Innovation in the world of computing is constant. Each day, new ideas drive the development of apps, products, and services. This consistent progression, especially in the last fifty years, has relied on different centralized and distributed models of computing to power and support innovation.
In the last decade, the pace of innovation has accelerated even further. New computing techniques have changed the delivery and business models of many companies, including the likes of Amazon and Netflix, bringing about a shift in how people buy and consume new services.
A brief history of computing
Modern computing began in the 1960s with mainframes, “big iron” machines that were known for their large size, as well as their large amount of storage and high processing power (by contemporary standards). This computing model was centralized, meaning that all of the processing was performed on a central on site server, making it easily accessible and highly reliable.
In the 1980s, the rise of IBM and Apple’s personal computers changed the model of computing to a distributed one. This shifted how information was processed by providing users a way to store data on their personal computer’s hard drive, while also enabling access to a larger network of computers via the Internet.
From the turn of the century onwards, computing has shifted back towards a centralized model as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and mobile solutions become the new standard mode of operation for many companies. The emergence of cloud computing has dramatically assisted in this shift back to centralization and has presented a new opportunity (and challenge) when it comes to how businesses operate.
Cloud computing models
The ability to store and access vast amounts of data via the Internet and remote servers frees up a lot of resources on local servers or a PC’s hard drive. The model also supports a number of compelling business reasons, including a reduction of IT staff or dedicated IT staff that require special skills. This is precisely why cloud computing is quickly becoming the standard way of operating for a lot of modern businesses.
People and businesses are able to choose between pure cloud, non cloud, or hybrid cloud computing options, allowing them to control how resources and data are accessed, stored, and processed, based on their needs and specific requirements.
The argument made for keeping processing on the client side or, at least, on the edge, is that things can go wrong, especially when relying on another party (like an Internet Service Provider, telecommunications, or media company) to provide steady access to the resources or services required. Ultimately, it means that reliable access is no longer within the company’s control. Another aspect to consider is the rights regarding intellectual property. Who owns the content stored in the cloud? What about the content that’s created within the cloud? What about the legal jurisdiction for where the content is physically located and whether a foreign government can get access?
As cloud computing continues to gain strides among small, medium, and large businesses, it’s worth taking a closer look at how companies make use of the cloud and how this shift in computing is likely to affect future innovation in the world of computing.
Pure cloud computing
Some companies have made a full blown move to the cloud, using on-demand services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud as tools to create, maintain, and process daily workloads.
Businesses that operate on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), or Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) models, often make use of these third-parties as the primary pillar of their own infrastructure, building their product or service using the capacity of the cloud. Companies are able to make use of both a public or a private cloud, either using third-party services or setting up their own onsite data centre to maintain a private network of cloud-based resources used exclusively by the business.
The benefits of the cloud
The benefits of having every work process, both internal and external, operate through the cloud is that companies can significantly cut down on the cost of buying and maintaining the hardware and software necessary to set up their own onsite data centres. Speed is another factor as users of third-party services can often increase capacity as needed through their user dashboard, without needing to purchase, ship, and set up more hardware of their own.
This self-service, on demand model helps companies scale quickly, providing another benefit to businesses that want to maintain a high level of flexibility. The fact that resources are set up and managed by external third-parties increases the level of productivity for internal IT resources that no longer need to worry about that aspect of the computing process. Ultimately, this means that IT resources regain time that can be spent focusing on more “mission-critical” things such as security, compliance, or simply making sure their users are happy and well served.
Large cloud service providers aim to ensure that the performance and reliability of their services meet the highest standards, including secure, regularly upgraded and updated hardware, and redundant sites that ensure data doesn’t get lost and is always available in real time.
Real-time communication driving change
A great example of how cloud computing is changing daily operations in companies around the world comes in the form of a service like Slack, Mitel Hosted Cloud or Skype. As instant messaging technology becomes the standard mode of internal and external communication for many businesses, the amount of data that is created and processed requires flexible on-demand resources. The increasing need for real-time interaction to facilitate collaboration means that email is taking a backseat when it comes to communication and IM services that run in the cloud are quickly being adopted as standard tools.
