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Want more information before moving forward with cloud services? Keep reading.
On the rest of this page, we’ll answer common questions around cloud services, including:
By the end, you should have a clearer understanding of what cloud services entail, and how you can use them to meet the needs of your business.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Let’s start at the beginning with a definition of our term. You’ll notice that it’s made up of two words: “cloud” and “services”. Both can be somewhat problematic, so let’s break things down.
The cloud has been relentlessly mocked as a vague buzzword for about a decade. There’s a classic 2012 Onion video parodying HP’s cloud. There’s a weird, kind-of-funny 2015 video from Google where they pretend to release an “actual cloud.” And there are still countless puns littering the pages of business blogs today.
In other words, there’s been so much buzz around the cloud that it wouldn’t be surprising if you’ve missed the true definition amidst all the smoke (especially if you aren’t in the tech industry).
At a root level, “the cloud” simply means computing that happens off of a local device.
When you run a computer process online – as opposed to running it on your laptop or phone – you’re running it on the cloud. When you store data on a remote server – as opposed to storing it on your local machine – you’re storing it in the cloud.
Cloudflare puts it this way: “’The cloud’ refers to servers that are accessed over the Internet, and the software and databases that run on those servers.”
Services is another vague term. Appended to “cloud,” services generally refer to one of three things:
Offerings that provide the hardware and software that the cloud runs on. This would include offerings like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud (which we’ll discuss in more detail below).
Operational software that runs on cloud infrastructure. For example, Windows Virtual Desktop or a cloud deployment of Salesforce could both be called cloud services under this usage of the term.
Support for cloud technologies. Finally, companies (like Complete Network) that provide cloud consulting and help to optimize cloud technologies may also be referred to as cloud services.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll primarily be referring to the first two uses of the term.
Cloud services are infrastructure (including hardware and software) that enable users to access computing power and storage via the internet, outside of local machines.
At this point, asking “what are cloud services used for?” is a bit like asking “what is a computer used for?” The actual applications of the cloud are endless. But when businesses move to the cloud, they usually do so for one of three reasons:
Because cloud services don’t use local machines, they enable businesses to grow (or contract) without navigating expensive hardware purchases.
Let’s say, for example, that you run a law firm that’s planning to expand over the next five years. Instead of purchasing an expensive, on-premise server to store data and run your practice management software on, you could choose cloud services. Using the cloud, you could upgrade your computing power and storage incrementally as you grow – saving costs along the way.
Your business almost certainly relied on some kind of cloud service to enable remote work during the pandemic.
Cloud services like remote desktops standardize the working experience for employees. Cloud-based communication tools (like Zoom, Slack, and Teams) make remote collaboration possible. And cloud-based data storage platforms keep information safe and give your business more capacity.
These functionalities are becoming business-standard – and without the cloud, none of them are even possible.
Finally, businesses often use cloud services to implement business continuity and disaster recovery solutions.
This typically involves backing up data to a cloud service so that systems can be quickly restarted or maintained in the event of a crisis. By having backups off premises and in the cloud, businesses can reduce the risk that a single event wipes out operations for a long period of time.
If you’re looking for the top cloud service providers, you’re probably using the term “service” in the first sense we discussed – meaning offerings that provide the hardware and software that the cloud runs on.
While there are plenty of cloud service providers (and a variety of niches to which more specialized platforms may be better suited), the companies that are often recognized as the leaders in the industry are:
AWS is Amazon’s cloud service. It stands for Amazon Web Services, but it’s known on an acronym basis – it is, after all, the “largest public cloud computing platform in the world” (in terms of computing power) as of 2021.
AWS spans 25 geographic regions around the world, with 80 availability zones. It’s used by companies like Adobe, Airbnb, Pfizer, and the US government (among others), and it’s equipped to run virtually any software platform – even Microsoft products.
The bottom line is that it’s a generally solid option if you’re looking for a cloud service provider.
Azure is Microsoft’s cloud service. Like AWS, Azure spans the globe, with 60+ geographic regions (which, it boasts, is more than any other cloud provider).
Unlike Amazon, of course, Microsoft is known primarily for its business products. If you’ve used Microsoft tools like Office 365 or Dynamics, you’ve probably noticed things shifting to the cloud – all of Microsoft’s software platforms, of course, are built to play well in this environment.
