Your Business and Cloud Computing

by / Sunday, 15 April 2012 / Published in Business

Why Are Businesses Moving To Cloud Computing?

If you’ve flipped on the television in recent months, you’ve probably seen a commercial from Intel, IBM, or Microsoft talking about “the cloud.”  Newspapers, magazines, web advertisements and even the spam in your email all make reference to this phenomenon.  But what is the cloud?  And why should you be interested in moving your business to cloud computing?

The cloud term, as it relates to computing, dates back to the early 90s when computer network diagrams were including references to the Internet.  The documenters would simply indicate the Internet as a cloud.  So, in simplest terms, “the cloud” is the Internet.  But the Internet has been around for years.  What’s the deal with cloud computing?

Computer networks of the past have been fairly static in design.  If you wanted to have a server to host your files on your network or perform some other task, you would purchase a server and install it in your office.  Larger corporations would perhaps have the servers they purchased at multiple locations.  But in the SMB space, that design hasn’t changed much in recent years.  You purchased the server.  You supplied the space for it.  You supplied the support for it.   You supplied the cost for replacing the server.  In essence, you had full responsibility for the server.

The cloud computing model is a bit different from the in-house model.  With cloud computing, the servers which handle the storage of your data and the programs that you access are no longer in the confines of your business.  They are on the Internet, able to be reached from relatively any location which has a connection to the Internet.  This means that your business is less dependent on that single server in your building.  Instead of having your email hosted by an in-house Microsoft Exchange Server, perhaps you now use Microsoft Office 365.  Instead of having your sales team use a single software program on your network such as GoldMine, perhaps they now use SalesForce.com for tracking.  But what are some of the pros and cons of switching your computing infrastructure to this model?

Benefits Of Cloud Computing

One of the most noticeable benefits of moving to a full cloud computing infrastructure is that you, as a business owner, no longer need to purchase servers to fulfill a task.  You don’t have to allocate the space within your building to store the servers.  Often, you don’t need to worry about the data on those servers being backed up.  When a three year marker rolls around, you don’t have to worry about purchasing an updated warranty for the servers or replacing the computer systems.Another benefit of cloud computing is being able to access your company critical data or applications wherever you have an Internet connection.  This allows for your employees to work from home, on the road, or even on vacation with basically the same accessibility level as if they were in the office.

Cloud computing usually comes with a low up-front cost.  When purchasing an in-house server solution, you will likely spend thousands of dollars in hardware, software, and labor to do the roll-out.  But with a cloud-based setup, you will potentially have to pay a sign-up fee for a service (if any) and then you will pay a monthly fee from that point forward.  Additionally, if something happens to the service, their support staff usually takes care of fixing what is broken.  So, no need to call your IT guy for him to bring up your dead server.

Finally, when you sign up with a cloud-based service, such as Microsoft Office 365, new versions, bug fixes, functionality improvements, and other changes are usually included as part of your monthly fee.  So, that means that when Microsoft decides to deploy the next generation of their product as part of Office 365, you simply sign in as you normally do and you have that new release.

Considerations Of Migrating To The Cloud

At face value, it would seem that all businesses should move their IT infrastructure to the cloud.  But there are many things to consider.  First, determine if your business needs to have your IT infrastructure in-house.  Can you all really move all of your company data to a server that is remote?  If you are a business that works with large files, such as high resolution imagery or CAD, this might not be an option for you at this point.  How much data does your company presently need to maintain?  Would it be cost-effective to move all of that data to a remote server and pay storage fees on it?

As having something that is housed solely on the Internet, maintaining adequate Internet connectivity is highly recommended.  Is high speed connectivity available in your area?  If the service is available, is it reliable?  Do you have the budget to purchase higher speed connections or even redundant Internet connections?  These are things to think about prior to making your move.

Having a server in-house does allow for your company to maintain a certain level of control over applications and security.  If one of your software vendors releases a new product and you don’t want to upgrade to it, you simply can continue to use what you have.  But, if that product is cloud-based, you may simply be stuck moving over to the new version, like it or not.

Reliability of any cloud service should be evaluated.  If the service that they offer is inaccessible due to a problem on their end or due to your Internet connection being down, what will that do to the day-to-day operations of your business?  Can you afford any outages?

Security is a large concern with cloud computing based products.  With greater accessibility to your company’s data, so too is greater risk for data theft.  Prior to choosing any cloud service provider, educate yourself on their privacy and security policies.  Make sure that your employees are educated about what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to accessing that service.  Finally, if your organization is required to be in compliance with HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley or other government standards, make absolutely sure that the service which you are evaluating complies as well.

Best Steps?

If you are interested in moving to any hosted server, application, or service that is cloud-based, here are some good questions to ask in order to help you make a decision:

  1. Do we have a real need to move any one application, task, or server to be cloud-based?
  2. Do we have reliable Internet connectivity?
  3. Can we afford the monthly costs for the service and the storage of our company’s data?
  4. Is the service secure, dependable, and reputable?
  5. How will my business be affected if the service is down or our Internet is down?

If you have any questions about using the cloud let us know .  We would love to help.

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