It is perhaps easiest to think of cloud computing as the IT equivalent of the national grid, which supplies electricity on demand in a scalable manner to businesses and individuals from a centralised, shared platform. This is a simplistic overview of cloud computing, but in essence the purpose of the cloud is to make things simpler and to allow for a more secure, universal level of access to the basic services which we expect to receive from in-house systems.
Cloud computing, as a concept, has its roots in the 1960s, but it was not until the early 1990s that the word ‘cloud’ became associated with the idea of the commoditisation of IT services, borrowed as it was from the telecommunications industry. By 1997 cloud computing had entered academic nomenclature, and the boom of internet businesses allowed for this type of technology to expand rapidly. In the mid-2000s many mainstream firms such as Amazon and Google were seen as leaders in championing cloud-based technology. Virtualization within businesses gradually became more common, with most experts predicting that the future lies with the cloud, despite concerns over security.
Cloud computing essentially utilises an external infrastructure of servers and data centres so that cloud providers can offer ready-made platforms for software tools and web services to businesses, and individuals who are not tied to any particular location. This means that it is not necessary for businesses to purchase, maintain and upgrade in-house technology. Instead they can cut costs and outsource to cloud firms, who can create a much more flexible working environment, with remote access and scalability.
There are several consequent benefits of using cloud computing which are particularly pertinent for enterprise customers. The ability to share and collaborate on projects is perhaps key amongst these assets, as there is no geographical restriction on access to cloud services. This means partnerships can operate internationally, and freedom of movement is assured. Security is another area in which cloud computing can triumph, because by centralising and externalising systems the cloud providers can focus on securing servers and limiting access; in-house alternatives would be managed by a stretched IT department that might not be able to meet these needs adequately.
Ultimately, the most significant benefit of cloud computing comes down to cost. Expanding and improving cloud services are possible because thousands of subscribers and users are all adding to the experience and so spreading the costs widely. This means a single big investment from one player is rarely required, and as such each user reaps the benefits of what is essentially a communally funded project. From this type of growth comes reliability, since cloud providers typically backup their servers because they have the ability to do so; while in-house solutions might have no failsafe, making disaster recovery and business continuity almost impossible.
There are obvious risks to cloud computing platforms, and various claims that the security of such setups is less than assured. However, the enticing pricing and the promise of real time adaptability and on-demand services means that the cloud is the future.