Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network, typically the Internet.
However, despite predictions that the cloud is likely to have its biggest uptake with small businesses, many SMEs still don’t know what the term means, according to the latest survey from website for freelancers, PeoplePerHour.com.
Nearly three-quarters of SMEs don’t use cloud computing – down from the 82% recorded in a similar survey in June. But nearly half of those not using the cloud said they didn’t know what the term meant, while 36% didn’t see a need for it, 10% thought it was too expensive and 9% said they were worried about security problems.
In Powwownow’s opinion, Cloud services have all sorts of benefits to SMEs, especially when it comes to accessibility, productivity and flexibility. That is why we thought we’d clear a few things up and tell you all about ‘putting your business in a cloud’.
Essentially there are three types of cloud services: cloud storage, cloud software and cloud hosting/servers.
Cloud storage is one of the simplest forms of cloud computing, essentially offering a scalable solution to clogging up your hard drive with bulky files. Instead, files are hosted online, accessed via a URL and made easily shareable between colleagues, clients, and anybody else you so choose. This way, you are no longer dependent on network storage – and nor do you have the issue of transferring large files via such complicated processes as FTP transfer (we won’t go into that).
Drop Box is a good example of a versatile (but pure) cloud storage system. The principles are simple — you upload any file of any type to a Dropbox based folder (either manually or via a sync) and then access the file via their Dropbox client or via the web. The scalability of the storage options combined with file revision history offer an extremely attractive solution for SMEs within creative or digital industries that need to share large files (or access large files from multiple locations). It also offers a very viable option for cost-effective data backups which can be essential when relying on physical media like computer hard drives. Cloud based storage could replace the reliance on local data back-up, a process that is often ignored by SMEs but essential to any business using IT.
Cloud Software allows users to access typically desktop only software (word processors, spreadsheets, presentation packages etc) via a web-based browser environment. This removes the need to install software locally, pay for licenses, keep an eye on updates, and all those other irritating processes. It also means you can access your work wherever you are in the world without the need for your own personal computer – all you need is an internet connection and browser – then hey presto!
The poster child for cloud based software aimed at small businesses has to be Google Apps (for business). Their Microsoft Office “clone” replicates many of the core business applications of the popular Office suite — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, even Acrobat become Google Docs, Exchange becomes Gmail (for business) and Google Calendar — but also more. Google Apps offers a “market place” that enables the user to sign up for other cloud based (business) software. In reality that’s where Google Apps really shines — by integrating the core functionality of the Google product portfolio (gmail, docs etc) with specific business focused software (CRM/Customer Management, Project Management etc).
Cloud hosting / server solutions exemplify some of the most powerful and most adaptable uses of ‘cloud’. Cloud hosting works by running websites or other services on a dedicated virtual server, with the primary advantage being the ability to scale the cloud servers operated by the provider to suite your needs. Put more simply, many SMEs do not fully understand the requirements of the web servers, and given companies’ larger reach these days (with social media, video hosting, the offering of downloads etc) there can be surprising spikes in a website’s traffic. This in turn costs money (or in the worst case, exceed your capacity, resulting in your website being taken down) as it uses more bandwidth. With cloud services however, you can alter your bandwidth as and when you need more, or less, with a sort of pay-as-you type model. This eradicates the need to buy expensive hardware, and can be explained in more depth by vendors such as ElasticHosts.
Speaking to Automation World, ERP CEO, Anthony Chirchirillo said that adopting cloud computing was a strategic decision that helped it tackle the inherent SME problem of having limited resources.
He claimed his company was unable to afford the high salary of a dedicated IT professional, so IT outsourcing was the best option.
“This is technology of the future, particularly for SMEs that don’t have the deep pockets to invest in IT to grow their businesses.” Further adding that “the return-on-investment exceeded 50 percent and cloud computing helped drive revenues at the firm up by 17 percent.”
As with many new or emerging technologies there are of course concerns around security, but no more so than there were with e-mail which nobody would bat an eyelid about now.
The advantages far outweigh cloud’s shortcomings, and with companies always looking to control costs, cloud solutions really do seem like a smart way forward.