Cloud Computing for Small Businesses

Following Microsoft’s “to the cloud” television advert recently – it feels as if the cloud is mentioned everywhere and anywhere these days.  But do you know what it is and what it really means?

Cloud Computing Definition

The U.S. Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) defines the cloud computing as “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable resources – networks, servers, storage, applications and services – that can be rapidly provided and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Translated – the cloud removes your need to have a physical server to house your IT infrastructure.  However when most small business owners talk about cloud computing they usually mean an application that runs from the web and not directly from your (not connected to the internet) computer.  Applications available through the cloud include desktop publishing, project management and day-to-day spreadsheet and presentation software.  Just about any business function you can think of has a cloud based solution, from phone services to marketing to operations to finance.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud-based services can help small businesses dramatically reduce their software and other computing costs. For example if your business is expanding and looking to purchase a server; or if you are in the start up phase of your business and cannot afford software such as Microsoft Office; you can pay a low monthly fee rather than a onetime capital expenditure.

  • Security  Storing files on a secure, reliable, cloud-based service helps eliminate backup worries and gives you anytime access to your files, from any computer.
  • Accessibility Cloud computing makes it easier to collaborate with colleagues in distant locations as allows you to access you data via a web connection.
  • Scalability – your storage can grow or decrease depending on your needs.  As your business grows you can start off small and increase the size as you grow your business.

Concerns of Cloud Computing

  • Security: Some businesses worry that using Cloud services they will be more at risk for hacking and illegal access of sensitive data.  However as mentioned above, cloud computing offers many small businesses an opportunity to have a level of security they may not otherwise be able to afford.
  • Privacy: How much data are cloud companies like Google collecting about you, and how might that information be used? This new and still evolving sector lacks universal standards for how clouds should operate.  The want for many businesses to move towards the cloud has resulted in a hybrid solution, recreating some of the cloud infrastructure internally for those sensitive documents.
  • Availability: Will your cloud service go down unexpectedly, leaving you without access to critical customer records, e-mail, or other information for hours or more? Providers are attempting to address this concern, with many major ones now offering uptime guarantees, essentially assuring their customers that the cloud service will remain running at least a certain percentage of the time.

Is Cloud Computing Right for You?

Many business owners get overwhelmed by the size of change and the impact it will have on their employees; however deciding to move to cloud technology does not have to mean that you relocate the whole of your business in one move.  By having a staged migration of specific programs or files, it may give staff time to become familiar with the new system.  It will give you the time to evaluate which parts are working for you and which need to be tweaked going forward.

When assessing whether or not the cloud is right for your business, it’s good to understand the basics, but it’s best to turn to an expert for advice.  Do your research, price out your options and see if cloud computing is right for your business.

Want to find out more?  Why not attend the Thinking Ahead – Prepare for the Future of Your Online Business seminar and learn how to create an effective business environment through cloud computing.