What are the benefits of Cloud Computing for Small Businesses?
Youâ€™ve heard the buzz, your IT manager has muttered something about it, or maybe youâ€™re wondering what itâ€™s all about.
Weâ€™re talking about Cloud Computing.
More to the point, you might be wondering: â€œwhatâ€™s in it for me?â€
The idea behind Cloud Computing is that computer resources â€“ either raw processing power and storage, or software to help you run your business â€“ should be a commodity just like electricity, and as with the National Grid, end-users should have no concern as to how the system works, so long as they can plug into it.
Weâ€™re a long way from that ideal, but there are ways you can use Cloud Computing to save you money, time and worry today.
Using Cloud Computing in an SMB
A small business with one or two offices has little if any budget for servers to store their data on. They might store payroll information, inventories, sales reports, employee records, marketing brochures, procedural manuals, etc.
Keeping these on individual PCs is messy and unworkable, but the traditional solution â€“ a central server â€“ is expensive and complicated to install and maintain.
The new alternative is to subscribe to a Cloud service: the data is held online in a central location, and made available through a simple, friendly interface. The Cloud provider looks after the complicated stuff for you.
There are many Cloud services to suit a wide range of needs, from simple document storage to property portfolio management, human resources, accounting, scheduling, customer relationship management, and more.
Mobile CAD Surveying Ltd and Clouds UK provide a wide range of products for SMBs.
Better IT for less money
Economies of scale mean that a central Cloud Computing provider can invest in high-quality equipment, which it then rents out to customers for a fraction of the price that it would cost them to buy and install it themselves.
Access your data from anywhere
This is the killer feature of Cloud Computing. Your data is available online through a website, so all you need in order to access it is a computer (or a BlackBerry, iPhone, or PDA) with an internet connection.
Log on from a hotel room, an internet cafÃ©, or from your home computer. Cloud Computing is ideal for facilitating home working, or even for companies that want to do away with a central office and work entirely online. It can also benefit employees on long-term sick leave, who canâ€™t come into the office but are capable of working from home.
Rest easy â€“ your data is secured by experts
Traditional computing is insecure â€“ few employees know about security best practices, and will happily keep data on USB sticks, email, their laptops, on CD-ROMs in their briefcases, etc.
With Cloud Computing, your data is held centrally on a secure server guarded by high-quality firewalls and administered by professionals.
IT is complex, and you have better things to do
As an SMB, you probably donâ€™t have the resources to build and maintain big, complex IT systems. Even running a single, small server can be time-consuming; could you afford to carry out the following checks every week?
- Check the disk space
- Investigate any errors in the event logs
- Download the latest patches and test them before installing, in case they interfere with any of your software
- Check for any intrusion or hacking attempts (this should be a continual monitoring process, and ideally you would set up an Intrusion Detection System to alert you â€“ these are extremely complicated, so youâ€™d end up paying an expert to configure it for you)
Can you afford to keep spare parts on-site for your server? Even something as simple as a fan breaking can take your server out of action for days until a replacement arrives. If you find an error in the logs, would you know how to troubleshoot it?
You donâ€™t need to worry about any of that with Cloud Computing. You rent the computing power you need from a dedicated provider. They take care of the server for you, so no more worrying about whether Error ID#1382 is going to crash your server.
VPN isnâ€™t good enough
If youâ€™ve tried to use VPN, itâ€™s likely youâ€™ll have been disappointed by it. Itâ€™s slow, clunky, and prone to crashing your computer if you so much as dare to open a small Word document.
VPN is where you can connect from anywhere to the server in your office, and in theory work as if you were on the office network.
This isnâ€™t entirely the fault of VPN as a technology; itâ€™s more to do with BT, and the ancient telephone lines which simply canâ€™t carry enough data to cope with VPN connections. Even the fastest ADSL connection can only carry a tiny amount of data compared to your internal network, and thereâ€™s nothing faster than ADSL on the market except for ultra-expensive fibre-optic connections, which start at around Â£10,000 per year.
Sharing data between offices is a nightmare
With traditional server computing, sharing data between offices is a nightmare. There are technologies that can synchronise data between servers in different locations, but due to slow internet connections thereâ€™s inevitably a long time lag between John saving a file to the server in HQ, and Jane being able to open it down in the branch office.
What if John and Jane both make changes to a file in different offices? Whose changes win? At best you end up with confusion, at worst corruption of your data.
You could rely on email to send files back and forth, but that quickly degenerates as people lose track of who has what, or work off an old version of a file on their desktop.
Cloud Computing keeps all your data in a central location. Everyone accesses the same website, and gets the latest version of every document. No more waiting for that document from John to synchronise, you get it as soon as he uploads it.
The development has been done
The Cloud Provider has already developed the software, and will be continually improving it over time. They will have incorporated feature requests from their other clients, and will have the resources to thoroughly test their software.
Developing software yourself is either extremely time-consuming or extremely expensive. You can outsource the development, but the programmers you hire probably wonâ€™t know much about your line of work, and so making sure they build what you want will take up a huge amount of your time.
And there will be bugs, which theyâ€™ll charge you to fix.
Thereâ€™s no need to develop your own database, spreadsheet or software package to run your business. After all, why slog away fixing bugs in your own code, when you can simply lease someone elseâ€™s hard work, and make it work for you?
Upgrades are free and frequent
With traditional, packaged software that you install on your PC, you have to pay for upgrades: not just once, but for every PC youâ€™ve installed the software on.
You could decide not to upgrade, but in many cases old versions of business software are incompatible with the latest computers â€“ forcing you to either pay for the latest version, or keep a handful of ancient computers around the office to run your important software.
Cloud Computing does away with this. Because the software is web-based, everyone gets access to the latest version automatically, as soon as itâ€™s released.
Mobile CAD Surveying Ltd and Clouds UK has an extra advantage here, as we donâ€™t charge you for extra users â€“ you can have as many people as you like using the site, all for a single fee.