The Guide on What Cloud Applications Are and Why They're Beneficial
The “cloud” has become an ever-present part of daily life—whether most people realize it or not. Every day, businesses and individuals use cloud applications without thinking anything much of it.
What do people and businesses use the cloud for, anyways? What are some popular cloud applications? Most importantly, what are some of the biggest cloud computing advantages over traditional, on-premises computing hardware?
What is the Cloud Used For?
A better question might be “what isn’t the cloud used for these days?” Cloud based applications and services have become virtually omnipresent in business and in daily life. These cloud services can be divided into several distinct categories:
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Cloud-based software is delivered to the user through an application. Pretty much everything is set up for the user by the cloud service provider (CSP), making this a fairly simple to use solution for anyone.
- Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Here, the CSP gives users a platform on which to develop their own cloud based applications and services, but still handles some configuration of the cloud environment. These cloud services strike a balance between full app management (SaaS) and complete user control (IaaS).
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). IaaS solutions give the user access to cloud-based computing resources—that’s it. Users can configure the cloud environment almost any way they wish. This is the cloud service model that puts the most control (and responsibility) in the user’s hands.
Some examples of popular cloud applications and services include:
- Video Streaming. Just fifteen years ago, if you wanted to watch a movie without having to buy it, you would need to take a trip to your local video store. Now, cloud based applications such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and the like allow people to watch their favorite shows and movies from the comfort of their couch.
- Instant Messaging/Collaboration. There are many cloud based applications that allow people to communicate with one another near-instantly over long distances. Email clients, Slack, and Microsoft Teams are just a few examples of cloud apps that people use to communicate on a daily basis. Businesses often use these apps to encourage collaboration between team members who work in different offices or locations.
- Cloud Computing. CSPs often provide IaaS and PaaS services to individuals and businesses to help them gain access to the computing resources they need. These cloud computing services typically require some programming expertise, as the user will need to do some custom configuration to make the cloud environment meet their needs.
- Online Shopping. Web and cloud applications alike have revolutionized commerce. Online storefronts like Amazon have enabled individuals to make purchases from their smartphones and have products delivered to their homes within two days. Meanwhile, businesses use cloud based applications to streamline order processes, automate inventory management, and handle other tasks related to supply chain management.
- Tracking Human Resources. Many businesses use cloud-based human resources apps to track employee benefits, healthcare plans, salaries, bonuses, and more. These cloud HR apps help companies ensure that they meet all of their regulatory obligations regarding their employees and that HR policies are applied fairly to all members of the organization.
- Employee Productivity. Many employees use applications like Microsoft’s Office suite, Adobe Photoshop, or CAD file editing software on a daily basis. Many of these productivity apps are available via subscription services that leverage cloud-based software.
These are just a few examples of different uses for cloud applications. Odds are that, if you use a software application, it’s either on the cloud already, or there’s a cloud-based version of that software available.
What Are Cloud Applications?
Cloud applications typically refers to the software-as-a-service apps provided by CSPs. These are ready-to-use cloud solutions that use a locally-installed client to access the CSP’s remote servers (and thus, the application).
Some people may confuse a cloud application with a web application—often because the two terms get used interchangeably. While both solutions access a software remotely via the internet, there is a distinct difference when you compare a cloud application vs web applications:
- Web Applications are typically accessed via a browser—such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.
- Cloud Applications are usually accessed using a dedicated client app for that specific solution.
Further confusing matters is the fact that many cloud apps also have a web app version. For example, Amazon has a shopping app for smartphones, but the storefront can also be accessed via a web browser.
Understanding the Shift to Cloud Based Applications
The shift to cloud based applications and computing resources didn’t happen overnight. For a long time, businesses relied on hardware that they owned in their own data centers to run their enterprise applications. According to an article by ComputerWorld.com, “A major milestone in the cloud computing era was the launch of Salseforce.com, which arrived in 1999 and quickly became a pioneer in delivering enterprise applications via the cloud.”
This helped to establish cloud based applications as a reliable solution for businesses—paving the way for more subscription-based cloud services like Microsoft 365, Gmail, and other major services.
