Sky’s the Limit for Cloud Computing


Cloud Computing for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

To some business owners, the phrase “cloud computing” might conjure up some exotic and futuristic technology that has nothing to do with their day to day business operation. Some are really not quite sure what it is or why they should care anyway. All they know is that the words “cloud computing” make them nervous. Is this some technology my competitors are using and will it give them an edge? What should I do to become informed?

What Is the Cloud?

What these business owners may not realize is that chances are they are already using some cloud computing solutions. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! mail are cloud-based software services. Uploading photos on Flickr or videos onto YouTube are activities we do in the cloud. Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based application as is SalesForce, used in many small and medium-sized businesses (SMB).

Where Is the Cloud?

Cloud computing just means that solutions are delivered to you through the internet and are based offsite, in “the cloud,” not on your office computers or servers. To engage in cloud computing, all you need is a computer and a broadband internet connection. In the past, having a server in your office was a no-brainer. This was the way you could have distinctive, company email addresses, run your own custom applications, have access to and store your data, all in order to run a modern-day business operation. Today more and more businesses are taking advantage of cloud computing to do these tasks, reducing the need for expensive hardware and legacy software.

Why Use the Cloud?

There are many advantages to using the cloud here are just a few of them:

Hosted Applications (SaaS)

One of the benefits of cloud computing is that it is easy to access and applications are quick to install. In general, cloud-based applications (apps) are easy to learn and get up and running, unlike some onsite software products which may take longer. Cloud services give you the power and capacity you need when you need it. If you have seasonal upswings in activity in your business and less activity at other times, cloud-based solutions can be ideal and cost effective. They expand and contract along with your need for them. Many apps are offered with various price points, to correspond with what you need at the time. Upgrades are easy to purchase, as required for your business.

Access From Anywhere

If you have staff that needs to work from various locations away from the office, cloud-based solutions can be accessed anytime and anywhere, a real advantage with today’s mobile workforce. They are cost effective, giving small businesses the ease and versatility of “enterprise” level software products for a lot less money. CRM (customer relations management) software used to be a large investment for companies who could afford the hefty capital expense. Now there are various cloud-based apps that offer this service for much less to SMB’s.

Backup and Data Recovery (BDR)

We hope that you are already doing data backups.  Maybe you are even doing it to the cloud and don’t realize it.  If you are using Dropbox, Google Docs, Live Mesh, or any other numerous online storage tools you are backing up the the cloud.  But, that is only a start.  It is also possible to have a full-system backup there as well using a cloud based Backup and Data Recovery tool.  With this type of backup, if your server goes down, all you have to do is go to your BDR site and download the saved image to a new hard-drive or server, and you are back up and running.

A Seismic Shift in IT Solutions

In these and many other ways, cloud computing represents a truly seismic shift in IT for modern small and medium-sized businesses. A rough analogy would be the shift that took place with modern plumbing and running water. Prior to our building this vast infrastructure in our cities, towns and country-side, getting clean water and disposing of waste were difficult and enormously time-consuming tasks for individuals and families. Now we simply turn the tap for water and waste disposal is so easy, we don’t even think about it.

Since the advent of the computer age, each office and home had to acquire the power and storage capacity to run applications and store data. Every office had its own servers, UPS devices, routers, network switches, etc. This was, and is, very expensive to acquire and maintain. A server today may cost several thousand dollars and businesses often need more than one. As in the old days, when each family was responsible for acquiring the most essential ingredient of life, clean water, so up until today, homes and businesses have maintained their own computing power plant on-premises. It is the way things have been for as long as we can remember.
Just as in the same way that we can all now get our supply of water from a central source, without each of us having to dig our own well for fresh water, we can all now access the cloud as our computing power source and storage area, to take the place of our on-premises computer power supply. The way we work in the modern world is being transformed.

How Do You Move Your Office Operations to the Cloud?

You may be feeling that this is all too good to be true, and, at least at this juncture in time, it is. There are growing pains in cloud computing and risks involved as well. Good planning is essential, and it is important not to throw your onsite hardware and software out in the garbage heap just yet. Some providers of cloud-based services have abruptly gone out of business, causing risk for businesses that used them for essential software and offsite back-up. No one wants to be in the position of having a vendor who is managing their data, go belly-up. Using an unreliable vendor is risky.
There are privacy issues as well. Is your data secure or can your cloud-service provider access it and use it in some way? What about your competitors? Could they access your data? These security concerns are especially serious in the areas of back-up and data storage. It is important to talk to a trusted IT professional about moving to cloud-based services and the move should be rational, starting with services that make the most sense for your unique business operation.
Cloud computing can be used in areas of your business where you need to generate and store much of your data. Take a look at areas of your business that require the most IT support and look to cloud solutions to take off some of their workload. Some other areas to look closely at in terms of cloud services are hosted and managed email, storage, backup, customer relations management, databases and project management. These are areas where cloud solutions are making huge inroads into the business market.
In the future, whether cloud computing rushes in like a tidal wave, or if we adopt it gingerly with hesitation, the modern office is changing dramatically due to the cloud. The benefits: less capital investment (software and hardware leased and their costs considered operating expenses); decreased maintenance and lower overall costs; flexible billing and easy upgrades. The risks are being addressed by large, established corporations like Google, Microsoft, SalesForce and Amazon. At some point in time, cloud solutions will uniformly offer a high level of security and diminished risk.

Whats Next?

If you have made it through this white paper thus far, you might be asking yourself, “What cloud solutions will save me money and improve performance in my small or medium-sized business? How should I, as the business owner or decision maker, proceed?”

The next step you need to take is to contact a local Managed Service Provider (MSP) who can guide you through the decision process and help you to implement the cloud solutions that are right for your company.

At Clear Focus IT we offer full-spectrum IT support and managed services. Check out our website at www.clearfocus-it.ca

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