Cloud Services
Cloud Services

It’s 2018, and the cloud still manages to draw puzzled looks from many a CIO the world over. Part of the reason why this happens is because the cloud has been marketed as a be-all fix-all to virtually every problem that businesses can imagine.

Of course, when someone doesn’t understand something, they are either afraid to use it, or they end up misusing it. Cloud based services are, in fact, a blessing for new businesses because they can dramatically decrease the cost of services while increasing stability — all by letting businesses use shared infrastructure as and when it is required.

So what is the cloud?

The cloud was never a new technology as many people seem to have understood. Rather, it’s simply a different delivery model for existing technologies.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

As internet bandwidths have increased considerably over the past decade, consumers need not buy, purchase or install software on their own machines anymore. Rather, they can simply access the same facility on the computers of the software authors.

A simple example of cloud versus traditional IT is how Google Docs is replacing MS Word and Apple Pages today. Both are productivity tools. But unlike Word or Pages, Google Docs is free, doesn’t need a dedicated computer to run on and doesn’t require constant updates. All upkeep is managed by Google in the background so that users can focus on using the tool rather than managing it.

Most business IT resources can be accessed this way now, which is why entrepreneurs should take the cloud seriously. It can help lower costs and free up resources to pursue business goals. Here are four cloud technologies that stand to revolutionize how we do business in the near future.

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1. Desktop as a Service (DaaS).

Buying and maintaining computers can be costly business. Not only are the initial components expensive, they also become obsolete fairly quickly and need to be maintained constantly thru updates.

Desktop as a Service, or DaaS, solves this perennial problem by letting consumers access “virtual desktops” that are hosted by a cloud service provider. When you log on, the screen looks exactly as it would on a regular desktop, and you can install software on these virtual devices just like on any regular computer. The only difference here is that the OS and the data is on a cloud server.

This presents several key advantages. By outsourcing desktops, you can free up your IT staff from constantly update softwares of all the devices in the company. Nor do they have to look after computers owned by third-party contractors. You don’t need to buy costly hardware or invest in security measures either.

Paired with methods like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), you can free up a lot of your resources which can be dedicated to pursuing your company goals rather than maintaining infrastructure.

Which virtual desktop you decide to go with depends on the features you want. Some like VMware Horizon Air offer multiple OS options including Windows 7, 8, Server 2008 and 2012 while another affordable option, Amazon Workspaces, provide Windows Server infrastructure for you to use as you please.

2. Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS).

Any company that values its business will value its data. While onsite data recovery solutions are recommended, keeping all your (digital) eggs in just one basket may not be the wisest thing here.

DRaaS is a subscription based identity management solution that is delivered through the cloud. It offers several advantages over traditional data recovery solutions and can be used with many types of OSs, applications and data types. The solution is usually optimized to detect and move new data allowing for quick backups.

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As in the case of DaaS, you can forgo investments in an expensive onsite or offsite data backup solution if you don’t want to. Finally, you don’t need to have any expertise in maintaining or even configuring data backups.

Because you will want your data back to its original state as quickly as possible, you should familiarize yourself with RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objective). A DRaaS provider’s RPO stipulates the amount of time an application will be recovered, while RTO lays out the time in which all your systems are up and running. The lower the RTO that a cloud service provider offers, the better it is.

Brands that offer DRaaS include NetApp and Sunguard, as part of a larger spectrum of cloud based services. Both are fully managed recovery solutions ideal for small businesses.

3. Security as a Service (SECaaS).

Onsite security management faces the same hassles that any other IT services have — they are a pain to manage! The more you give your IT staff to manage, the greater the chance that something might be missed, creating a cybersecurity loophole.

There is also the ever present threat of user’s own unsecured devices being connected to your network and accessing the data on it. Such situations present daunting challenges that IT teams are all too well aware of.

SECaaS is a cloud-based business model wherein IT security is provided and managed by a third-party rather than in-house teams, usually using a subscription model. These services include regular antimalware, authentication, intrusion detection, security event management, firewall management, etc.

Since most of your IT security is being managed by a predesigned system, you need not invest in costly analysts or consultants. Some vendors like Palerra offer threat detection, incident response and predictive analytics, while others like Okta focus on single sign-on coupled with powerful security management protocols.

4. Identity as a Service (IDaaS).

Identity Access and Management (IAM) is already a suggested feature that businesses should invest in. If you have ever come across a program, file or folder that you cannot access, then you are already familiar with the technology. IAM essentially helps companies manage how its users access and interact with applications and data within its networks.

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However, traditional IAM solutions can only offer so many solutions and historically do not scale well. They are hard to adapt to new company policies or government regulations. Case in point, the new GDPR rule set that is set to take center stage this May in Europe will require wide changes to IAM policies in many companies.

IDaaS can help companies here greatly as it pretty much automates the entire identity and access management of a company. IDaaS services provide single sign-ons, access controls and multi-factor authentications to help companies manage how all their users interact with applications and data.

Rapid deployment, reduced operational complexity and low-risk thru a managed service all result in greater security and savings for companies. Examples here include OneLogin, which is a leader in the space of authentication thanks to their standards based approach to application integration. If you want to go with tried and tested, then IBM Cloud Identity Service is great place to start.

Concluding thoughts.

Famed technologist and writer Nicholas Karr in his book, Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, says IT systems are similar to the infrastructure technology of railroads and electricity. While they are new and being built into the commerce infrastructure, they provide decisive advantages to forward-thinking companies. However, as costs decrease, IT becomes an invisible ubiquitous commodity powering society in the background.

The advent of the cloud has changed the way we do business. Given its relative advantages, chances are it too will become a pervasive part of our society. The services described above are part of this trend, and we will only continue to see more services being moved to the cloud. Companies stand to reap rich rewards by moving their operations to the cloud as they can not only design and develop products and services faster, but also do it at a lesser cost than the competition.