Chances are that you’ve heard references to the cloud. It’s become ubiquitous in IT discussions, along with apps and social media. At its core, cloud server hosting is a flexible data storage solution that allows businesses to scale their IT services and operations to end users, while also managing costs and providing focus on core applications. Although these solutions deliver clear benefits to businesses, knowing the right questions to ask about whether this solution is right for your company can be a challenge. Here are four questions every small business should ask before investing in cloud hosting solutions.
What software products do you use? A core benefit of cloud hosting is the ability to deliver SaaS (software as a service) products such as SalesForce, Clarity and financial applications to users while minimizing the infrastructure needed to make that happen. Chances are good that your business is already leveraging some cloud products without knowing it — such as your email provider offering spam filters or virus protection.
Typically, these software packages would be hosted on a server within your business’ IT department. With the cloud, remote servers are used to fuel access to these products and to host your data. Map your software usage to know whether or not the products that are critical to your business are most efficiently served by cloud hosting.
What do your cash flow and plans to scale look like? A key benefit of cloud hosting is following the “use what you pay for model.” Instead of making a large, up-front payment for licenses and infrastructure, cloud models allow you to pay monthly fees based on usage, bandwidth, and other factors. For small companies, this can be a smart fiscal choice. But it’s important to look at your plans to scale.
If you are going to be rapidly adding users to a system, such as salespeople to a sale application, an up-front cost may make more sense if bulk licenses are available. But the benefit of cloud hosting is that it allows you to distribute costs over an extended period of time, which can help small businesses operating on thin margins stay profitable.
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Can you get by with leaner versions of your core software? In a major overgeneralization, it’s important to point out one of the limitations of the cloud. Often, cloud-hosted versions of software programs are leaner and less feature rich than the desktop equivalents.
As a result, these programs may not have all the functions that your business needs or that your employees are accustomed to. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate what your business needs and to document your technical processes in order to complete a feature evaluation. Get feedback from end users and key employees before switching to cloud versions to prevent operational problems.
In certain business situations, such as institutions dealing with classified data or patient confidentiality laws, cloud hosting solutions may need to offer more specialized or rigorous data protections. If you’ve got special requirements, evaluate the security protections offer by the host and carefully read their customer reviews before proceeding.
Moving your data to the cloud can be an exciting update that saves you money, improves your company’s technological performance, and makes it easier to be mobile. But it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure that the solution you select meets your security, technological and financial needs.