As we place more and more faith in our connected digital systems, there will be an increase in the technical terms that otherwise non-technical people, will be confronted with. Two of these terms are ‘cloud computing’ and ‘VPN’. But what are they both, what is the difference and should I really care?
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. It is a way to connect two specific devices over a network (think internet connection). So, a good example is if you have lots of files on your work computer, you could setup a VPN so that you can connect to your work computer and retrieve the files, almost as though you were in the office. In the same way, you could actually use the programmes that exist on your work computer. Imagine this as you remote controlling your work computer, but from your home.
VPN’s existed before Cloud Computing. In fact years ago, they were the only way to connect such devices. You would setup VPN software on your work computer and then allow other devices to connect to that computer as long as they also had the VPN software and the right credentials (log in information, IP addresses etc.). The draw back is that you couldn’t just log in to your work computer from any device. Without an alternative of course, this wasn’t an issue. You can’t miss what you have never had or knew existed.
The main use for VPN’s now is arguably the ability for them to ‘pretend’ you are in another location. So if you want to watch UK TV stations on your iPad whilst in Spain, you can use a VPN to fake your location. Your device in Spain connects to the VPN in the UK, which then connects to the TV app. The app sees that it is being accessed (by the VPN) in the UK and allows the signal. The VPN then sends what it receives (the broadcast or stream) to you in Spain. The part between you and the VPN is private, just like in the old example of using VPN to access your work computer.
Fast forward the VPN concept a few years and you get to Cloud Computing. We first saw this in things like Dropbox (actually cloud storage), where you can store all of your files securely ‘online’ instead of or as well as your work computer. This way, they become available to you from any internet connection. So, now you could be on somebody else’s phone and access your files. All you need is your username and password.
It didn’t stop there though. In the same way, many software companies made their software as ‘cloud’ programmes. Take Outlook (email) for example. Whereas you used to have to setup your own ‘exchange server’ on your own companies server to manage email, you can now do it through Office 365. No more setting up programmes on your own systems and dealing with the issues when they get viruses etc. These programmes are run and managed ‘in the cloud’. So what does in the cloud mean?
Well, at your workplace, you typically have one computer per person. If that computer fails or you have a power cut, everything stops. You are reliant on one device. With a VPN, you could move all of your programmes and files to a server that runs on the internet, in what is called a data centre which has backup power generators, fire suppression systems, 24 hour security etc.
But if the server crashes, you are in the same position as your work computer. What ‘in the cloud’ truly means is that your software was written to take use of a huge connected network of computers around the world. Sadly, it does mean that your older programmes can’t become ‘cloud’. They can be stored online for you to access, but that isn’t the same. The good news is that most professional programmes have now been rewritten to be true cloud applications. Microsoft Office, Google, Facebook and even CRM/ERP systems like Business Pilot are all true cloud applications.
The actual software is scaleable. So at peak times, the system just uses more resources from its share of these massive networks. At quiet times, it just pairs back. If one server crashes, you would never know because your software is continually mirrored onto a whole bunch of other identical servers. In fact, at any point in time, you may be working from any number of servers. You would never know, because it is all controlled and managed for you as part of this ‘cloud’ computer system. You can even choose which location you want your data to be like it’s to. So for the UK, with GDPR to consider, Business Pilot only stores data on UK servers. This means your data remains GDPR compliant in relation to where it is stored.
Ideally now, all computing would be Cloud Computing. It is the fastest, most secure, most flexible way of working. However, if you have older programmes that are not yet Cloud Based or files on your server that you haven’t stored in the cloud, your only option may be VPN. With Cloud Computing you just log in. With a VPN, your IT company will be able to help you set this up and help with any management of it and any issues. If you need to fake your location, VPN’s are the way to do this. You can of course VPN into your Cloud Computing programme just to confuse things even further!
The main reason people prefer Cloud Computing is because it is a lot easier, more flexible and faster. However, the main reason they should care about it is none of these. The main reason you should care about which option you use is continuity and disaster recovery. It doesn’t matter how often you do backups, even offsite backups, you can’t beat a Cloud Computing setup for continuity. If your phone battery dies mid flow, fire up your laptop and continue exactly where you left off. If your laptop is back at home, borrow someone else’s phone, tablet, laptop, Internet café…. You get the story. As long as you have an internet connection and your login details, you are all set.
Also, disaster recovery from the point that in the unlikely case that a server within a data centre has corrupted and corrupted the backups, with cloud computing you are safe.
You probably have a lot of software that isn’t cloud based that could be. The main culprit would be Microsoft Office. It has probably been on your computers since they were bought. If you move this to cloud, you will have to pay the monthly license fees, which is how Cloud Computing works. Not much point when you already own the software. In this scenario, just store your files in the cloud and when you do need to upgrade or you buy another computer, consider the cloud version at that point.
Your CRM system should be your priority. This is because your data is stored in the program. Unlike Office where you can save the Word document in the cloud even if Word itself isn’t in the cloud, with a CRM, this is not the case. Also, if you lost a Word document, it’s probably not as critical as losing all of your customer and job info. Our advice is to check whether your CRM or ERP system is running over a VPN or hosted in the cloud. Remember, in the cloud doesn’t just mean not in your office. If you are not technical, your IT person may know.the difference is an easy mistake to make, but potentially a costly one.
Finally, after the warnings of protecting yourself from what could go wrong, let’s finish on a far more positive reason to go truly cloud. With cloud, you can access your software, files and systems from anywhere I. The world and from any device that has an internet connection. This opens up whole new opportunities in the way you and your team can run and manage your business more efficiently and with better results.
If you want to see cloud computing in action, Business Pilot provide a free demo and explanation of the benefits cloud computing CRM and ERP can bring to you. Get in touch now for your free demonstration.
As part of our free trial, we will send a whole series of how to videos to help you get to grips with the Business Pilot installation company CRM /ERP system. Because the system is much more than a regular CRM, we are even on hand to talk you through how other installation companies are using Business Pilot as a business improvement system. If you would prefer to book a call with an existing user before the trial, call us on 0333 050 7506 or use the live chat facility.