Big Data 31st October 2019 - 5 min read

What is “the cloud” and why is it changing the way we do business

By Joni Lindes

Most of us have heard about “the cloud” at least once, yet sometimes it may be difficult to understand what it is and how it can benefit everyday business functions.

Most of us know that “the cloud” does not refer to fluffy white things in the sky. Rather, it refers to software and services that run on the internet, instead of locally on a computer. Most cloud services can be accessed through a web browser like Firefox or Google Chrome or even a dedicated mobile app. Commonly used examples of cloud software include Google Drive, Netflix or Dropbox.

There are three primary types of cloud, namely:

  • A public cloud where services are delivered across the internet.
  • A private cloud where it’s designed for internal use by a single organisation.
  • A hybrid cloud where a company uses both a public and a private cloud.

Ultimately, the cloud is the same technology. The only real difference between these is who owns it.

Back in 2016, 64% of surveyed companies said they would increase their budget for cloud computing services. In 2018, organizations’ average yearly cloud budget was $2.2 million. In 2019, the global public cloud computing market is set to reach around $258 billion.

Benefits of working on the cloud

1. The Cloud cuts down on infrastructure costs and allows solutions to scale alongside company growth.

The cloud, in essence, allows for big data processing without the large-scale data resources and warehouses that were traditionally needed. As the cloud operates on a pay-per-user model, the licensing cost of big data is brought down significantly, moving it from CAPEX (capital expenditure) into OPEX (operating expenditure) meaning you pay for the infrastructure as you use it.

One of the key benefits for companies using cloud solutions is that the cloud grows as they grow. Companies no longer have to buy servers as well as the space to store them. While they still have to purchase space on the cloud, the benefit is that, if they no longer need the large space they can easily scale back rather than be left with servers gathering cobwebs in large storage rooms.

2. New development opportunities

Cloud computing allows us to create a whole host of new applications which offer unique services to businesses and individuals. It can be broken down into three business models, namely Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Infrastructure as a Service rents out the actual building blocks (physical or virtual servers, storage and networking). These are attractive to companies who want to build applications from the ground up. Research by Oracle confirms that using online infrastructure on the cloud makes it easier to innovate and deploy new applications and services while simultaneously cutting ongoing maintenance costs.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is the next layer up. PaaS servers not only supply the underlying storage networking and virtual servers, they will also include the tools and software that developers need to build applications on top of that. This includes middleware, database management, operating systems and development tools.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the business model PredictX currently employs. It is the version of cloud computing that most people are used to on a day-to-day basis and is manifested in the applications where money is exchanged per user for software which exists online. Examples include B2B sold applications Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365 as well as commonly used apps like Netflix. Any process can be made quicker and easier through applying relevant SaaS software to the problem. In modern times, there truly is an app for everything and the cloud is most likely running it.

3. Better support for customers

The days of manning a support telephone line are long over. Cloud computing allows users to purchase a product online and at any time of the day using a mobile or desktop device. Day-to-day help and support is easily managed with high-bandwidth technical support documents, web pages and how-to videos. Instead of calling, customers can also raise support queries through ticketing systems like Salesforce Service Cloud, Zendesk and many others. Help and support can then directly be linked to a company’s project management system allowing for more efficient support processes.

4. Increased productivity and remote working opportunities

The cloud allows businesses to have a central repository for all their data, communication and processing – allowing employees to work anywhere in the world provided they have an internet connection.

It also allows for siloed systems to link together through API integration. Sales software can communicate with accounting software in a central repository. As more companies are making it easier to integrate, businesses can be more productive in their processes as they can work together using integrated data and tools.

5. Allows improved data analysis

Big data refers to the vast amount of data that needs to be sorted and analysed. What better system to perform this than a scalable and elastic self-service application like the Cloud?

Before, analysing data was a strenuous job for physical servers and other infrastructure. The data came in large volumes at various speeds and types. Having infrastructure that only deals with set speeds can prove problematic. Using the cloud means we have flexible infrastructure that can accommodate and scale according to the data it needs to analyse. We can now analyse data faster and better than before. This allows companies to have the benefits of data intelligence without incurring the infrastructure costs they would have incurred previously.

An example of how the cloud can provide superior intelligence exists with a phenomenon referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT). These are devices emitting an intense amount of data contributing to the big data universe. This puts an immense amount of pressure on the internet infrastructure.

For instance, multiple sensors installed at various locations in a factory gather data continuously from machines and devices. These are later analysed in real-time with the help of analytics tools to identify faults to prevent any future failures. Cloud computing helps by storing all this data from those hundreds of sensors and applies the required rule engines and algorithms to provide estimated results of those data points. In this situation, data is passed to the cloud from these devices using a lower amount of computational power than would otherwise be needed.

The cloud is, essentially, the brain that controls the vast network of “things” emitting data. It is able to store the most data using the least amount of power and cost. When we cut costs down there is even greater room for development and investment into IoT.

What now?

In the future, IoT will become even more integrated into our lives. Similarly innovation will be centred around quantum computing, artificial intelligence and neural integration between machines and the human brain. High capacity computing, storage and functionality will no longer exist in an internet of “things” that we carry around. Rather, it will be integrated with our clothes and almost everything we use in our everyday lives.

This is mere conjecture as who knows what new developments in artificial intelligence and computing will bring. One thing we are sure about is that, if you ever wondered when the ideal time to invest in big data and cloud computing based automation is, the answer is it should have been yesterday.

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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