The Cloud and You: a microguide for marketers

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If you've heard of the "cloud" but want to know what it is and how to make use of it, check out this microguide from Brafton.

The “cloud” has become a buzzword in today's marketing vocabulary, but (in my experience) few seem to know what it actually refers to or how cloud services are used. Today, I'd like to rectify that disparity of knowledge and equip you with some basic tools for understanding how the “cloud” can fit into your business/marketing strategy.

What is this cloud anyhow?

From now on, when you hear the word cloud, I want you to think about sharing. No no, you don't have to share your software, business creations, or intellectual property, only the infrastructure that supports them. You see, cloud platforms are a large collection of physical hardware combined in such a way that the end user (you) can approach the cloud vendor, quote how many resources you expect to need and near-instantly be set up with your own private island in their virtualized ocean.

Aside from being able to modify how many resources you use on the fly (previously impossible with dedicated hardware), you will never notice a difference between traditional hosting and cloud hosting through a solid, reputable vendor.

Today, cloud services refer to many things beyond mere hosting, and some other common uses include data synchronization, backup for computers and devices and grid computation. If you own an Android phone and use its contact sync service, that would be a cloud application. If you've used a web service such as Microsoft's Office Live or Google Docs, those are cloud apps, too.

In short, the cloud means scalable resources for people and businesses to lease and use that are free of maintenance costs and supported by redundancy in case of system failures.

Why use a cloud, instead of purchasing our own resources?

In some cases, like when absolute vertical control is necessary for your product offerings, cloud services won't be suitable for your business. However, in 99 percent of the time, the “cloud” is more cost-effective and reliable enough to fulfill your processing needs. To give an example of how cheap cloud products can be, let's examine Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) offering.

EC2 offers a free tier of “Micro” service, which comes with 750 hours of usage per month, 15GB of data processing, 10GB of storage and 15GB of cumulative bandwidth. Essentially, a small campaign's web app, site or service could be run for free (yes, free.) As your computing needs rise, the price ranges from $0.085 (less than a cent) to $2.10 an hour. Note that the $2.10 an hour is for leasing the equivalent of an entire small data center.

Cloud services have many uses, from hosting web applications online to data synchronization between devices. Image credit to Softheme.comNow, imagine if your company bought physical hardware for the campaign instead of utilizing cloud services. For the sake of illustration, let's use IBM's BladeCenter servers and HP's ProLiant servers as our reference. IBM's BladeCenter hardware costs well over $2,000 a unit as you can see from Google Shopping. HP's ProLiant servers clock in anywhere from $400 into the thousands. Where would you rather spend your budget, on hardware or better media/ad placement?

To be fair, most IT departments purchase these resources with long-term use in mind, so the cost is diluted. However, they also suffer from depreciation, something avoided when using leased equipment like any cloud offering. There's no real “investment” going on when using cloud products, just an on-demand pool of resources.

How can I integrate cloud services into my next marketing campaign?

Does your campaign involve a website? Most web hosts use a cloud service in one way or another to keep costs their costs low, while offering better performance and reliability for their customers. If you aren't familiar with web hosting, check out my Site Speed Primer for Marketers.

Is that website targeted globally? A cloud-based content delivery network (CDN) like Amazon's CloudFront or NetDNA's Cloud Force will keep browsing speed quick in many countries throughout the globe. Read part three of my Site Speed Primer for Marketers to learn more about the benefits of using a CDN.

Are you building a mobile app? Use a cloud product to facilitate the processing and transfer of data from point A to B to save money.

I hope you found this guide useful; with the growing prevalence of cloud products and immense cost efficiencies, its in everyone's best interest to at least learn the basics of cloud technology.

Have a recommendation for my next guide? Let me know in the comments!

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Evan JacobsEvan is Head of Creative & Digital at Brafton. He is a visual designer and brand strategist, manages Brafton's external marketing efforts, SEO and PPC initiatives and plays an integral role in product development across the business.
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