All about cloud services!

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLOUD SERVICES?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the cloud. Whilst many businesses have already adopted, or are looking to adopt, cloud services, many others are still confused about the cloud and what it actually means. There are many potential benefits to moving part, or all, of your IT infrastructure to the cloud, so it’s worth taking the time to understand what this actually means, so that you can make an informed choice for your business. In this article, we explain what ‘the cloud’ is and the different types of cloud services that are available.

The ‘cloud’ is, in essence, a metaphor for the internet. Cloud services, therefore, are IT and communications services which are delivered via the internet. The cloud provides an alternative to the conventional method of storing data and accessing programs locally using hard drives and onsite servers. Cloud services allow businesses to consume computing resources as a utility, much like gas and electricity, instead of having to build and maintain their own infrastructure onsite. This is much more convenient and is often much cheaper too, especially for small and medium sized organisations. For larger organisations, however, it can be less cost-effective. This is because cloud services are generally paid for per user, so beyond a certain number of users it becomes cheaper to implement your own infrastructure onsite. Nevertheless, many large companies still choose to use cloud services because they offer many more benefits besides cost-efficiency.

TYPES OF CLOUD SERVICES

The different types of cloud services can be divided into three broad categories. These are: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS).

PaaS offers companies a development platform upon which they can create their own applications using web-based tools. These applications are then run on software and hardware that is provided and hosted by another company. Examples of PaaS include Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk, Google’s App Engine and Salesforce’s App Cloud.

SaaS offers companies the ability to access and use software applications online, rather than buying expensive licensed programs. The complete application is run on the service provider’s systems. Examples of SaaS include Gmail, Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365.

IaaS offers companies the ability to purchase access to computer resources online, such as servers or storage capacity. This type of cloud service is probably the most commonly used, by both individuals and businesses. Essentially, storage space and virtual servers are rented by the customer, whilst being owned and managed remotely by the cloud service provider. Examples of well-known IaaS companies include Rackspace, Microsoft and Google.

TYPES OF CLOUD STORAGE

In addition to the different types of cloud service, there are also different cloud storage locations. These are: private, public, hybrid and community. A public cloud service is one that is offered by a company that owns and manages the entire infrastructure remotely on their premises. With public cloud services, the infrastructure may have multiple users. Due to the locality of the equipment, users do not have any physical control over the infrastructure. Cloud services delivered in this way have a tendency to excel in terms of performance. Private cloud services are similar to public cloud services in the sense that they are located and managed remotely by the provider. However, public cloud services differ in the sense that the infrastructure has only one user and, hence, the term “private”. Private cloud services offer the highest levels of security and user control. Hybrid cloud services are so named because they combine elements of both public and private. For example, you may choose to store your company data on private infrastructure for security reasons, but use public cloud infrastructure for your communications with customers. Finally, community cloud infrastructure is that which is shared between multiple organisations, often involving shared management and data.

SERVICES OFFERED VIA THE CLOUD

Many different IT and business communications services are now offered via the cloud. Usually, where a service is referred to as ‘hosted’, this means that it is a cloud service. So, for example, you may see VoIP telephone systems or business email offered as hosted and these are cloud services that are run on the infrastructure of, with all technical management provided by, a third party. One of the most commonly used cloud services is offsite backup. This involves data being transferred to, and stored in, the data centre of the cloud provider. This can help to reduce costs and also ensures that vital data remains available in the event of a disaster.

 

HOW TO USE BUSINESS CLOUD SERVICES SAFELY

Most businesses use some kind of cloud services these days because they’re cost-effective and convenient. Even those that take a strong anti-cloud stance are likely to have cloud services in use somewhere within their company network. Employees will often use personal Google Drive, DropBox or email accounts to store and share company documents, if an appropriate alternative is not provided, simply because doing so makes their lives that much easier.

Businesses commonly point to security as the main issue they have with cloud services, and it’s often the one thing that keeps companies out of the cloud altogether. Many are uncomfortable with the idea of handing over even partial control of their data. This is understandable. Data security is an issue that’s of growing concern to organisations. A serious data breach can cost a lot of money to recover from and do lasting damage to a company’s reputation. But security doesn’t have to be a reason to avoid the cloud altogether, which can mean that companies miss out on the many benefits a switch to cloud services can bring.

Cloud services are often extremely secure, it’s just a matter of choosing the right provider and retaining a certain level of control over your data. Here’s our top tips for using business cloud services safely.

Find the right cloud provider

With so many different services on offer from a huge array of different providers, it can be difficult to know where to begin. When it comes to data security, however, it’s vital that you choose your cloud provider carefully. If you opt for a reputable provider, you could find that your data is even more secure in the cloud than it would be with an on-premises solution. A good provider will be able to demonstrate, with evidence, how their service is governed and managed, and you should request that they do so. Make sure that a prospective provider can inform you exactly how and where your data will be stored, as well as how it will be encrypted. It’s important that they can assure you that your data will be protected with the highest levels of encryption at every stage, from the moment it leaves your premises, during transit and whilst it is being stored in their data centres. Ensure that the provider is contractually obliged to inform you if there has been a security breach on your account and that they have appropriate measures in place for dealing with this. Also, look for providers with adequate security and compliance certifications.

Don’t overlook employee training

Moving all or part of your infrastructure to the cloud is a significant change that will require investment in staff training if you want to maintain good levels of data security. All users need to understand how to use the new systems securely. This is a good time to refresh cyber security training (or offer it for the first time if you haven’t done so before). Make sure your employees are aware of potential threats and best practice for using the company network and services safely.

Not all responsibilities can be outsourced

For some companies, the lure of the cloud lies in the fact that the provider will take care of security so you don’t have to. Whilst this is true, to some extent, it’s very important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for security will always remain with your business. Not all responsibilities can be outsourced, unfortunately. It’s important to understand that there are different levels and types of service available, some with additional security features, for example, and some that require less management than others. Make sure that you understand what is available to you and especially that you fully understand what your responsibilities are when it comes to configuring and managing your cloud services. And remember that it will always be your responsibility to ensure your company is meeting compliance. Even if you have done away with virtually all of your infrastructure, there will always be certain aspects of security that will be down to you. Training employees on best practice is a prime example of one such responsibility that should never be overlooked.

Don’t forget to manage & monitor the service from your end

This leads on from the previous point. It’s necessary and important that you continue to manage your company network and continually monitor the performance and operations of your cloud services and provider. Before you take out a particular service, make sure that it comes with adequate admin controls so that you can manage the service effectively and customise the user experience. Security is key in this regard, and you should be able to control who has access to what data as well as the rules governing passwords etc. Make sure that you define and agree responsibilities from the offset, both between you and your cloud provider as well as internally within the company.

Conclusion

Despite the scare stories we sometimes hear, the cloud can be extremely secure. It is simply a myth that on-premises solutions are always more secure than cloud services. But, in this day and age, there are always going to be security risks no matter what. If you are moving to the cloud, there are many steps you can take to ensure that your data remains as safe as possible. Choose your provider carefully and ensure that you don’t make the mistake of assuming that all security responsibilities can be outsourced. Ensure that you continue to take an active role in maintaining good levels of security, and ensure that all users do so also. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reduce your workload by moving to the cloud, but just that a certain level of input will always be necessary. Never forget that the ultimate responsibility for data security will always rest with you.