What is cloud computing?

If you’re not from a technical background, attempting to understand “cloud computing” could be both confusing and somewhat daunting. But it needn’t be. Put simply, cloud computing is a way to access products and services securely through an internet connection anywhere in the world.

It has been around for years. Whether you’re accessing Facebook, Amazon, Hotmail, YouTube, Sage CRM OnDemand or Sage One, you’re using cloud computing. You tap in to huge banks of data through some very complex programs, each of which are hosted on various forms of physical hardware, located elsewhere in the world.

The term “cloud computing” incorporates all of the clever networking, languages, programs and environments that allow us to do this. It refers to our ability to link to computer technologies globally through our modest internet connection.

Why the big fuss?

Whilst types of cloud computing have been around for years, the ability to link to these technologies has only recently started to mature. IT investment is expected to focus on this area in the coming years. Where certain technologies were once out of reach for particular businesses, they are now accessible.

Take software, for example. Traditionally, it came on a disc and you loaded it on to your hard drive. In a larger business it was stored on local servers, where the IT department would have needed to buy and install the software, as well as set up and maintain the servers it ran on.

More recently, however, software that we access through our web browser has become more popular. This is known as ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), and is one of three components classified within cloud computing. Sage One and Sage CRM On Demand are examples of software we host and provide using cloud computing.

‘I’ve heard of Saas, but what else is involved with cloud computing?’

I’ve introduced you to the first component of cloud computing, SaaS. There are two more. The second component is ‘platform as a service’ (PaaS). While SaaS allows access to software through a browser, PaaS offers much more than just buying and installing the software. It allows an organisation’s IT department or IT supplier to:

(i)      Source or build and maintain the platform for the users to work from.

(ii)    Customise the software to fit the organisation’s processes.

(iii)  Develop software for its users.

This can be a complex process. PaaS providers allow their customers to build software and make changes to it using a simple internet connection in an environment they have built, support and manage.

The third component is ‘infrastructure as a service’ (IaaS). Data, hardware, servers and networking components require ongoing maintenance. Providers offer to host products in a central location and provide access to them through a secure internet connection. Huge buildings full of hardware exist worldwide, with masses of virtual and real-life security. They are there to ensure that no one can access those servers but the customers using their internet connection thousands of miles away. This service is IaaS.

Cloud computing gives IT buyers access to technologies, without the constraints of large upfront fixed costs, space, power or extensive setup times. As technology continues to improve and develop, the ability to access the best products and services from anywhere in the world is also improving and evolving.

‘Does Sage offer any Cloud applications?’

Yes – we have partnered with a major provider of cloud technologies, Amazon EC2, to host our business relationship software, Sage SalesLogix on the Cloud.

Most hosted software only offers what is known as ‘multi tenant’ software. While this means you can access your own data, the core of the software is still shared by all users of the service, so it can’t really be customised to suit a business’s processes.

We are offering a more extensive application – leasing our customer their own servers (with backup) on which they can host their version of Sage SalesLogix. Sage Business Partners can also access the software remotely and customise it if desired. This can be done from anywhere in the world, using a web browser.

Sage provides hosted relationship management software, services and support through Sage CRM On Demand, ACT and E-Marketing to small and medium sized businesses. You can contact us on 0845 111 99 88 if you would like to find out more.

Chris Coulson and Simon Campbell, Sage SalesLogix Team