What is The Cloud? (And What Can It Do for My Business?)

The cloud is an increasingly important resource for your business and your personal life.  There’s just one problem: Most people don’t know what, “the cloud” is.  The answer is actually pretty simple.  The cloud is a cluster of networked processors and data storage delivered as a service through a singular interface.

What can The Cloud do for my Business?Well, that’s the answer a techie would give you so you’ll realize that the implementation of the idea is much more complex than the idea itself.  So let’s skip how the cloud works and focus on what it actually is.

What is the Internet?

The most important thing to understand about the cloud is that it is only made possible by the Internet.  At a high level, the Internet is a bunch of computers connected together with wires.  One example is loading a webpage: all you’re really doing is having your computer ask another computer for some information (HTML), and then your computer interprets the information and shows it to you in a human-readable way.

So if computers can talk to each other, wouldn’t it be really great if they could coordinate their resources so that a weak computer can ask a strong computer for help? Enter the cloud.

What is ‘The Cloud’?

Cloud computing is basically a way for many different computers (called a cluster) to coordinate their resources (processor and data storage) so that they can all work on the same task at the same time.

All these computers are working on the same problem, and they are nicely coordinated so that you don’t have to know or care about how many computers are working together on a specific task, such as storing your digital photos.  Also, you don’t really need to know which computers have which pictures.  All you need to know is that they’re somewhere in the cloud and you can access them when you need them.

One of the defining features of the cloud is how easily it can be expanded.  Because the cloud is made of a cluster of computers, it should be easy to add a computer if you need more resources.  It’s also pretty easy to remove a computer from the cluster, if you find that you don’t need the extra power.  This elastic property is the key to making the cloud valuable to your business.

How Can I Make ‘The Cloud’ Work for My Business?

Backing Up Your Files

Online backup services often rely on the cloud for saving your data.  Unlike a hard drive, the online backup service is able to keep costs low because it uses only the minimum amount of space needed to store your information.

Using a hard drive can be costly and inefficient. Chances are you’ll never fill up that hard drive with backups (which means you’ve paid for storage space you don’t use), and if you do fill up the hard drive, you’ll need to go out and buy another one.

As a cost-effective solution, an online backup service using the cloud will automatically adjust your available storage so that you are always optimizing your cost/usage ratio and are not overpaying for unused storage space.

If you are using an online fax service, you may want to look into their online storage option. This cloud based service makes storing your sensitive documents easy, safe and is typically free with an online faxing plan.

Building Your Website

If you want to have a website, you will need a server to host the site.  You can use a computer as your server, but the computer you choose will need to be powerful enough to handle the Internet traffic to your website and also be cost effective (servers can get really expensive).  If your website is really popular, you might have to get more powerful computers to cope with the high traffic.

We recommend using a cloud service, like Amazon EC2 or Rackspace Cloud Hosting, as a flexible solution. Instead of going out and buying your own computer, you can rent some of the resources from the cloud.  The great thing about these services is that you are only charged for the hours that you actually have a server running. And if you do become popular, it’s very easy to make your cloud computer bigger, or add a second one.

Many website builder services already employ the cloud to host your website for you.  These services offer all the benefits of the cloud, but also provide non-technical people with the ability to easily design and manage their own website for a low monthly cost. We highly recommend website builders for business owners who are just starting up or who have a limited marketing budget.


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