Over the last decade, cloud computing has gone from being one option among many for businesses looking to expand their operations, to being an essential part of business planning from day one. The disruptive impact of this technology upon traditional business operations has been considerable. The question now is which services and operations can be shifted to the cloud. Existing companies are finding that in most cases the benefits and savings of moving to the cloud outweigh the initial expenditure and inconvenience of updating legacy systems. For new businesses, putting most of their operations on the cloud from the start is often the only option that makes sense.
The coming of the cloud
The basic principles of cloud computing, whereby a network of users can all access a shared virtual space, is at least as old as the internet itself. Arguably it goes back to the earliest iterations of mainframe computing with connected terminals.
The term ‘cloud’ computing was first defined by Professor Ramnath Chelleppa in 1997, and commercial cloud applications began to emerge on a large scale in the early 2000s. The technology really took off in the last decade, with the full deployment of software as a service (SAAS): scalable, affordable solutions to almost every business need, providing unprecedented security, storage and accessibility to companies around the globe.
The entrepreneur Charles Phillips developed Infor as the world’s first industry cloud company that provides tailored enterprise resource planning (ERP) and cloud solutions for a wide range of different sectors. Its Cloud Suite software can be customized as required and is used by businesses and public sector organizations of all sizes, across manufacturing, healthcare, retail and beyond.
Though many think of the cloud as primarily a storage solution and a method for real-time collaboration on projects from different geographical locations, in fact, the potential and current use of cloud computing are far more diverse and adaptable. Data of all kinds can be backed up securely, off-premises, and the cloud is by far the most effective disaster recovery solution. It can provide a platform, infrastructure and so much more.
Many businesses have found the scalability of cloud computing to be one of its biggest advantages. Smaller firms, or those just beginning to transition to the cloud, can simply pay for the services they require at that moment and can scale up when they need to, or when their budget allows. This pay-as-you-go model means there’s no need for a large initial financial outlay, the cost of which can be prohibitively expensive for new or small businesses.
In addition to being more cost-effective, the pay-as-you-go model is also easier to budget for. A predictable regular expense is far more agreeable than the need for large payments that may fall due at times when cash flow is not all it could be. This affordability has effectively levelled the playing field, giving start-ups and smaller businesses access to the same state-of-the-art technology and solutions as multinational corporations.
While new companies over the last few years have increasingly adopted a digital, cloud-based strategy from the start, existing firms may take a hybrid or multi-cloud approach. That may include a private cloud hosted by dedicated servers on their own premises, used to handle extra-sensitive data, while also using a public cloud provider.
There are pros and cons to this approach, and in many cases, it is merely a transitional stage before going fully onto the cloud. Major providers take their duty to meet the highest standards of compliance and security very seriously. It is, after all, the foundation of their function and credibility and is extremely important both in terms of meeting legal obligations and protecting client information.
The cloud has provided a wide range of new opportunities for business, as well as enhanced efficiency and flexibility. In facilitating remote working for employees, it has not only allowed for a better work-life balance but has benefited businesses in terms of being able to call on the best and brightest workers and specialists as and when needed.
Because the cloud provides immediate access to the latest technologies and strategies, it means businesses can try them without taking the risk of making a major investment, so providing far greater business agility. Being able to use the highest levels of IT without having to create and maintain your own infrastructure is what has facilitated the digital transformation necessary for many companies to remain competitive. As systems move to the cloud, they are also increasingly more compatible with other systems, allowing greater collaboration and flexibility.
Research in 2018 suggested that 90% of organizations would be using some form of cloud computing over the next two years, with 60% having most of their IT off-premises. With the market predicted to be worth $53.3bn by 2021, cloud computing is clearly here to stay.