Cloud Computing: Why & How for Small-Medium Businesses
Cloud for Businesses
Cloud computing is a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT is delivered as a service using Internet technologies.
Cloud Computing is transforming the way organisations consume computer services. Where in the past you had to have local systems and servers to run various applications, in the cloud they are managed by an external provider that charges you for the use.
Let’s look at an analogy to bring further clarity:
With cloud computing, you pay for your usage just like you pay for electricity. Power is something you just plug into the wall; you turn a switch on and off and you get charged for the amount you use. You don’t have to worry about where the power station is, or maintaining the power station or anything like that. All you care about is consuming the service. The concept is the same with cloud computing. It takes the focus away from having to manage, maintain and support all of the local servers and whatnot. The cloud moves all of that into a hosted environment whereby you have someone else managing it. Now all you do is consume the service via a web browser, and someone else handles all the backend process, and all the servers, configuration and maintenance.
Cloud computing is effectively just taking stuff that was traditionally done onsite and moving it to a hosted environment with a structure around it that allows people to consume the servers on a usage basis. The technology behind cloud computing is really just about allowing people to access information on their computers via a remote data centre or from a hosting environment somewhere else.
Why Cloud Computing important?
- Cost savings. In the past, it’s been quite expensive to run, manage and deploy local systems; it has also taken a lot of capital. Most cases involve very technical people that you have to compensate with a lot of money to maintain all the stuff for you. Since you no longer need to run, manage and deploy the systems, there are big cost savings to be had.
- Scalability. Cloud computing means you no longer need to worry about having to upgrade systems since it’s all hosted elsewhere. You literally just need to make a phone call or click a button to increase your server capacity. If you acquire a company tomorrow and they have 50 staff, the cloud gives you unlimited elastic scale so you can add those 50 users and get them up and running straight away.
- Keep up with the latest technology. With cloud computing, you never have to worry about upgrading and updating. The cloud makes sure you are getting the latest servers and are always upgraded with the next version. When a new patch comes out, it is automatically deployed, so you don’t have to worry about any of that technical stuff anymore. Cloud computing keeps you on the cutting edge with the most up-to-date technology.
- Mobility. Since the cloud is hosted, you are no longer confined to the office. You can take your information mobile and work from tablets and mobile devices. Staff can work from an office computer, from home, or from a client site. The cloud increases the efficiency of an organisation by giving staff more mobility. They can be on-site with a client and still enter notes directly into sales reports.
- Disaster recovery. Improved up-time is the result of better disaster recovering in the cloud. Your cloud hosting can take advantage of the best enterprise systems; in the event of server failure, it automatically fails over to another server. This is something that you definitely cannot achieve inside a small organisational IT environment, because to implement that sort of disaster recovery would be costly and capital intensive.
Challenges of Cloud Computing
- Data security. Although established, reliable cloud computing vendors will have the latest, most sophisticated data security systems available on the market, there is a still a concern that sensitive information might be at risk because data is not hosted locally. This concern is totally reasonable; your data is hosted somewhere else. Who knows what goes on over there? To alleviate this concern, make sure you deal only with reputable, established vendors that have a proven track record.
- Increased dependency on an Internet connection. Cloud computing makes your organisation dependent on the reliability of an Internet connection. When it’s offline, you’re offline. Before moving to the cloud, make sure you consult your IT guy and make sure your Internet connection can handle it.
Four keys to successfully implement Cloud Computing
Four keys to successfully implementing cloud computing
Moving to the cloud can be difficult for some bigger organisations and quite easy for startups and small businesses. Here are the four keys to successfully making the move into the cloud:
- Check to make sure your Internet can handle the bandwidth
- Develop a set of business requirements
- Shortlist potential cloud providers
- Make sure cloud providers meet your requirements
Check to make sure your Internet can handle the bandwidth
The cloud consumes a lot more download than upload. If you think about it, you’re downloading a lot of stuff from the cloud provider, but all you’re sending back is really just mouse clicks. So when it comes to determining whether your Internet can handle the bandwidth, you should look more at download speed than upload speed.
As a general rule of thumb, we wouldn’t recommend putting more than five to ten people on an ADSL service. Anything more than that and you would likely need to upgrade to Cable or Fibre.
Develop a set of business requirements
The next key is to develop a set of functional requirements in the organisation. Look at the organisation, look at the processes, and look at the systems; then create a map that allows you to understand what functionality you’re going to need. This is particularly important if you’re moving a customer relationship management tool (or something big like that) into the cloud. You really need to go and define what your requirements are in detail so that you can make sure you pick the right cloud service.
Shortlist potential cloud providers
Identify potential cloud vendors and then create a shortlist of suitable partners. Generally speaking, cost will play a big part. However, you should also look at support, track record, references, and who they are currently servicing within your industry. Next, make sure you match your set of requirements with what the cloud provider can deliver for you.
Lastly, you should look at the financial viability of the company. How long have they been around? What are their investments? Will they be around for the long haul? Since this is a big move for your company, you need to make sure they are not at risk of going under, which may post a risk to the data you entrust to them.
Make sure your list of cloud providers meet your requirements
Contact the sales team and confirm that the provider meets your requirements. If they don’t have a sales team, compare the requirements yourself. Ask the vendor for a total cost of ownership (TCO) and conduct a TCO analysis. This basically adds up all the costs and all the set-up fees. Also, use this final step to vet the provider; ask them the questions you haven’t received answers for.