) will not directly endanger your files — they can still be accessed through any device with an internet connection. As such, whilst cloud drives are not backup solutions themselves, they can allow for quick recovery of data.
  • Sustainability — Since data centres are usually highly energy efficient, the cloud is generally a greener way to operate. As well as minimising the drain of physical hardware on your energy expenditures, cloud computing empowers your staff and gives them freedom to work from home, cutting down on commuter-related emissions.
  • Always-on — Clouds make use of multiple virtual and physical servers to avoid downtime. If you’re hosting a website or app, this can be particularly useful.

What are the drawbacks of cloud services for businesses?

Security is the most commonly-referenced downside to cloud-based IT — a whopping three-quarters of enterprises list security as the key worry when it comes to cloud computing. Anauthorised access is a particular concern — with remote working increasingly a part of our lives, the risk from staff impersonation has grown.

However, when implemented correctly, security issues with cloud computing can be managed effectively, particularly as part of a multi-layered solution. Ensure you choose a reputable cloud service provider (we’ve listed a few recommendations later on)!

Perhaps the biggest actual challenge of cloud computing is implementation and ongoing configuration. If you don’t have the appropriate level of in-house technical expertise and specialised knowledge, you might want to consider enlisting an outsourced team to handle your cloud transition (like us!).

Our team has years of experience in guiding businesses on their cloud services journey, providing consultancy and bespoke solutions to businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors. Feel free to contact us to discuss your requirements!

Which are the best cloud providers for businesses?

If you’re feeling increasingly sold on cloud-computing in your business, it’s time to look at providers. Cloud-based team products such as Microsoft SharePoint or Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) can offer a modern, popular, secure and regularly-updated solution for small and medium-sized businesses. They also provide the additional benefit of being able to work collaboratively.

For more comprehensive needs and requirements, including cloud-based infrastructure, software and platform solutions, two of the biggest and most reputable names in the cloud game include Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.

How much does the cloud cost for business?

Costs associated with these solutions can vary drastically from business to business — since cloud providers often charge per user and by functionality, storage and features required, the size of your team and your needs will impact costs.

For a ballpark estimate, take a look at the Google Workspace pricing plans. In 2022, a ‘business starter’ plan costs around £4.60 per month per user, ‘standard’ plans around £9.20, ‘business plus’ at £13.80, with enterprise-level plan costs available on request.

Making the switch to the cloud: what do I need to do?

If your business or organisation has had a trusty old server in the corner of the office for as long as you can remember, then making the switch to the cloud might be intimidating.

Indeed, making the transition to a cloud-based IT infrastructure can be complex. Unless you’ve got the in-house knowledge, it’s likely that you’d be better off enlisting the technical expertise of some outsourced IT specialists — like us.

We can handle every aspect of your cloud infrastructure: planning, delivery, onboarding, training and ongoing configuration.

Can I use cloud storage as a backup for my business or organisation’s data?

Whilst cloud drives can be used for storing data, it’s worth bearing in mind that your data is usually still at risk. They’re not a true lock-and-key backup — you should still put in place dedicated backup protection for your data. Read the small print of any cloud-based drive solution. You’ll see they take no responsibility for losing your data if there is a problem!

As well as the cloud, our team of business IT experts provide expert cybersecurity consultancy, advice and solutions for businesses of all sizes and sectors. Drop us a message if you’d like us to take a look at your situation!

We Are Your IT: seamless, simple & stress-free cloud solutions for your business

When implemented skillfully, the cloud presents incredible gains in terms of scalability, flexibility, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. We have years of experience in providing tailored, smooth, fully-managed IT services — including cloud-based solutions — to businesses of all sizes.

P.S., if your brew’s still warm, head over to the Learning Hub and explore more IT insights from our team!

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