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Use of the Cloud has rocketed in recent years, with 84% of organisations now using cloud services, up from a mere 48% five years earlier.
Here are the real reasons companies are embracing the Cloud and why that growth shows no sign of stopping.
IT staff already have a lot on their plates, without having to spend their time upgrading and fixing physical servers. Cloud computing services make it possible to offload these hardware-related tasks to someone else. And frankly, many IT staff are jumping at the chance to get shot of these tasks, so they can focus on other projects.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings are winning converts. The software is often easy to use and collaboration-friendly. Many offerings are web-based, allowing departments to bypass their organisation's software application approval process.
Signing up for Cloud services is easy. Sometimes you just need a web browser and a credit card. More often than not, you can order without the need to go through a salesman. And once you've ordered a service, it's usually easy to add new users or additional capacity.
Cloud data storage services have dramatically reduced the technical challenge of storing large amounts of data. For many years, Dropbox, one of the world's largest file storage & syncing services, relied on Amazon's S3 data storage service to store hundreds of millions of gigabytes of data. So, no matter how much data you need to store, chances are that cloud services can store it for you. You may no longer need your own Storage Area Network.
With the Cloud, you just rent what you need. Often, there's no need to pay in advance for hardware and software licenses. As a result, it’s easier to get cloud services signed off by management than to get approval for projects that require thousands of pounds of upfront investment. Many companies can afford to make such investments, but prefer to conserve their cash in order to maintain their operational flexibility.
In many businesses, departments are signing up for niche Cloud services, without running those decisions by the IT department. For example, Marketing departments are signing up to email broadcast services like Mailchimp and many Finance departments are opting for online accounting packages like Clear Books or Xero.
This is the 'killer app' for most SMEs and the key driver behind the growth of Google Apps for Work and Office 365. Most firms never really wanted to manage an email server. Now, they don't have to. For many firms, the move to hosted email has increased mailbox storage quotas and dramatically reduced the demands that email puts on IT departments' time.
The multi-tenanted architecture underpinning many cloud services makes it cheaper to add a new customer than was the case when each customer was given their own separate installation. Solutions that were previously marketed only to large firms can now be offered to medium-sized firms and small businesses. This has made it viable for many cloud service providers to market these services using both online and offline advertising. This advertising is winning new customers – many of which may not even be aware that they've signed up to a 'cloud' service.
Traditional Cloud offerings required a lot of technical knowledge (e.g. Windows or Linux administrator skills). Many recent Cloud offerings (Dropbox, Office 365, Google Apps for Work, salesforce.com, etc) do not require such skills, meaning they're usable by a wider variety of firms, including those without full-time IT staff.
As cloud services gain new customers, their economies of scale improve. This feeds through into lower prices, investment in new features, and increased marketing expenditure. These three elements each attract new customers, further improving economies of scale. The virtuous circle then repeats.
Senior management now use cloud services such as Gmail, Dropbox and iCloud at home, and keep reading about 'the Cloud' in the business press, so are more comfortable signing off Cloud-computing projects than ever before.
Most IT departments aren't 24/7 operations. But increasingly, they have to deliver a reliable 24/7 service — to accommodate ecommerce sites, customer portals and staff working remotely at odd hours. Cloud services can help meet this requirement, as they tend to be monitored closely so problems are fixed whenever they occur. Customer support desks are usually on hand during extended business hours, and in many cases they're available 24/7.
Cloud computing services tend to have pre-provision capacity, so adding new users, new customers and additional services is rapid – sometimes even instantaneous. This helps Cloud computing customers meet tight deadlines, and enables them to order things just in time, after they receive an order from their own customers.
Some Cloud computing services offer free trials. Some allow you to upgrade or downgrade on a month-to-month basis. Some don't require contracts longer than a month, provided you pre-pay and give your supplier permission to rebill your credit card.
Many companies opt for Cloud services in order to improve IT service availability. Cloud services tend to be built on resilient, enterprise-class hardware, hosted in proper data centres. They tend to use virtualisation to improve uptime. They usually perform regular data backups and monitor systems closely for the first sign of problems. There are often technicians working, or on-call, 24 hours a day. These elements combine to create a high level of uptime.
Many cloud services are accessible via the Internet. This has benefits when it comes to business continuity. If your office burns down or is flooded, you can still access your data and applications from an alternative location. Staff may also be able to work from home, accessing cloud-based services via their home broadband connections.
Many organisations are reluctant to trust their key systems to the Cloud. But as server virtualisation has become the norm, it has become far easier to shift these systems to the Cloud, while maintaining control and security. Enterprise-class virtualisation software such as VMware vSphere can provide strong isolation between different customers' systems. It makes it easy to move virtual machines to different physical servers, without things breaking. The virtualisation layer provides the customer with protection against vendor lock-in.
As a result of these improvements, some businesses have stopped hosting everything in-house and are opting to use hosted virtualisation and platform-as-a-service offerings instead.
There are a myriad of reasons behind the growing demand for cloud services.
Although the percentage of firms using cloud services has surged from 48% five years ago to 84% today, there's still plenty of growth left to come.
Most of that growth won't be from the 16% of firms that have yet to sign up for a single cloud service. It will come from the other 84% that already use the cloud, as they sign up to use additional cloud services.
This inexorable shift towards hosting most data and servers in the Cloud is going to transform the working lives of everyone in IT. The majority of IT jobs will become more interesting, as fiddly IT infrastructure tasks are offloaded to cloud service providers. Provisioning, upgrading and maintaining IT systems will become a lot easier. And businesses will find their IT systems are becoming more affordable, reliable and flexible, thanks to the intelligent use of cloud services.
It's worth looking through the 17 factors above and asking yourself whether it's time to make more use of the cloud. Do you REALLY want to maintain a Microsoft Exchange email server yourself? Is a room in your office REALLY the best location for your servers, or would they be better off in a proper data centre?
Use of the cloud is growing like crazy, for good reason. Now's the pefect time to take advantage of all the benefits that cloud services offer.