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‘Cloud Computing’ is a term heard increasingly often amongst web-design companies. But what does it actually mean?

A popular saying when describing cloud computing is “if you only need milk, why buy a whole cow?” For a web-design company, this can be applied to the way the website is hosted. Usually, a company would buy its own servers, and host the websites themselves from their own headquarters, incurring various hardware and maintenance costs. Cloud computing offers the ability to host websites on a ‘cloud server’ – i.e. a large, third-party server farm across the internet. The main advantage of this method is that a company only pays for the power they actually use from the cloud server, rather than having to buy and run their own servers. Should the popularity of the website change and more users begin to use it, the cloud server can easily provide it with more power.

To users, cloud computing gives the ability to utilise websites and their databases through the internet without any requirements. In other words, everything needed to use the website is provided by the cloud server it is hosted on – all that the user needs is a computer and an internet connection (i.e. ‘websites as a service’). A famous example of the Cloud Computing concept in use is Gmail (Google Mail). No downloads are needed to access their email management software – it can simply be accessed via a web browser.

To a company hosting websites on a cloud server, there are major advantages. Firstly, cloud servers have great scalability: should a business suddenly grow, the cloud will easily be able to handle the sharp increase in workflow. For this reason, users utilising websites through a cloud should tend to experience a smooth, fast-loading session.

A company hosting on a cloud server saves money by only paying for the power they use. A third-party cloud server is normally shared by other companies, making it cost-efficient. Its maintenance is provided by the third-party themselves, most of whom keep it updated and add new features to the server as they become available. Simply put, it allows a company to delegate their hardware needs elsewhere, and focus entirely on their website/product – which is perfect for start-up businesses. The company also saves on other costs such as not needing office space for storing their own servers.

As the website will be usable without installation, non-technical users will find it far easier to get started with. In addition, as all of a user’s personal files associated with the website are held on the cloud server, rather than the user’s local computer, they can access these files at any computer in the world with internet access. Finally, because the cloud can gather more power when needed (as mentioned above), every user should experience better loading times.

Although there are concerns about the privacy of user’s data, and the speed that it can be transferred, many experts are predicting that cloud computing will continue to grow in popularity. For this reason, it is important for IT companies to be clear what cloud computing actually is.

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