I remember lying on the grass as a boy looking up at the clouds in the sky on those beautiful afternoons calling out to friends next to me, “Do you see that one?  It looks like…” and dreaming of what we might do when we grow up.  The years have gone by, and now I have those same conversations with my kids as they pick out the different shapes the clouds resemble and talk about their dreams for the future.

This is not really the picture that most conjure up now when they hear “The Cloud,” though.  Times have definitely changed, and you’ve been hearing people around the office talk about The Cloud.  It seems like it has been mentioned in just about every marketing email you receive. You’ve been tempted to look out the window to see what it is they are talking about, but somehow you know it is more than that big white fluffy thing you stared at as a kid.

What is it, and do you really need it?
It seems like there are new buzz words being talked about at the turn of every corner, but which ones make sense to learn about?  Where should you invest your time and money?  After all, you have a business to run!

Before we dive into reasons you may or may not want to use Cloud technology, let’s first define what it is and is not. First, contrary to popular marketing statements, the Cloud is not the answer to all your IT problems. It isn’t going to turn your business around overnight, save you so much money that you will start posting record profits, and it may not even make sense for you to introduce it into your infrastructure. What the Cloud is, however, can be placed in the following three categories: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.
SaaS (Software as a Service)
Rather than spending hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars on certain programs and applications, you can use services provided over the internet.  This allows you similar functionality as those applications you have purchased to be installed on your local machines and servers, without the upfront expenses and licensure (i.e. Microsoft Office, email, and your CRM application).  Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs are two examples of SaaS.  Another example is Freedom Mail Security, the service that is included in our Freedom plans to manage and secure email.  SaaS can be easily summed up in one phrase: hosted business applications.

PaaS (Platform as a Service)
The internet can serve to facilitate development platforms to build and run applications.  This is what programmers would use to spin up and down (as needed) for developing and testing of applications before they go to production.  Examples are Google App Engine and Force.com.  PaaS can be easily thought of as those hosted applications, framework, and development tools that can be leveraged to build and test applications prior to release.

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
As a more permanent solution, the internet can offer virtual servers to replace your existing physical hardware, allowing you to run your business critical applications through the internet (email, active directory domain, SharePoint, and your website to name just a few).  Amazon and Rackspace are good examples of IaaS.  We have also been working with a few of our clients to develop an IaaS solution.  IaaS can be remembered as those consumable hardware items that you use to run your business, such as a computer or server.

I will be following up with a series of articles to go more in depth with the benefits of each of these Cloud services; but for now, think of the Cloud as the many ways in which the internet can help virtually support your business functions.  Some options will greatly benefit you, while others may really not be the best solution for your specific business needs.

So, keep looking to see what you see in the clouds, and stay tuned for more ways in which The Cloud and all its virtual support will help you grow your business…and ways it won’t!