Your Company’s Best Friend: The Cloud

What is the cloud?

Despite its widespread usage, cloud technology is still misunderstood.  According to a study conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Citrix, 54% of those questioned responded that they’ve never used cloud technology. And 51% think ‘stormy weather’ interferes with cloud computing. Cloud technology is changing the world we live in, but it will never reach its full potential if people continue to fear or mistrust it.

The truth is that you’re in the cloud everyday when you bank, shop online, use social networks, and send or receive email.

Do you go to Amazon and create a wish list? Do you have an email account on Gmail? That is cloud computing. All your emails are stored on Google’s servers. They are on physical servers, of course, but they aren’t on your laptop. The advantage is that when you spill your coffee onto the laptop keyboard, you haven’t lost all your emails even if you’ve never backed up your hard drive.

Cloud blog - startupHere is a simple analogy to explain how the cloud works and why so many businesses find it useful and efficient: Picture the small, very cramped office space of a little start-up. You and a few coworkers sit in tight quarters with messy desktops buried in mounds of papers, files, and pizza boxes. There is absolutely no room for storage. It will be a long time until you can afford a larger office space.

Your building manager offers to rent you an empty file cabinet in the basement. Although the basement space is shared with other tenants, only you and your team have keys to this locked cabinet where you will store all those piles of paper. Your rent for this space is relatively cheap compared to other tenants, since you’re only paying for the cabinet, and not the larger lockers they have leased.

Suddenly, those once covered desktops are clean, leaving space to work. More importantly, the papers are all nearby, each of you has a key, but they are safe from everyone else in the building or outside. They are also safe from spilled coffee and pizza crumbs. You’ve avoided the dramatic jump in fixed costs required to find bigger office space, when all you needed were several feet of filing cabinets. Even better, the money saved is put back into the core goal of providing a product or service to a customer.

The cloud does the same thing. You rent only the space you need, it is safer from hackers than your on-site server will ever be, secure from thieves, and protected from accident-prone friends or employees. Unlike the rest of us, cloud service providers don’t have coffee cups near their keyboards or forget to do monthly backups. In short, the cloud provides scalable storage without large incremental leaps in fixed costs along with risks you really can’t afford.

The cloud is nothing more than moving the storage and access of your data programs from your computer’s physical hard drive to someone else’s. There is nothing to fear.

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Cloud benefits

While implementing cloud technology will have different effects for different companies and their needs, these are the major ones we see in businesses that make the switch.

Controlling costs

Every SMB wants their business to grow but that growth is accompanied by rising costs to maintain safe, reliable, and sustainable business technology.

On-premise solutions are expensive.  If you’re paying someone $60K a year to manage and monitor your technology, and most of their day is spent performing routine maintenance tasks or running to the aid of the intern who complains that something is running slow, are you really getting a return on that investment? You can do better and your on-site IT support can do more for you.

While it is dependent on the environment, the cost for cloud-based solutions have been found to be anywhere from 30% to 50% lower than with on-premise solutions. This is because the cloud can completely eliminate most infrastructure costs such as servers, databases, backup, operating systems, upgrades, migration, physical space, power and cooling, and associated in-house or third party staffing costs.

The traditional issue holding back small business: they do not have the capital to create the infrastructure to compete with large firms. They are too small to enjoy economies of scale. One obvious area is software and hardware. Historically, the technology used by big business has been out of reach of the little guys. Most SMBs have neither the hardware budget nor internal resources to own a network infrastructure. A small business does not have capital to buy the equipment.

Take a simple example: you run a storefront, but think you might be able to sell a bit more if you went online. However you don’t know how much more yet. You can’t justify the capital to buy the hardware, software, and the labor to design, build, and support it all. The cost of entry to the online world is just too much.

The cloud ends all of that. In simple terms, the cloud lets you rent just as little infrastructure as you need, and then lets you grow as incrementally as you like, paying only for what you use. Essentially, the cloud has become the great equalizer. The high cost of entry created by IT can be eliminated by the cloud.

Although it seems like an oxymoron to recommend investing in new technology to control costs, cloud-based solutions can be leveraged for a greater return on already inevitable operational expenses. The cloud helps spur business growth and profitability, and allows you to compete with larger organizations.

Convenience and productivity

It once took smaller companies and startups weeks to launch and configure their own IT infrastructure. Doing so also required a ton of overhead costs. Today’s cloud technology provides the benefits of this very same infrastructure but on an as needed and on-demand basis. SMBs can build a technology infrastructure for themselves online in less than a minute.

For example, a smaller agency that provides apps for its clients, can turn to a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud provider. A PaaS provides companies an environment that enables them to more easily host and deploy apps.  They do this by shielding developers from the hassles that come with the set up, configuration, and management of things like servers and databases. Without having to worry about things on the infrastructure side, the company and its application developers can focus on creating innovative apps that will generate business revenue. Once their server is online and available, they can launch instantly with a one-click deployment of their application.

