If you’re anything like us, you’re sick and tired of hearing about “the cloud”. Everyone who’s anyone has been talking about it for years. Everything’s better in the cloud, it’s faster, it’s more powerful, you can access it from anywhere. “The cloud” is used to talk about hosted telephony in the same breath as it is used to talk about unified communications. Anyone can throw a word like “cloud” around – even within our own ranks here at Atmoso we say similar things.

But what are we really talking about? What does “cloud IT” truly mean? There are many different definitions of “cloud” within the industry, and the term is used loosely, often with sales purposes in mind. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. A dedicated physical server in a data centre, accessed remotely, can be described as a “cloud solution”, and yet a setup like this does not present the real advantages and value of cloud design.

The truth is no matter which construct we discuss, “the cloud” is nothing more than hardware and software in different combinations, as sophisticated as those combinations might be. There is no nebulous “cloud” of data floating around – it’s all just servers in data centres. So where does the title of this article come in? What are “true cloud” and “hosted”, and which is better?

Hosted services – the “fake cloud”

The terms “hosted” and “cloud” are often used interchangeably, usually by companies trying to pitch their services as “cloud-based” to unwary customers. What the term “hosted applications” refers to is essentially what you may be using on your on-premise hardware, but accessing it from a data centre instead.

Imagine taking your office computer, with all its installed applications – Microsoft Office, CRM and accounts software, whatever other business programs you use – and plugging it into a server rack in a data centre. Sure, you can login remotely and access those applications now, but would you call that “the cloud”? At the end of the day, this is just a single-tenant environment with no more bells and whistles than you’d expect from the computer in front of you, now with the added complications that come with connecting to applications over the Internet. Your apps have been “hosted” within the data centre, but I don’t think anyone would rush to call that “cloud”.

The act of selling these hosted services as “the cloud” is known as “cloudwashing”, and it’s a big problem. These so-called cloud providers aren’t strictly lying to you; they’re simply exploiting the vague and undefined nature of the term “cloud”.

Multi-tenancy and the “true cloud”

So if hosted services and applications are the “fake cloud”, what’s the “true cloud”? True cloud applications aren’t single-tenant. They’re not simply carbon copies of software you could easily install on your local computer or server. True cloud apps are multi-tenant, distributed to customers from a central “core” managed by a cloud provider. Put simply, with “fake cloud” services you have your own copy of a particular application, one that probably wasn’t built to run in a cloud environment. With “true cloud”, the applications you’re using aren’t deployed per-customer, but widely distributed across the network. Think Dropbox or Salesforce. These apps aren’t installed personally for you to use; you’re one of many users benefiting from a shared platform. In fact, “platform” is a good term to describe true cloud applications.

There are inherent benefits that come from ‘true cloud’ solutions. In the case of “fake cloud” solutions deployed per-customer, maintenance, support and upgrades must also be carried out per-customer. This is a time-consuming and unwieldy process that may be delegated to resellers, who shouldn’t be expected to maintain a service which isn’t theirs. In contrast, true cloud platforms which are run from a central core can easily be maintained and upgraded by the cloud provider in one fell swoop, with changes propagated to all customers. Given the scale and expertise required to operate such a cloud environment, it is reasonable to expect that such true cloud providers also have the appropriate skills and expertise to manage such maintenance, support and upgrades without concern.

Further, by the very nature of its design, a cloud platform is more resilient and necessarily needs to be designed with redundancy in mind. In the case of Atmoso, for example, we have our kit located in multiple data centres and operate on an N+2 network and application redundancy basis. This means, cloud platform has the ability to support our Partners’ businesses without interruption should there be an outage at one (or even two) of the other sites. Similarly, when we upgrade a particular site, the other sites aren’t interrupted, and our cloud services are available without disturbance.

Commercially, too, a true cloud platform delivers a better solution. Because the infrastructure is shared, the end customer can purchase on the basis of their requirement, not on the basis of the size of ‘box’ that will support their needs. So, as the business customer grows, or indeed downsizes, they can easily increase or decrease their requirement, and the pricing is equally flexible both in financial outlay, but also time frames.

So next time you’re considering your IT requirements, exploring what your supplier is offering is well worth your time. Are you getting a hosted piece of kit or are you accessing a true cloud platform, such as Atmoso’s RevolutionCloud platform?