Cloud computing: Can your organisation benefit?

Over the last decade, cloud based offerings have matured and can provide retailers with substantial benefits. In this article we provide you with an overview of the cloud, how it can help reduced overheads, and several challenges cloud services present retailers.

What am I getting?

Essentially the cloud is the Internet. When we talk about cloud computing we’re talking about applications and data that we access through the Internet rather than accessing it from a computer’s own internal storage. Applications are accessed through the cloud rather than locally which means that the application functions a lot like a website where multiple users can log in and use the service at the same time and independent of each other.

There are two types of cloud computing; the public cloud and the private cloud. The public cloud is what you’d expect - open to anyone, offering on-demand computing resources through the Internet. A private or ‘internal’ cloud functions in much the same way as the public cloud but instead the corporation using it owns and maintains the data centre.

The cloud enables users to run applications and access their files as long as they have access to the Internet which allows the ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) model to be viable. With the SaaS model users never need to pay large capital expenditure for hardware, software and technical support people, instead they ‘rent’ the application from an external body.

Upgrade and support

As the software is based at a single central location upgrading and maintenance does not inhibit users and all users are upgraded at the same time. Furthermore, users all use the exact same program so everyone’s files are compatible with all other users' files.

Several areas where retailers would save on expenditure include:

- Reduced amount of IT support staff

When using a cloud application, software and hardware maintenance and upgrades are done by the cloud service provider, which negates the need for on-site IT support for that software.

- Upgrades costs be gone

Instead of buying the latest software version, the cloud service will automatically update for you. This automatic update and upgrade service reduces the need for numerous licences and the time and resource to upgrade your workstations.

- Reduced server upkeep

Servers are a resource hog that require, on-going maintenance, consume energy, and require regular backup and patching. All these costs are absorbed by the cloud service provider.

- Reduced software client deployments

When using a SaaS model, new users simply need an Internet browser to log-on. The beauty of browser accessed software is that you are not tied into a specific hardware platform. In other words, you can use a normal computer, an iPad, or even a mobile phone to quickly access the service.

Too good to be true?

There is no doubt that cloud based applications provide flexibility, reduced cost, faster setup and deployment times and many other benefits. However, two major concerns for any retailer using the cloud are reliability and security.

The sudden reliance on having an Internet connection in order to work effectively can be a huge sticking point, but the majority of cloud based applications can work offline and synchronise changes from the local machine to the cloud when the connection is restored. Files can be saved both locally and in the cloud, reducing the issue of lost data.

The second concern is security. With data being stored off-site, many retailers fear that a breach is something that they cannot control - however, having sensitive data stored off-site makes malware infections and cyber-attacks rarer.

Conclusion

Cloud computing is a useful tool to cut costs. Through not owning anything you save time and money. The disadvantages presented are the most common concerns and as a result they are the concerns that cloud computing providers are working on to eradicate. By renting your IT solutions you remove the overheads associated with up-keep, maintenance and upgrading.

Other articles in the cloud series that you may find helpful

10 major cloud computing terms you need to know

The impact of the cloud on your network

The impact of a cloud failure on your business

Your recipe for cloud success

3 essential questions businesses must ask before adoption of new technology