Cloud computing is swiftly becoming the most highly leveraged technology for business, communications, cyber security, data storage and analysis, and more. The flexibility and mobility of cloud-based software systems and tools make it an obvious choice for companies that operate remotely or need agile systems with frequent oversight, upgrades, and innovations.
Heavy hitters like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are apparently handing out clouds left and right, and businesses everywhere are jumping on the cloud bandwagon.
If you're not sure what this cloud thing is all about, here’s the basic idea: rather than storing programs and data on your computer or company’s server hard drive, everything is stored in “the cloud”—a massive space generated by third-party server farms that is accessible via the Internet.
But who is cloud computing really for? Who benefits from this nebulous data and application storage?
Entrepreneurs: Get started for less
Starting a business can be an expensive proposition. With cloud computing, entrepreneurs can save significantly on startup costs, since there's no need to invest in a massive or complicated IT infrastructure. If you have a decent PC and an Internet connection, you can tap into all the storage space you need.
A cloud environment also spares entrepreneurs from upfront software investments. Most of the big software vendors are now offering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for their popular business programs—so instead of buying the software and licensing for one or more workstations, you can pay a monthly fee and have full access to, for example, Microsoft Office at every computer you use for business.
Small and mid-sized companies: IT that grows with you
Any business that's expanding is likely to experience growing pains. As your company grows, you'll need more space and more sophisticated applications. Traditionally, business expansion has meant disruptive and expensive upgrades to hardware and software.
With cloud computing, upgrading your IT infrastructure is fast and inexpensive. Since you pay only for the space and services you need, it's simply a matter of adding more components through your cloud service provider. You can also remove services if you find out that your company no longer needs them, without paying contract penalties or fees.
Since there's no software to install, the whole process is accomplished in a matter of minutes, rather than days.
Big savings for big business
The bigger the company, the more money is typically invested in IT. Large businesses and corporations can realize substantial savings by converting to either a partial or full cloud environment.
In addition to the usual suspects, cloud platforms can host specialized enterprise applications that are essential to many large businesses. This not only saves on server space, but also helps companies run more efficiently. Cloud environments aren't tied to business equipment—so employees and managers can access their work from the office, at home, or even through their smartphones or tablets.
Using cloud computing also saves money on dedicated IT staff, since the cloud host is responsible for all the equipment, including maintenance and security.
Personal clouds for everyone
You don't have to run a business to benefit from cloud computing. With today's digital lifestyle, just about anyone can make use of the cloud. If you've ever sent an email to yourself so you could access a file from another location, or found yourself wishing you could grab something from your home computer when you're out and about, cloud computing can help.
In fact, you can get yourself a free cloud drive with plenty of storage from any of a number of providers:
- Amazon Cloud Drive: If you have an Amazon account, you already have a cloud drive. Amazon provides 5 GB of free storage and lets you connect up to 8 devices to your cloud. You can also upgrade your space for a fee. If you're not on Amazon, it's free to sign up.
- Google Drive: The search giant's cloud drive service also provides 5 GB for free. It's currently accessible through PCs and Android devices, with apps for iPhone and iPad coming soon.
- Microsoft SkyDrive: Naturally, Microsoft had to outdo the competition, so they're offering 7 GB of storage space with apps for Mac, PC, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android.
- Dropbox: This company was created specifically to offer cloud storage. While the free account features only 2 GB of space, you can “earn” up to 16 GB more by referring friends. You can also upgrade to 100 GB for $10 a month. In addition to the web application, Dropbox features apps for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry.
The answer to the question
So, who needs cloud computing? The answer is: Probably you. Cloud computing is a versatile, flexible solution for the modern world, offering more options and capabilities every day. Are you in the cloud?