Nearly every American uses cloud services every day, in one way or another. Maybe you use the most common cloud platforms like Facebook and Instagram or a business-productivity application hosted in the cloud at your workplace.
Cloud computing is a type of internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand.
While it may seem like a relatively new concept, cloud computing has roots as far back as the 1960s and continues to evolve rapidly.
This evolution is promoting a more secure, reliable and available cloud experience for users across all industries – especially for highly-regulated industries like healthcare and financial. The barriers that once scared administrators are now drivers to the cloud.
History of Cloud Computing
The actual “inventor” of cloud computing is debatable, but the concept started as utility-based computing. That is, offering a service based on the amount consumed. This was similar in concept to other utility services such as phones, electricity and water. Cloud computing would give users the ability to “plug in” to access always-available compute at any time.
In 1999, Salesforce.com pioneered the internet-based application delivery movement when they offered their enterprise application through a simple website, rather than software-in-a-box that needed to be installed locally on each machine.
As user behavior and preferences continued to evolve, so did technology. Later in the 2000s, public, browser-based enterprise applications like Google Apps and Office 365 were introduced and quickly adopted.
Today, enterprises and end-users are using cloud computing every day to optimize performance and accessibility, while still meeting stringent security requirements.
Types of Cloud Computing
Historically, organizations had to choose between public or private clouds. They each offered benefits, but to most healthcare and financial organizations, private cloud was the only option because of the rigorous security requirements.
The public cloud has evolved into a space that competes with private clouds. Or, with the right expertise, you can merge the unique benefits of the public and private clouds into a hybrid cloud design to best meet your needs. Each cloud format offers pros and cons depending on your needs and situation.
Private Cloud – An IT infrastructure dedicated to one organization, designed to accommodate their unique needs.
Public Cloud – Large-scale, shared-space implementation of a software system. This user interface often resembles a website and is very commonly accessed through a computer’s browser.
Hybrid Cloud – A mix of both types of clouds (public and private), most often working with one business partner to integrate both clouds into a single platform.
Changes and Improvements
Like other technologies, cloud computing has come a long way in five years. Most notably, large, public cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google have made great advancements, making the public cloud a viable solution for regulated practices handling sensitive data.
Accenture reported that nearly 60% of survey respondents noted security as a barrier to cloud adoption in 2015. Since then, the big cloud players have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into security.
Meanwhile, human error remains the single largest risk when it comes to data breaches. Gartner states that the security posture of major cloud providers is as good as or better than most enterprise data centers and security should no longer be considered a primary inhibitor to the adoption of public cloud services.
In the Accenture report, 46% of respondents stated performance and uptime as primary concerns of cloud adoption. This was largely due to inadequate public bandwidth availability and improperly coded applications. These challenges, too, have been addressed by innovation in the last few years.
Microsoft Azure, for example, provides a 99.95% availability SLA for their cloud services. Amazon Web Services offers the same, which means that over a full month, there will be less than 22 minutes of total IT downtime.
Advancements in public telecom have also improved the performance of the public cloud, but it remains a disadvantage when compared to the capabilities of dedicated telecom in a private cloud environment.
Previously, cloud solutions like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), were point-based solutions, solving very specific problems for very specific needs. Now, healthcare practices, for instance, are able to connect their SaaS email, web-based lab system, private-cloud EHR and Office 365 solutions into one, integrated cloud environment. What’s even better is that the user doesn’t even know that they’re accessing multiple cloud platforms, it just feels like a single, cohesive experience.
This seamless integration of public and private clouds into a hybrid cloud is the vision of how cloud should be.
Challenges of the Public Cloud
While the cloud has evolved over the years and turned some of its challenges into opportunities, there are still some struggles that practices face when considering public cloud options.
Support and expertise
Support and expertise remain the most significant differentiators between public and private cloud service providers.
Support teams for large public providers are often run off-shore and difficult to connect with.
And, while public cloud providers can serve the healthcare and financial industries, they lack the specific industry expertise that make private cloud providers like Netgain stand out.
The benefit of a hybrid cloud really stands out here, where practices have access to a private cloud provider’s support team to support their entire, hybrid cloud environment, while still benefiting from the scale of the public cloud.
Large cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are still not able to provide the level of customization that private cloud providers can. This becomes especially important when configuring the needs of industry-specialty applications, storage workflows and user processes. Examples might include a custom reporting plug-in or legacy software that is no longer supported but you still need to access in the public cloud environment. In either of these examples, you may find yourself saddled with an expensive local remnant of your IT infrastructure, because it doesn’t “fit” into the confines of a public cloud solution.
Typically, public cloud services rely on public telecom – the internet. That is, the connection that is being used by the rest of the general public is also being used by your users to access their web-based systems.
In contrast, when working with a private cloud provider, dedicated telecom can be designed to provide optimal routing and maximized performance. Some private-cloud providers even have the flexibility to connect into your existing multi-site network – the one used for other business functions like phone, fax or other data.
Putting the Cloud to Work for your Practice
The cloud may be just the tool your practice needs to become more efficient, effective and competitive. Not sure if you’re ready for the cloud? Check out these considerations.
Choosing the right cloud design will be imperative to the success of your cloud strategy. Consult your IT roadmap and evaluate your practice’s needs for compute power, storage, applications, future growth and other factors that influence your infrastructure needs.
Remember that you no longer have to choose public or private – most clinics find the greatest success in a hybrid cloud, enjoying the benefits of both.