Nowadays, we will most likely not find someone who uses a computer and has never heard of “the cloud”. But what is this that sounds so ethereal all about? How is it related to our use of technology? How does it affect our everyday life?
Imagine this situation: You are driving home after a long day at the office. Traffic is heavy, so to make the journey more bearable, you connect your mobile phone to the car’s audio system, open your favorite audio streaming app (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music…), and play one of your favorite music lists or podcast.
Traffic worsens. It is time to use your geolocation service (Waze, Google Maps …) and look for an alternative route that saves you a few minutes.
You are finally home. It’s been a tough day. All you want is grabbing a bite and lie down in front of the TV, so you use your go-to food delivery app (Uber Eats, Glovo, Food Panda…), and from the dozens of options available, you order a pizza. A couple of clicks, and dinner is pre-paid and on the way. While it arrives, you hit the couch, open your video streaming app (Netflix, Prime Video, Disney +, HBO Max…), and pick up your favorite series right where you left off yesterday. Your phone alerts you that your order is about to arrive. Great! Time to chill with good pizza and good TV.
Until recently, all of the above would have been simply unthinkable. You might recall that just ten years ago, saving your music and videos required making room for piles of CDs or USB drives, or stuffing your PC’s hard drive to its capacity. Remember all the inconvenience? The drawbacks ranged from serious file storage limitations to the impossibility of accessing a file anywhere and everywhere we wanted. Each file was available only on the device that contained it. The closest thing to mobility in the access to our songs or videos was carrying around copies on discs or flash memories.
Today, on the other hand, accessing information from any device connected to the internet is something absolutely daily, so much so that we never question it. But, if our music, the navigation data, the information on the hundreds of restaurants we can choose from, or the series and movies that we watch on demand are not stored on our devices, where is all that data stored? The answer is in the cloud.
Welcome to the cloud!
Back to our original question: What is the cloud?
With all the advances in information technologies we have experienced in recent years, our ability to send and receive data has grown enormously. Increasingly powerful processors and ever-expanding bandwidth capacities make it possible to access, in real-time, files that would have taken eons to download not that long ago. These ground-breaking technologies opened the possibility for technology giants such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, or Amazon to create massive data centers and offer remote data hosting, processing, and analytics services. Thus, the idea that companies had to keep their data on local, physical servers, only accessible through the terminals directly connected to their networks, started to sound obsolete.
Through such services, now companies and individuals are freed from acquiring and continuously maintaining complex physical infrastructures. Instead, they simply hire the IT services they need. The databases, the software, the storage, the data analysis… everything is remotely accessible through applications on any smart device. This is what cloud technologies mean.
Why the cloud?
The benefits that come with the cloud are enormous and expand daily thanks to continuous advances in technology.
Saving. Remote data management implies that companies no longer need to invest in expensive hardware (server racks, terminals, physical network infrastructure…) and software packages. Operating costs such as power, maintenance, professional services, and licenses plummeted or simply went the way of the dodo.
Practicality. Traditionally, implementing IT products and services involved multiple -and costly- experts working for days, sometimes weeks or months to get everything functioning as expected. In contrast, provisioning and running cloud services at full capacity typically takes a few clicks and minutes to hours in the worst of cases.
Smart consumption. The savings go beyond software, hardware, and operating costs; it extends to the services’ use. In the cloud, you pay strictly for what you use, no more, no less. When choosing service packages, this flexibility makes it easier for small and medium-sized companies to access technological resources that would otherwise be impossible for them to afford. The cloud also allows for varying the scope of services as needed. For instance, if a small business starts to grow and their requirements for data storage, processing, and transmission increase, they can choose to upscale their service requirements. If, on the contrary, a company needs -for whatever reason- to reduce the services they consume, they can do so immediately.
Productivity. The ability to access every bit of information any time, from anywhere, and through virtually any device capable of connecting to the internet, opens infinite possibilities in terms of productivity. For example, in the past, a report would have been left unfinished in the PC of the person in charge while they went home for the weekend, now that same person can access the document from their mobile phone, tablet, or personal computer, and finish it on the go. Not only that, they can share and work on it collaboratively and in real-time with their teammates.
Upgrade. It is not just a matter of remote access to applications and data processing; it is also a matter of characteristics of the services and applications available. With cloud technologies, the need for always having the latest hardware and software versions to keep the edge in performance is a thing of the past. Now, absolutely everything is immediately updated at no additional costs.
Another advantage is that IT teams no longer have to spend long hours on relatively simple everyday tasks, such as managing accounts or installing and updating software, allowing them to focus on more relevant tasks from a strategic standpoint.
Security. Hosting and organization’s data in the cloud can be nerve-wracking to people who feel at ease by keeping it on physical servers they can see and touch. However, the cloud offers security solutions that, until recently, would have been considered as science fiction. Users’ identity verification through artificial intelligence, automated management of access privileges, communications encryption, filtering and evaluation of incoming and outgoing emails to detect malicious software, secure data storage and archiving, disaster recovery protocols… The data security levels on the cloud exceed the experts’ wildest dreams and are the stuff cybercriminals’ nightmares are made of.
Business opportunities. Around the world, the cloud has stimulated the creation of countless new services for companies to raise their efficiency and productivity to unprecedented levels, to the consumers’ benefit; and the innovation won’t stop. For businesses, regardless of size, location, or economic activity, migrating to the cloud is a must; a matter of survival. Those that have done it the right way or are in the process of doing it will remain at the forefront in their industries; those that resist change might find themselves obsolete sooner than later.
And as with any change comes opportunity, this dilemma creates a world of possibilities for IT services enterprises, particularly for managed service providers. They are the ones called to guide every organization in the world, from small businesses to multinational corporations, on their digital transformation journey.