However, relying entirely on the cloud compromises some of the autonomy of a business and can also affect a company’s agility and security, which may be critical to some organisations. For instance, companies that have compliance requirements for security and regulatory reporting need to log their interactions and guarantee they are secure. Using the cloud would not be a feasible option for those types of organisations.
Of course, before the cloud came along, businesses were still able to operate using their own servers and computing resources. Some companies still prefer or require having onsite private networks to operate on.
Onsite computing considerations
There are advantages to having onsite or client server architecture in place, powering an organisation from local resources. Not making use of cloud computing provides an unbeatable level of autonomy, reliability, and privacy to organisations, but comes at the cost of having to purchase, maintain, and upgrade hardware, software, and other resources as a company’s operations scale up.
Relying on third-party services to provide constant, reliable, and secure processing power requires companies to give up a level of control and trust someone else with their organisation’s operations. This becomes very problematic in the event of downtime. When most, if not all, of a company’s workload relies on cloud computing power through a third-party service that is down, everything comes to a grinding halt. While third-party providers aim to have high uptime (many boasting 99.95% in their service level agreements), downtime is still a significant concern for companies whose operations are built around the cloud.
The ideal resolvement for many companies is developing an operating strategy based on a mix of cloud and non-cloud solutions.
Hybrid cloud computing
The hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment which uses a mix of on premise servers, private cloud services, and/or third-party public cloud services.
Choosing to host certain services
Onsite servers may be preferable in some cases. This is evident when looking at voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services that are operated via the cloud (such as Skype) versus those that are operated via private branch exchange (PBX) hosted telephony (such as Mitel).
Enterprise-sized companies are preferring hosted telephony as it reduces latency and often provides better quality voice interactions. Especially as lower quality Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN) die out, services that provide VoIP services through hosted telephony could become mainstream solutions for businesses of all sizes. It also provides industry-specific features like call monitoring for supervisors, call recording for compliance requirements at trading institutions, tracking billing for hotel guests, and more.
Managing the cloud
Adopting a hybrid cloud computing strategy is likely what the future holds for many companies, especially as innovation in computing continues to progress. Companies like AirVM empower cloud management for service providers, helping them keep track of the various solutions they employ as part of their daily operations.
As well, business models that account for hybrid cloud operations are lined up to be the next wave of widely adoptable solutions, most evident in companies designed around application program interfaces (APIs) and micro service architectures.
API: the new interface for businesses
One thing that has remained fairly constant in the ever-changing world of computing is how communication among systems works. Applications or solutions that are easy to integrate into other solutions provide added value, flexibility, and stickiness to a company.
APIs can be used to look up data, add records, modify those records, and overall help organisations facilitate the exchange of data between different platforms. The broad range of abilities that an API can perform is the main reason that APIs are becoming the norm for many business models, especially when looking at the SaaS space.
By being an integration point that everyone uses, like Slack, or exposing capabilities that other businesses can make use of through SaaS solutions like Twilio, SaaSquatch, Pretio, and many others, companies of all sorts are developing robust APIs to provide their clients with indispensable tools to their organisation. Clients are able to build and customize integrations with these flexible solutions that fit their business needs perfectly, adding increased value while allowing companies to decide which services and operations must function within the cloud and which are better left on site using private, local resources.
Being flexible and applying a hybrid cloud computing strategy seems to be the best option for most businesses, at least for the time being.
Weighing the pros and cons of cloud computing
While the “cloud” has revolutionized how many people use computers these days, it has also posed an interesting problem for modern companies that make use of the Internet and computers as part of their daily operations. Cloud computing is changing how organisations function. It’s providing better, more efficient ways to work, freeing up local resources and making scalability a simpler endeavour for small and medium sized businesses.
However, moving an organisation’s entire workload or operating process onto the cloud doesn’t always present the best solution for some businesses. There are still many reasons to keep processing outside of the cloud and on the client side, including custom or industry-specific needs, security and privacy, previous investment into resources, and a higher level of autonomy and control over the data and its processes.
Identifying what should go in the public cloud, what requires a private cloud, and what should still be stored, hosted, and accessed onsite through owned resources is key for a smooth operation.