That’s the bottom line on this cloud service offering. If you’re steeped in a Microsoft environment, you can’t go wrong by choosing Azure.
Google Cloud is not an “actual cloud,” as portrayed in that weird video; it “consists of a set of physical assets, such as computers and hard disk drives, and virtual resources, such as virtual machines (VMs), that are contained in Google’s data centers around the globe.”
Like Azure for Microsoft products, Google works well with Google products, including the Google Business Suite. It’s often well suited for smaller businesses.
The Oracle Cloud, on the other hand, is built for enterprise firms. With commercial and government regions around the world, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure is designed to handle high-bandwidth applications with heavy security requirements.
If you’re an enterprise firm with experience in Oracle products, this is a cloud service offering to consider.
IBM is positioned similarly to the Oracle Cloud in that it’s ideal for enterprise organizations; as the corporate saying goes, you’ll never get fired for going with IBM.
Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s tracked the development of Watson, IBM’s cloud offers “a next-generation hybrid cloud platform, advanced data and AI capabilities.”
If you’re looking to run machine learning or AI applications on a cloud platform, IBM’s cloud is a good option to evaluate.
All right – let’s take a step back. We’ve looked at top cloud providers. But before you make the jump, you’re probably asking whether it’s worth it to migrate to the cloud.
If you’re asking this question, the answer is probably “yes.”
Of course, you’re probably already on some version of the cloud, unless you’re still sending email from an on-site server, storing data locally, and somehow avoiding remote work.
But even for businesses that have used the cloud in different capacities before, this question arises anew each time a new process or system is ready to be upgraded.
“Should I move my ERP to the cloud?”
“Should we replicate our server to the cloud?”
“Should we put our HR platform on the cloud?”
Really, a more helpful question today is, “Why should I keep this system on-premise?” Sometimes, there are legitimate answers. For example, if your systems can’t tolerate even tiny amounts of latency, or if you have specific compliance requirements, you may find that on-premise solutions work best for your needs.
However, in most cases, systems can be taken to the cloud for better cost-efficiency and increased performance.
Once you decide to take a business system to the cloud, you have two options: Carry the deployment through internally, or work with a cloud services consultant.
For many businesses, a cloud services consultant is the right call. A good consultant ensure that implementation goes smoothly, that your systems are set up to work optimally, and that users get the training and support they need.
But it’s crucial to select a good cloud consultant. Here’s what you should look for:
If you’re in healthcare, for example, you’ll be best served by a cloud consultant who can speak directly to the needs of your industry. They’ll need to be versed in HIPAA; they’ll need to know what an EMR is.
But those things – compliance requirements and technical knowledge – are really only a baseline.
A cloud consultant with expertise in your industry can tailor your cloud solution strategically to your needs in a way that a general consultant won’t have the ability to match. They’ll know things like how much storage or computing power you can expect to use and how your workflows should be structured – and they’ll help your business capitalize.
So, ask potential cloud consulting partners if they have expertise in your industry before moving forward.
A second key consideration is that the consultant you choose has experience with the solution you’re seeking to implement.
Now, you may not know what cloud solution you’re going to go with; in fact, you may be looking for consulting to help you select the right solution. In this case, you obviously don’t need a consultant with expertise in a specific solution.
But if you’re already working in, say, a Microsoft Azure environment, you’ll likely do well to work with a Microsoft Azure cloud consultant. The same thing goes if your business systems are built on AWS, or on the Oracle cloud.
If you have a preferred cloud solution, check the certifications of potential consultants, and go with a partner that has expertise.
Finally, as you’re evaluating cloud consultants, look for a company with a proven process for deployment, optimization, and support.
The more seamless your consultant can make your cloud implementation, the better, and a proven process will help toward that end.
The easiest way to evaluate a process is to see it in action, so ask for references – or, at the very least, case studies – preferably from businesses that are similar to your own.
Hopefully, this page has been helpful as you consider cloud services for your business.
If you’re ready to move forward toward a cloud solution that’s right for you, let’s talk.
At Complete Network, we have deep expertise in helping businesses to make the most of the cloud. For over two decades, we’ve provided trusted IT support and expert consulting so that local organizations can win with technology.
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