What is cloud computing? Cloud computing is an Internet-based facility that allows users to access shared computer applications, storage and other resources through a network of remote servers, rather than each individual user installing hardware and software onto their on-site server and personal computer. It allows the user to store, manage and process data in exactly the same way as traditional computer systems and programmes, without the need to buy, install, manage and update a variety of expensive applications on one computer. In cloud computing, you are renting a service rather than buying a product. You simply pay for what you use – much like a utility service – and the technical side is all taken care of by the host vendors that supply the applications. The data and files you create are stored in ‘The Cloud’ (on the web) and accessed through an internet browser from any device in any location; not just your personal computer. This offers so many benefits to the small business owner in terms of accessibility, flexibility, security, cost, time, energy consumption, competitiveness and disaster recovery.
Accessibility and flexibility
The biggest advantage of cloud computing is the ability to access, modify and save files from any number of devices in any location. Normally, if something has been saved on a personal computer, you can only access the file from that particular computer. This is rather restrictive. Cloud computing opens this up, allowing you to access your files from any phone, tablet, laptop or computer – as long as there’s an Internet connection, you can use any of these devices to access and work on your files and data. Consider email providers like Hotmail, AOL, Gmail, and Outlook: these are all a form of cloud computing. You don’t store your email on your computer; you access it from your computer by connecting to the Internet and logging in to your account in the ether.
You can also use cloud computing to share your files and collaborate with other people because the files are in one central location that anyone can access at any time from any location in the world. This offers much greater flexibility and accessibility, allowing the small business owner to work remotely and access any file he requires whilst on the go, thus increasing productivity, time-management, and competitiveness.
According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, “an estimated 800,000 laptops are lost or stolen every year in airports alone.” If you store all of your data on a laptop or mobile device, this information can be easily stolen and accessed on your computer device. However, if you use cloud computing instead, your laptop is merely a device through which you access and work on your applications – the data itself will not be stolen with the laptop because you require your user name and password to get into the cloud where your data is stored. Sure, it will still be really annoying if you have to replace your computer, but not as disastrous a situation if all of your work is lost or stolen as well.
Cloud computing is very affordable and you simply pay for what you need and what you use. If your business expands and you require more, you can pay for more. If you require less, you can scale down and pay for less, as and when required. Nothing is fixed – the flexibility of the cloud makes it an affordable, practical service for small business owners. Start-up costs are cheap, applications are quick and easy to access and customise – there’s no need to buy expensive software and hardware that you will only use occasionally or for a short period of time; you can simply pick and choose what you need, when you need it. Furthermore, these web-based applications are maintained and updated regularly, so there’s no need to continuously replace out-of-date resources with more expensive programmes and technologies – the latest versions are always available on the cloud. You can stay up-to-date, react quickly to change, adapt to emerging trends and quickly meet the demands of your business.
Back-up in case of emergency
Similar to the security aspect of the cloud, disaster recovery is another excellent benefit. With greater security measures and resilience than you might otherwise be able to afford, should you lose your computer device, or it breaks or fails in some way, your data is secure because it is saved remotely in the cloud, and recovery times are almost 4 times faster for businesses using cloud computing when compared to those not utilising these services.
Staying competitive can be difficult for small businesses when they don’t have access to the experts and finances afforded to larger businesses, but cloud computing now makes this a real possibility. The service providers deal with all of the technical side of things, saving you a great deal of money and time to focus on other areas of your business. By using the cloud, you are also doing your bit toward helping the environment – according to Sales Force, businesses using the cloud will consume 30% less energy and produce considerably less carbon emissions than those using on-site servers. For small to medium sized enterprises, energy use and carbon emissions could be cut by 90% by using cloud computing so, not only will you significantly cut your carbon footprint, you will also save yourself quite a whack of money on your energy bills.
If you are now suitably encouraged and wish to look into cloud computing for your business, take a look at some comparisons and reviews from TechRadar, TechMedia Network, Sales Force, and PCWorld. If you’re not yet convinced, then you really ought to visit these websites too. They will give you a better idea of the latest and most popular applications and cloud services, and information about choosing the right ones for your business. It’s not a matter of opinion; the simple fact remains that cloud computing can do nothing but benefit and improve your small business, and for a fraction of the cost of traditional computer technologies and resources.
Interesting to read about benefits of cloud computing for small business. Organizations which are moving to cloud should ensure adequate levels of security for data residing on it. The points in this article are very helpful for businesses that are looking to move to the cloud. I work for McGladrey and there is a whitepaper on the website that offers useful information on security challenges of moving to the cloud that readers will find it interesting @ “Cloud risks striking a balance between savings and security” http://bit.ly/16uLsgi
These are excellent considerations for small business owners about the benefits of cloud computing. I’d also add that in addition to these ‘public cloud’ benefits, if you would like the added comfort of having a copy of all your data ‘within your four walls’ and under your control, then you can also consider a hybrid-cloud model where your information and applications work from within your office on dedicated hardware and synchronize to the public cloud as well.