Cloud computing is surely the buzz technology for the early 21st century. Yet, as red hot as it seems, confusion remains about what it is and what benefits it brings, as well as how secure it is for sharing and storing business information.
Cloud computing may seem like a new technology, but in truth, we’ve all used cloud computing in some way, shape or form for years. Take Facebook, for example; this social sharing site stores your comments, photos, videos and so on right up there in the cloud. Gmail, Picasa, Flickr, and others all rely on the cloud.
These are all applications we use freely each day. But cloud computing offers so much more and may transform the way small businesses operate by saving money, enhancing uptime, and (that ultimate marketing cliché) increasing productivity.
Cloud Computing in a Nutshell
Without going into the nitty gritty of how cloud computing works, it’s easier to start from the standpoint of what it enables.
Imagine being able to log onto a website and access all the tools and programs that your employees need to do their jobs without having to invest in lots of standalone software licenses? What if you could access all your office productivity tools (email, calendar, word processing, databases, invoicing, CRM, intranet, etc.) from any location or device? What’s more, all the software management and trouble-shooting can be done by the cloud service provider, freeing up your IT resources.
Cloud computing makes this possible, and solutions from cloud providers such as Google, Microsoft, and Oracle are building build on this technology to deliver transparent services to the public, including hardware and network components.
How Cloud Services Can Help Your Small Business
These benefits are mouth-watering in productivity sense, and the cost savings are tremendous. In fact, the CDW Cloud Computing Tracking Poll found that 76 percent of the small businesses implementing or maintaining cloud computing have successfully reduced the cost of applications by moving them to the cloud. This is because the initial capital investment and the ongoing support infrastructure (your IT headcount) needed to install and run hardware and software is done by the cloud service provider.
Another cost-saving benefit is that you only pay for the “seats” that you need on a per month basis. If you bring on new employees you can easily scale up without having to invest in new licenses. Furthermore, if you tend to use software in spikes, for example when you run monthly invoices, you pay only for your usage – a far more cost-effective model than paying a premium for a piece of software that sits idle for 75 percent of the time.
What Business Tools Should You Move to the Cloud?
As with all business investments, develop a plan to determine what cloud computing can do for your business and how to take advantage of it. As you think about implementing cloud computing, consider the following:
- How do you spend your IT budget? Is there a cloud service that can take the pressure off and help you reduce costs? Assess your expenses, including support and management costs of your most widely used applications, and research the potential savings the cloud can bring.
- Got storage? One of the most common ways small businesses are saving is through cloud-based data storage and backup. This is a cumbersome and costly chore for small businesses, but one you can’t afford to do without. Outsourcing data storage can be done for less than $30 per month depending on your storage needs. Providers are popping up all the time, but cloud storage tools include SugarSync, Dropbox, and Box.net, each of which offers business services.
- Polish up your email act – Cloud email is another area in which small businesses can realize efficiencies and enhanced features. Tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and Gmail for Business not only take the hassle and expense of maintaining your own email server or disparate systems, they include great add-on features that let you access mail from any device, synchronize calendars, and enjoy email backup, security and availability.
- Other office tools – Another tool the cloud has transformed is invoicing (integrated time sheets, sales data, and automatic billing). Marketing also gets a lot easier thanks to cloud-based platforms that revolutionize how small businesses handle email broadcasts, social media, virtual events, and more.
- Security – Because cloud services are delivered over the Internet and hosted on servers that essentially are shared by subscribers of the service, security is a top concern for anyone thinking of using cloud business tools. Some things you can do to alleviate security risks include encrypting data, assessing the security controls your provider has in place (such as firewall controls), and match them.
Are you using or thinking of using cloud tools to save money or improve productivity? Share your comments below or start a discussion on the Forum section.