Move Your Small Business to the Cloud?

You’ve no doubt heard about “The Cloud”, but what is it? How is this something that can help your business?

What is The Cloud?

Put simply, cloud computing services allow you to use software and computer resources online as a utility, allowing you to pay for those resources when you need them, provided via the web, usually on pay as you go style models.

This means moving away from considering software as a product, being replaced by online services.

To truly be considered “cloud computing” the actual work of any applications is actually performed in the cloud, rather than on the user’s machine. Users are using an interface where they can access the data that is being processed online.

This allows for more complex tasks that would traditionally have been seen as beyond the scope for traditional budget computers to be performed online, with the customer gaining the results they need at more affordable prices.

So, where historically you may have installed Microsoft’s office suite when you purchase a new computer, many users are opting for cloud based alternatives, such as Zoho and Google Docs. In fairness to Microsoft, they have been making moves to the cloud offering a host of collaboration options with Office 365.

Google’s push on its Chromebooks as well is another example of the move to the cloud. With this, these laptop operating systems have been tied to the cloud, with all your apps, documents, settings and other files all stored there.

How Can Cloud Computing Help Your Business

The number 1 consideration is cost. As more functionality is taken off site, through needing less powerful machines, you can reduce your physical technology costs.

Disaster recovery is equally important. If you have all your local servers at the physical location of your office, running your email and information storage, what would you do if there was a fire or other natural disaster? Do you have off site backups?

Accessibility of the data is also vital. Business is rarely conducted just in the office these days, and being able to access everything you need remotely wherever you are working is important.

If you are using the cloud, you can avoid the technology purchase required to hold all that data. Equally, emails and information storage can be reached seamlessly from multiple locations, allowing things to be more accessible as well as cost less!

Scalability is also an important factor for choosing the cloud – resources are supplied and paid for on-demand, rather than having excess redundant capacity.

Of course, security is a concern when considering this migration. This is something that is constantly being addressed by providers of cloud hosting services, and whilst not completely infallible, the vast majority of the services are secure. There have been some headline grabbing gaffes from providers like Google and SalesForce over the years, but these have been small isolated issues.

By not getting your business ready to use the cloud, you run the risk of being left behind by more agile competitors, who will be improving efficiency, ensuring the security of their data and reducing their costs.

Can your business afford to not be moving to the cloud?

Cloud Hosting for Startups

Cloud computing is enabling a wide range of new businesses to use a secure private cloud infrastructure to power their business. Whether they are offering B2B or B2C products, the ability to avoid internal IT costs and only pay for what is needed has cut costs both in terms of hardware and hiring internal expertise, allowing businesses to invest more in other areas or pass on the savings to the consumer.

And with secure managed cloud application services it also means that companies can avoid security and reliability worries, and enjoy the fact backups are now a maintenance task for someone else to handle for them.

Starting with business solutions, Leancall is a cloud based predictive dialling solution which doesn’t require any hardware or even contracts – you simply choose a payment plan and the software runs through a web browser. It operates on a pay-as-you-go basis which is only really possible if they’re able to use the cloud to rapidly scale to meet usage – something which would be impossible if additional customers meant adding new hardware on a daily basis.

In terms of business administration, project management and accounting services have long made use of cloud computing. The likes of Freshbooks and Kashflow both provide invoicing and bookkeeping for businesses. For project management, there are a million simple task applications, including the extremely attractive Wunderlist, and the long-established RememberTheMilk.

Moving up a level the legendary Basecamp works for individual projects whilst Liquid Planner is extremely capable for company-wide project management

Meanwhile combining two massive trends at the moment, Kaggle uses cloud computing to provide a crowdsourcing platform for big data. That means data analysis and interpretation suddenly becomes available to businesses which can’t afford to hire data scientists on their team, as suddenly the global pool of data talent becomes available.

Zillabyte, formed by three former Google and Intel engineers, not only provides users with data sets, but also the algorithms and processing to do something with them.

In March they were also joined by InsightsOne, which processes masses of web data in real time against structured data sets to determine which customers will want to see offers, and when. Meanwhile cloud-based analytics and business insights startup Cetas was acquired after just 18 months by VMWare particularly because of the elasticity of the way their software utilises resources.
Mixing business and consumer products in the cloud:

There are even more products to consider when you look at the crossover between business and consumer services, such as Google with Google Apps for Business comprising of Gmail, Google Docs etc, and Microsoft now offering Office 365 for online collaboration in addition to Hotmail.
Individuals and business use also crosses over with popular online storage services such as Dropbox which has over 50 million users. And customers are paying businesses via cloud-based payment and commerce solutions, such as subscription service provider Zuora.

There’s also probably not a business in the land which hasn’t been powered by, and argued over, the songs on one of the many cloud-based music services!

Contributing writer: Dan Thornton is an experienced writer, blogger and digital marketer. He’s worked with the UK’s largest magazine publisher, national radio stations, and consults everyone from small start-ups to global businesses, as well as running his own small network of videogames sites.

Last update: March 2015

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