Though it’s commonly associated with free storage providers, like Dropbox, or online word processors, like Google Docs, cloud computing can involve more advanced areas of technology, too.
That’s part of the reason that talking about "the cloud" can get confusing for a lot of people. Especially when you’re trying to figure out a sensible cloud strategy for your small business.
Operating an information technology system in the cloud is like renting a car. Where you rent a car, you expect to be able to jump in and drive off, safe in the knowledge that your car will work. You also expect the rental company to take care of all necessary maintenance, repairs and breakdown assistance.
The same is true of the "cloud." When you sign up, you get to use the software without worrying about installation, maintenance, updates or security. You also don’t need a server or any of the other additional IT investments that larger suites of software used to require. All that is taken care of by your cloud service provider.
Renting a car doesn’t require the significant upfront investment that buying a car does. Also, by renting, you can always stay in a current model, versus buying a car that depreciates in value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Cloud services also don’t require an upfront cost. Your business pays a monthly flat-rate per user fee, and if your business grows and you hire new staff, you can switch on new licenses, and similarly turn them off as needed.
There are many benefits to small businesses that wish to leverage cloud computing capabilities. For many small businesses, it’s helpful to start with something simple — like email.
Hosted email through Microsoft or Google, which are the two biggest players in the market right now, is a great (and safe) place to start your cloud strategy. By hosting your email, calendars, contacts and chat through one of these providers, you don’t have to purchase servers, license software or upgrade your infrastructure — shifting email costs entirely to your operating budget.
There are questions that you need to ask before you consider moving a critical line of business software applications to the cloud, and it is important to work with a trusted IT adviser who can help answer these tough questions. This adviser can work with your software vendor to understand the various dynamics of what moving into the cloud actually entails and lay those practical considerations out to you in a way that’s easy to understand.
James Fields is owner and president of IT service provider Concept Technology and IT staffing company Scout Staffing. Visit Concept Technology online at ConceptTechnologyInc.com and Scout online at ScoutStaffing.com.
Something to consider
why you wouldn’t want to move an internal software application into the cloud
When moving business applications to the cloud, you’re at the mercy of your cloud provider when answering the question: Is your data secure? You can’t control the provider’s diligence, and if provider is not doing its job to secure the application, it can lead to a direct compromise of your data.
Does your business software vendor support having your system in the cloud? There are some that still expect it be hosted on an internal server.
The more cloud space you "rent," the more bandwidth you require. Before moving an entire application offsite, you need to make sure you have enough available bandwidth to support the move.