Many SMBs are also turning to the cloud to provide employees with better collaboration tools. Through the cloud, workers can use smartphones, laptops, and notebooks to access documents and files for internal and external collaboration. Files can be edited and accessed in real-time by multiple people. Being in the cloud gives everyone in your organization unparalleled connectivity to its data—from anywhere and at any time. All you need is a device that can connect you to the web and you are set!

Scalability, agility, flexibility

The flexibility of the cloud makes it really attractive to SMBs. IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) are two increasingly popular cloud technologies because of their flexibility when it comes to big data analysis.

IaaS technology is flexible as it allows an as needed rapid deployment of resources. Basically, fast expansion to accommodate growth. SMBs can pay accordingly for this on-demand usage, giving them the ability to access and analyze the kind of big data seen at larger enterprises without having to pay for necessary hardware capacity. PaaS technology gives SMBs the ability to affordably increase or decrease data storage capacity as needed.

The cloud’s rapid provisioning of computer resources can offer additional storage space in mere minutes rather than weeks. Having that kind of agility bodes particularly well for the scalability needs of SMBs. As business grows and the need to store more data increases, the cloud is flexible enough to resize your infrastructure on the fly and grow with you.

The cost of cloud-based solutions is much more beneficial to SMBs than the cost of traditional shared or dedicated hosting plans. This eliminates the high overhead that comes with buying dedicated hardware and hiring staff to run the servers.

Cloud technology has empowered SMBs by eliminating any need to make the same kind of costly upfront investments that large enterprises are able to incur. There is no longer a need for SMBs to spend thousands of dollars building out a massive infrastructure to support their big data. Better yet, backing up that big data is also inexpensive compared to traditional hosting solutions.

Security

You may think that having your sensitive files and programs in the cloud would present a bigger security risk than keeping everything in-house. However this is simply not true!

Hackers are much more likely to go after easy targets. Do you think it would be easier to breach a small 10-person financial office with one part-time IT person, or a multi-million dollar cloud service provider with round-the-clock threat monitoring and dozens of seasoned IT professionals?

“There are myths that cloud computing is inherently less secure than traditional approaches. The paranoia is due largely to the fact that the approach itself feels insecure, with your data stored on servers and systems you don’t own or control. However, control does not mean security” (TechTarget).

Cloud service providers take security very seriously, as the reputation of their business is at stake. This means they have the best software and cybersecurity experts monitoring their databases and systems 24/7/365, something few SMBs can claim.


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Full versus hybrid cloud environments

Not every business needs or wants anything and everything in the cloud. You may decide you’d like certain programs and files stored on-site.

The great thing about the cloud is it’s not an all or nothing thing. This is exactly why so many small to midsize businesses have turned to hybrid cloud solutions. Just as the name implies, hybrid cloud solutions are both on- and off-premises. It’s the best of both worlds. An entrepreneur can still control certain aspects of the business on-site, but simultaneously exploit the cloud’s cost effectiveness and overall scalability.

For example, a local server can be housed and managed on-site but that server, or just specific files, can still be backed up in the cloud and stored far away off-site. This provides a partial disaster recovery solution in the event of a hurricane, flood, fire, or just a basic server crash.

Here are some tips for developing your hybrid cloud strategy:

  • Honestly assess the current IT strategy – Over time, as your business grows and technology advances, your well-planned and neatly arranged IT infrastructure transforms into a disorganized mishmash of different servers and disconnected software and tools. View this almost as the spring-cleaning of a cluttered garage. What systems or applications are critical to your business right now and which ones no longer support your current or future business initiatives?
  • Know what you want to keep close – Every business will be different in this regard. Certain companies will prefer keeping large files in-house, in a more controlled private cloud for easy access, but may be okay with having their emails out there in the cloud.
  • See how others are leveraging a hybrid cloud environment – Services once only available to large enterprises are now available to SMBs. This presents an extraordinary opportunity to be more agile, flexible, and better suited for new business opportunities and growth. Remote monitoring, 24/7 support, and disaster recovery solutions can be easily integrated within a hybrid-computing environment – regardless of operating systems, server types, or mobile devices used.
  • Staged implementation – Be sure to plan your hybrid cloud strategy as a multi-year plan that is deployed in phases. For example, in the beginning, private controlled access to a public cloud service can be granted to internal application developers experimenting with a new business initiative. Or a new customer relations management SaaS (Software as a Service) application can be implemented.

This is the year that even small or midsize enterprises are getting serious about cloud operations, and a strategic mix of public cloud services and private cloud may make the transition easier. Cloud technology can change your business for the better, and if you’re not taking full advantage of it yet, it’s time!

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