Cloud computing forms the bedrock of the technological world as we know it. The most widely-used services on the planet rely on distributed networks of data centers, each full of servers steadily humming away on myriad tasks. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon, each of these digital empires is built around a cloud architecture, and for good reason.
Cloud computing is versatile, powerful, scalable and accessible, and it may be the key your small business needs to find a competitive advantage. Today we ask, when is the time right to start moving your business’ technology infrastructure into the cloud?
You know what the cloud is, right? Still looking for a definition that makes sense? Here it is. In the strictest sense, a cloud is simply an offsite server that processes and/or stores data which a user can access from anywhere using any device. While this does sound vague, and regardless of how generally we can apply the term, “cloud computing” tends to be synonymous with larger companies like Microsoft and Amazon. The reason for this is simple. Only large organizations with mountains of capital can develop and run the complex infrastructure required to offer cloud-based services. These services include web hosting, data backup, data analysis & processing and many others. In fact, the list of services offered via the cloud is growing every single day.
Do you ever consider cloud services and wonder, “Is that what my business needs to get ahead? Am I ready for the cloud?” The answer isn't always cut and dry. Often times, only certain components of a business will benefit from a move to the cloud. It is important to remember that while the cloud offers a unique set of advantages, is it not a “silver bullet” forged to solve your business’ every technology woe. Running a cloud-based technology environment comes with its own set of costs.
Don’t get us wrong, we love the cloud and all of the opportunities it represents for small business owners. However, how much value cloud services can impart to your operations depends largely on how those services are implemented and managed. The key to getting the most out of the cloud is working with a qualified technology expert. Such a provider can advise you on which components of your business belong in the cloud and which do not. Furthermore, the right provider can also migrate these services to the cloud and manage them for you over the long-term as well. Therefore, we have collected the top 5 scenarios in which a business would benefit the most by leveraging one of more cloud services.
1. Your computing needs change constantly
If your business needs to process loads of data one day and very little the next, the cloud is one of the best technological tools at your disposal today! One of the greatest advantages the cloud offers the ability to scale with your business operation instantaneously, because cloud customers only pay for what they use. Historically, a business would purchase a server bearing in mind the highest workloads that machine might have to handle at some point in the future. But, what companies with a lot of seasonal workers, such a CPA firm? Such a company might not be open even half of the year. This meant purchasing a very capable, very expensive piece of equipment that is destined to spend most of its life severely underutilized.
Cloud services on the other hand, are set up as a short-term lease. Clients only pay for the resources within the cloud that they use. For example, suppose a business that uses cloud-based hosted email service (like Office365) hires several new employees. As soon as each person is hired, that provider can immediately provision a new account for that person, and the employer is billed for one additional license of that particular service. Similarly, when an employee leaves, the provider is notified and turns off that user’s account, halting the billing for that license in the process.
When a business hires new employees who will, or need to support more end-users, your cloud provider simply turns on more server capacity for you, instantaneously. Lose a few people? Turn that capacity back off and stop paying for it, that very moment.
A local technology provider can advise you on the cloud services best suited to your particular business. Such a provider can also manage the assets you have placed in the cloud too, allowing you to focus on growing your business instead of managing your cloud providers.
2. You’re a startup with limited capital
The cloud significantly lowers barriers to entry for small & medium-sized business. Setting up an in-house technology department can be very expensive and carries a huge upfront cost. Even a basic setup of a couple servers, switches, routers and other hardware could easily cost $30 – 40 thousand dollars. This doesn’t even include the ongoing cost of managing and maintaining all of that new hardware either.
Running your IT operations through the cloud, however, requires no significant capital expenditure. Cloud billing is based on the number of servers used, bandwidth consumed, and/or the amount of data stored. Depending on circumstances, it may even cheaper over the long term to operate purely in the cloud hardware versus owning equipment on premise. Regardless, if you’re seeking enterprise-grade computing power on a shoe-strong budget, the cloud might be the quickest way to get there.
3. You require enterprise-grade security
While cloud security has gotten a bad rap over the years, experts agree time and again that it is the safest place to manage your data today. Let’s suppose that you run a small law firm. Your company likely stores great volumes of personal information about your clients. If your business must be able to track and maintain data securely, how do you affordably deliver on that commitment?
Cloud providers like SAP, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services run their data centers out of some of the most secure buildings on the planet. Even employees accessing these buildings need keys, IDs and biometric access credentials such as retinal or fingerprint scan. Electronic access is guarded by groups of firewalls and sophisticated intrusion detection systems. Cloud providers have staked their reputations on their ability to securely handle other people’s data, and have invested their effort and resources accordingly. So, while it might be a nice thought to keep your own data in your own personal server, the cloud offers unlimited capacity and cutting-edge security 24/7 maintained by industry experts.
4. Your team is spread across multiple offices
As we mentioned earlier, the cloud is a centralized data computing & storage system that one can access from anywhere using any device. Does your business have multiple locations? Are your employees based in different offices struggling to collaborate on projects? The cloud could be your answer.
Cloud programs, purpose-built collaboration platforms in particular, often act as boon to company productivity. Sharepoint, for example, enables multiple users to work on a single file, without having to constantly email the latest version of a particular file to every member of the project team. What’s more, most mail servers won’t support file attachments larger than a few MB anyways, so the key is to put the large files all in a central cloud-based platform.
Bear in mind there are many different cloud-based collaboration platforms, each with their own unique set of advantages. It’s very important to speak to expert technology provider who can show you which platform is the best for your type of business and the data you normally work with.
5. You need top-of-the-line backups
By now, most people would agree that backing up business-critical data is an essential component of any IT strategy, and they would be absolutely correct in saying so. One need only read a handful of stories like this one to see how losing data can bring an otherwise successful business to its knees. However, as important as backups are they are only as safe as where they are stored. Where does your company physically store it’s backup files? What happens when your office is hit by a fire, flood, earthquake, tornado or other disaster? If someone leaves that faulty coffee pot running overnight and accidently sets your office ablaze, the chances are good that the backup flash drive you kept in your desk is toast.
If any data loss could mean a death sentence for your business, then using the cloud for backup and disaster recovery could be a very smart move. Many backup cloud providers even offer to place a copy of your data in multiple data centers around the world, what they refer to as geo-redundancy. This ensures a copy of your data lives on no matter what catastrophe hits. Grab a new machine, connect to the internet and begin restoring your files right away. Given, these files will take time to download, but you won’t have to worry about losing all of your data in the blink of an eye
6. You want to be green
Is minimizing your business’ carbon footprint a top priority? If being green is one of your goals, then the cloud is one way you could certainly go. While it’s certainly true that data centers consume vast amounts of power, they are fantastically efficient on a per-server basis. The massive buildings that provide the “cloud” as we know it today are designed from the ground up to make the most efficient possible use of electricity, water & cooling power. Furthermore, data center operators employ a practice known as server consolidation, whereby they attempt to combine individual workloads onto a concentrated number of servers. Having a single server working at 100% capacity is much-more power efficient than having two working at 50% each.
Where do you go from here?
Are there opportunities for you to leverage the cloud? Most likely the answer is yes, but you can be sure by speaking to an expert. A qualified technology provider will be able to analyze your technology needs and recommend which cloud services your business would benefit most from. Furthermore, a qualified provider can migrate those systems into the cloud and manage them for you over the long-term. Contact Sagiss any time for a free evaluation of your technology needs, and start taking advantage of the best tech support available for your business today.