If you're a small business owner, the idea of cloud computing may sound like a fad or even unsafe. You're not alone. According to IDC, only 3.2% of small businesses, or about 230,000 businesses, use cloud services. Another 3.6%, or 260,000, plan to add cloud services in the next 12 months. If you are one of the 3.6% that are considering the use of cloud services, it might be helpful to start with the basics.
What is cloud computing?
Broadly put, any service or program sent over an Internet connection can be considered a cloud service. With this definition, anything that happens outside company firewalls can be considered on "the cloud". When you're looking from an IT perspective, cloud computing can be thought of as a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. It involves sharing resources to achieve economies of scale similar to a utility like electricity.
Chances are you're already familiar with cloud computing on some level. Facebook, Google's Gmail, and CRM software such as Salesforce.com are just a few examples. Familiar companies like IBM, Amazon, and HP have jumped on the bandwagon and are now offering storage and virual servers that IT can access on demand.
Why is it gaining popularity?
As consumers, we expect to place an order, request changes, or simply get answers quickly. More and more small busineses are finding the benefits of cloud computing essential to meet these demands. For example, a retailer will most likely process a high volume of transactions during the holidays. If their in-house servers can't handle the volume, they may pay a vendor for use of its servers to shoulder part of the computing work. Meanwhile, other companies might buy computing power on a regular basis. In exchange, they may drop an in-house server completely, or better yet, never purchase the equipment in the first place. Without the capital expenditure to buy a program or equipment, business owners can focus on growing the business. What's more, cloud computing can also eliminate the need for multiple system administrators that are needed to manage and maintain the program or equipment.
From an employee point of view, cloud computing brings convenience and simplicity. A salesperson, project manager, and implementation specialist can have the ability to make changes to the same presentation without sending it back and forth through emails.
What about cloud computing on a small scale?
As an individual, there are cloud-based options for you as well. Websites like Bix.com offer cloud-based solutions to backing up and storing all of your pictures, videos, music, and files to one convenient and accessible location. Google Drive and Dropbox are cloud programs that allow multiple people to have access to the same folder where friends and/or coworkers can drop and share ideas. Trello is a popular cloud-based task manager equipped with a calendar. This tool is especially handy for a group of employees that don't work in the same location but work on the same tasks. If you love Office, there's Office 365. A great option for the indivual and/or small business that wants access to Office and the files created there from any device, even iPhone and iPad.
The take away here is convenience and flexibility. Organizations can simply buy a per-user subscription to Salesforce.com as they grow, they can buy computing power when their own servers fall short, or they can rely completely on an outside vendor for all things IT-related.
Is your organization ready for cloud computing? Contact Keystone for answers to this question and others.