Of course, it wasn’t just the novelty of being able to access enterprise applications via the cloud that drove adoption. A large part of the reason why businesses and individuals alike started adopting cloud based software apps is that the cloud model offered numerous benefits to users.
As these benefits became more well-known and proven through numerous use cases, more and more people started turning to the cloud.
6 Benefits of Cloud Applications
What are the benefits of using the cloud? Some cloud computing advantages include:
- Reduced Upfront Capital Expenditures. One of the biggest barriers to entry for modern businesses is the need to invest in expensive hardware to run the latest enterprise applications. Creating and maintaining an in-house data center is hideously expensive—data cited by NPIFinancial.com states that “On average, a 50-cabinet data center will occupy about 1,700 square feet. At a median cost of $8 per square foot, the space alone would cost about $13,600 per month.” Keep in mind: that’s the median cost for an average rent rate and data center size—larger data centers in more expensive markets could cost significantly more. Plus, there’s the cost of acquiring the cabinets and servers, installation costs, and possibly other modifications that need to be made to the data center, and the financial barrier to entry is high. Using SaaS applications removes these upfront costs, allowing companies to pay a simple subscription fee instead of having to invest in data center infrastructure.
- Predictable Monthly Costs. Speaking of subscription fees, these pay-as-you-go solutions help to make it easier to predict your monthly capital outlay for enterprise applications. With an on-premises solution, there are numerous additional costs that may vary from month-to-month, such as: software updates/upgrades, labor to maintain the data center, expert labor to manage the applications, and hardware replacement as servers become obsolete or non-functional. By using a cloud based application instead of an on-premises software, businesses can avoid these variable costs.
- Instant Access to the Latest Software Updates. Another advantage of using a cloud-based application is that the software-as-a-service provider will automatically update it to the latest version without the need for the user to do anything. This can be crucial for ensuring that users can access the latest features whenever they’re released. More importantly, it helps to ensure that the software is always on the latest security patch—preventing security flaws from unpatched software.
- System and Data Centralization. One benefit of using cloud applications (and managed IT services in general) is that an organization’s data for the app is centralized in one location. This helps to provide constant visibility, faster speed, and improved accessibility regardless of where any given user is working from. Instead of having to access a specific server, employees can simply log into their cloud application and get to work.
- Increased Data Security. As mentioned before, using a cloud application helps ensure that the latest software security patches are always applied to the app. This helps to close potential security gaps that attackers might use to breach the organization’s security. Additionally, CSPs often have more resources to put into cybersecurity and physical security for their data centers and computing environments compared to businesses—largely because their cloud services are the core of their business model rather than a secondary operation.
- Improved Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BC/DR). To help ensure high “uptimes” (the percentage of time an application is available versus the time it is unavailable), many cloud service providers use robust business continuity and disaster recovery solutions—complete with remote data backups and secondary production environments to take over running enterprise applications if something should happen to the primary data center or server. These solutions can help minimize the disruption caused by hackers, random equipment failures, and natural disasters. However, not every CSP provides these services, so it’s important to check their uptimes and how they handle disaster recovery.
Why You Need Reliable Internet Connectivity When Utilizing Cloud Applications
Considering all of the potential benefits of using cloud computing solutions and cloud-based apps, it’s only natural to want to make the switch to cloud applications as soon as possible. However, before you make that switch, there’s one thing you absolutely need: Reliable internet connectivity.
Without a reliable internet connection, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make effective use of cloud-based applications. If your office’s internet connectivity is spotty, slow, or lacking in bandwidth, it won’t matter how good the cloud application is—your employees won’t be able to access it reliably.
Diagnosing and resolving common internet connectivity problems is vital for organizations that plan to make extensive use of cloud-based enterprise apps. This is especially true for apps that require a lot of bandwidth (data transmitted through the internet “pipeline” you use per second) like video streaming solutions, video conferencing apps, and the like.
Spotty internet connections can frustrate workers as they are forced to sit idle, waiting for their cloud application to load so they can put it to use. This wastes time and labor that could be spent on meeting key business goals. So, it’s important to check for things like insufficient bandwidth, poorly-spaced access points, and obsolete network infrastructure that may limit your ability to benefit from cloud-based services and software.
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