There are some technology companies that are guilty of trying to re-invent the wheel by re-branding their old hosted services as ‘cloud’ services. Exploiting a gap in technological know-how may lead to businesses not upgrading in the best way to suit their needs. There are some important differences between hosted services and a true cloud offering.
Hosted services are technology services offered by a provider that hosts the physical servers at a different location. Access is usually provided through a direct network connection that may, or may not, run via the Internet.
This isn’t a new idea. Hosted services date back to the early years of commercial computing, when companies would purchase processing time from mainframes hosted by other companies. These days, hosted services generally take the form of more generic business applications including website hosting, email servers, off-site backups and data warehousing. Chances are, if you are operating in the corporate domain, you are using at least one hosted service already.
What is a cloud service?
As the name ‘cloud’ suggests, this is a somewhat ‘fluffy’ concept. Strictly speaking, a cloud service is a hosted service that’s accessible over the Internet – essentially a subset of hosted services. But is that really all there is to it?
A hosted service, even one accessible via the Internet, can’t be considered a real cloud solution unless it’s been built to capitalise on the new range of collaboration and interconnectivity that is intrinsic to what the cloud concept is all about.
By looking at the way in which email operates, this can give us a good example of how the two services differ.
We are all familiar with the old standards of corporate email solutions such as Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus. Although larger companies usually run their own versions of these locally in their IT departments, medium companies prefer to outsource email provision on these tools to hosted service providers. The difference between hosted and local literally is just where the physical server sits – essentially there is no distinction in functionality between the two.
Describing a hosted email solution such as these as a ‘cloud’ service is probably a bit misleading. While it certainly satisfies the liberal definition of a cloud service, Exchange and Lotus are designed to run as internal services.
Contrast this with a cloud-based email service like Google’s Gmail – an email solution born in the cloud and built to be accessed via the Internet. Gmail is equally at home on any computer and in any browser. It even supports outdated standards like POP3, which is a protocol to retrieve email from a remote server so, for example, you can access Gmail in Outlook or Hotmail. Users are also able to access their accounts from computers and applications that may be obsolete or less powerful.
In addition to this, Gmail’s default interface is peppered with extra connectivity tools like gTalk (instant messaging) and Google+ (social networking) that are able to seamlessly connect to non-Google services through the use of open standards and application programming interface (APIs). More experienced users can connect their Gmail account up to Google’s other offerings such as Docs and Calendar for an integrated cloud experience, allowing for a level of collaboration simply not achievable through old-fashioned hosted services.
The most popular cloud-based services are successful because they provide collaboration that other tools don’t allow. It has that extra layer of interconnectivity between users and other systems that’s user friendly and either free or cheap to buy.
Cloud-based tools like Gmail, Google Docs, DropBox, Twitter, Facebook, Google Maps, YouTube etc., are streets ahead of their local and hosted predecessors – not only in business use, but also by individuals. This is because they are built for the web and designed from the very beginning to work with the user as well as each other. These are the devices that make the cloud what it is.
Connecting an internal solution to the web and calling it ‘cloud’ is a bit like waterproofing a truck and calling it a submarine. It might technically fit the description, but it’s clearly not meant for that!
Author: sage – sage focuses on supporting accountants in practice and their clients, by providing a wide range of products and services that help in the day-to-day running of a successful business.
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