Cloud Computing For Small Business Owners
Is Cloud Computing Right For You (or Your Business)?
If you are a small business owner, you might be considering transitioning your computer network and operations to the cloud. The simple fact is, cloud computing is not a good fit for every company. The information on this page will arm you with the critical facts you need to avoid expensive, time-consuming mistakes.
Below, you will find 5 very important facts you need to know about cloud computing for your company. These include:
The pros AND cons you need to consider before moving to the cloud.
Cloud migration tips.
The various types of cloud computing options you have (there are more than just one).
Answers to important, frequently asked questions you need to know the answers to.
What questions you need to ask your IT pro before letting them “sell” you on moving all or part of your network and applications to the cloud.
What is Cloud Computing?
Advancements in technology and Internet connectivity are driving down the costs of computing power. With cloud computing, businesses can pay for computing power like a utility without having the exorbitant costs of installing, hosting and supporting it on premise.
In fact, you are probably already experiencing the benefits of cloud computing in some way but hadn’t realized it. Below are a number of cloud computing applications, also called SaaS or “software as a service,” you might be using:
Gmail, Hotmail or other free email accounts
SurveyMonkey and other survey tools
LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media
All things Google (search, docs maps, etc.)
If you think about it, almost every single application you use today can be (or already is) being put “in the cloud” where you can access it and pay for it via your browser for a monthly fee or utility pricing. You don’t purchase and install software but instead access it via an Internet browser.
What About Microsoft 365 And Google Apps?
Microsoft 365 and Google Apps are perfect examples of the cloud computing trend; for an inexpensive monthly fee, you can get full access and use of Office applications that used to cost a few hundred dollars to purchase. And, since these apps are being powered by the cloud provider, you don’t need an expensive desktop with lots of power to use them – just a simple Internet connection will do on a laptop, desktop or tablet.
Pros and Cons of Moving to the Cloud
Keep in mind there is no “perfect” solution. All options have upsides and downsides that need to be evaluated on a case-by-case scenario.
Keep in mind the best option for you may be a hybrid solution where some of your applications and functionality are in the cloud and some are still hosted and maintained from an in-house server. We’ll discuss more of this in a later section; however, here are the general pros and cons of cloud computing:
Pros Of Cloud Computing:
Lowered IT costs. This is probably the single most compelling reason why companies choose to move their network (all or in part) to the cloud. Not only do you save money on software licenses, but on hardware (servers and workstations) as well as on IT support and upgrades. So if you hate constantly writing cash-flow-draining checks for IT upgrades, you’ll really want to look into cloud computing.
Ability to access your desktop and/or applications from anywhere and any device. If you travel a lot, have remote workers or prefer to use an iPad while traveling and a laptop at your house, cloud computing will give you the ability to work from any of these devices.
Disaster recovery and backup are automated. The server in your office is extremely vulnerable to a number of threats, including viruses, human error, hardware failure, software corruption and, of course, physical damage due to a fire, flood or other natural disaster. If your server were in the cloud and your office was reduced to a pile of rubble, you could purchase a new laptop and be back up and running within the same day. This would NOT be the case if you had a traditional network and were using tape drives, CDs, USB drives or other physical storage devices to back up your system. Plus, like a public utility, cloud platforms are far more robust and secure than your average business network because they can utilize economies of scale to invest heavily into security, redundancy and failover systems, making them far less likely to go down.
It’s faster, cheaper and easier to set up new employees. If you have a seasonal workforce or a lot of turnover, cloud computing will not only lower your costs of setting up new accounts, but it will make it infinitely faster.
You use it without having to “own” it. More specifically, you don’t own the responsibility of having to install, update and maintain the infrastructure. Think of it as similar to living in a condo where someone else takes care of the building maintenance, repairing the roof and mowing the lawn, but you still have the only key to your section of the building and use of all the facilities. This is particularly attractive for companies that are new or expanding, but don’t want the heavy outlay of cash for purchasing and supporting an expensive computer network.
It’s a “greener” technology that will save on power and your electric bill. For some smaller companies, the power savings will be too small to measure. However, for larger companies with multiple servers that are cooling a hot server room and keep their servers running 24/7/365, the savings are considerable.
Cons Of Cloud Computing:
The internet could go down. While you can mitigate this risk by using a commercial-grade Internet connection and maintaining a second backup connection, there is a chance you’ll lose internet connectivity, making it impossible to work.
Data security. Many people don’t feel comfortable having their data in some off-site location. This is a valid concern, and before you choose any cloud provider, you need to find out more information about where they are storing your data, how it’s encrypted, who has access and how you can get it back.
Compliance issues. There are a number of laws and regulations that require companies to control and protect their data and certify that they have knowledge and control over who can access the data, who sees it and how and where it is stored. In a public cloud environment, this can be a problem. Many cloud providers won’t tell you specifically where your data is stored. Most cloud providers have SAS 70 certifications, which require them to be able to describe exactly what is happening in their environment, how and where the data comes in, what the provider does with it and what controls are in place over the access to and processing of the data. However, keep in mind that it is still the responsibility of the business owner, so it’s important that you ask for some type of validation that they are meeting the various compliance regulations on an ongoing basis.
Cloud Migration Tips
When done right, a migration to Office 365 or another cloud solution should be like any other migration. There’s planning that needs to be done, prerequisites that have to be determined and the inevitable “quirks” that need to be ironed out once you make the move.
Every company has its own unique environment, so it’s practically impossible to try and plan for every potential pitfall; however, here are some BIG things you want to ask your IT consultant about BEFORE making the leap.
DOWNTIME. Some organizations cannot afford ANY downtime, while others can do without their network for a day or two. Make sure you communicate YOUR specific needs regarding downtime and make sure your IT provider has a solid plan to prevent extended downtime.
SLOW PERFORMANCE. Ask your IT consultant if there’s any way you can run your network in a test environment before making the full migration. Again, every environment is slightly different, so it’s best to test before you transition.
3RD PARTY APPLICATIONS. If your organization has plug-ins to Exchange for faxing, voice mail or integration into another application, make sure you test to see if it will still work in the new environment.
Types of Cloud Solutions
Pure Cloud: This is where all your applications and data are put on the other side of the firewall (in the cloud) and accessed through various devices (laptops, desktops, iPads, phones) via the Internet.
Hybrid Cloud: Although “pure” cloud computing has valid applications, for many it’s downright scary. And in some cases it is NOT the smartest move, due to compliance issues, security restrictions, speed and performance. A hybrid cloud enables you to put certain pieces of existing IT infrastructure (say, storage and email) in the cloud, and the remainder of the IT infrastructure stays on-premises. This gives you the ability to enjoy the cost savings and benefits of cloud computing where it makes the most sense without risking your entire environment.
Single Point Solutions: Another option would be to simply put certain applications, like SharePoint or Microsoft Exchange, in the cloud while keeping everything else on-site. Since e-mail is usually a critical application that everyone needs and wants access to on the road and on various devices (iPad, smartphone, etc.), often this is a great way to get advanced features of Microsoft Exchange without the cost of installing and supporting your own in-house Exchange server.
Public Cloud Vs. Private Cloud: A public cloud is a service that anyone can tap into with a network connection and a credit card. They are shared infrastructures that allow you to pay-as-you-go and are managed through a self-service web portal. Private clouds are essentially self-built infrastructures that mimic public cloud services, but are on-premises. Private clouds are often the choice of companies who want the benefits of cloud computing, but don’t want their data held in a public environment.
Contact Critical IT Solutions if you have questions about cloud computing or data security.