I keep hearing about the cloud, but what is it?

Traditionally a network for a small to medium sized business consists of one or more servers, and a number of client machines / laptops etc. Today this largely remains the same, however the cloud is available as a viable option to replace servers and / or services on the network, but what is it?

Essentially the cloud is a large number of servers which are stored in a data centre by companies such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and such like. These servers offer tools, email, backup facilities, file sharing, online applications and much more which are often driven by your web browser. Your web browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari) is essentially a window through to the data centre where the product or service resides.

Largely the functionality and user experience remains the same for the end user. Applications which are driven via your web browser and designed to look and feel like they are an application, and people begin to use them naturally. The main difference is at the back end, where the servers are.

When we explain the cloud to our customers we begin by explaining the role of an email / Exchange server, as this is something which most companies have, and is something which is easy to explain. The Exchange server traditionally sits on the network and provides clients with email, this is something most users can visualise. Now imagine moving that server to Microsoft, Microsoft will look after the server for you, and the functionality on your network will remain the same. Users typically will not notice a difference. This very basically is Exchange in the cloud. The next thing we explain is that Microsoft won’t use your server, they will use their own, and Exchange in fact will be stored on several servers not just one, and probably will span across two or more data centres.

The benefit of this is that the system is far more resilient than any system you could economically build for a small or medium sized business. Another advantage is that the software is managed, maintained and updated by the software provider which saves money on IT Support.

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