The Small Business Owner’s Complete Guide to the Cloud

Cloud computing. The term is everywhere, an apparent synonym for convenience, scalability, and good plain business sense. Why?

It is the “why” of cloud computing that has gone overlooked amidst all the hype. WHY, exactly, is cloud computing so beneficial? How does it work? Understanding the answers to these questions will reveal that, in fact, cloud computing has many different uses, and is only beneficial when used in the right way by the right type of consumer. Enterprises, for example, should use cloud computing in a much different way than small businesses, although this is far from clear in most of the literature.

So let’s clear the cloud away from the cloud and start with asking: why?

Background

By definition, “cloud computing” means using remote servers for data management via Internet connection. This way, the data is portable and can be accessed anywhere and anytime, servers can be leveraged against each other to handle increased data requirements (scalability), and you can rely on the cloud service provider to maintain the infrastructure without unforeseen costs and downtime wreaking havoc on your office. Before the rise of reliable, powerful Internet connections, all the servers and infrastructure had to be in-house. There was no way to access the data from your computer at home or from your smartphone. If you needed more computing power, you had to add another server. And businesses had to deal with lots of hassle and investment surrounding technology maintenance or upgrades.

Ok, but we’ve already jumped too far ahead of ourselves. If cloud computing means using remote servers for data management, what, exactly, is meant by “data management”? Does that mean data sharing? Processing? Storage? All of the above?  When people talk about cloud computing, they are usually only referring to one or two of these uses. When you’re reading articles, blogs, advertisements, or whatever on cloud computing, be sure you understand what the author is intending for cloud usage. Not knowing can be especially dangerous for small business owners, who have far different requirements for data management than their enterprise counterparts. So the question to ask is: why? Why would I be using cloud services and why would I benefit?

Sharing

Over the last 5 years devices like smartphones, computers, tablets, and TVs have all evolved to the point that they can access the same content. Now we can share that YouTube video we saw last night on our laptop, with a friend at lunch using a smartphone. Devices are no longer content specific.

This phenomenon has translated into the workplace, where employees expect to access the same data remotely from multiple devices. This is especially true for enterprises, which may be spread across myriad locations around the world. So yes, enterprises really benefit from shareable data accessible by multiple remote devices, but do small businesses?

The answer to that question is usually no. If small businesses do need shareability, the more economical option is usually to translate their existing server infrastructure into a private “cloud”. This private cloud option is also far more secure and less prone to data loss and corruption.

Processing

Let’s talk about data processing. As we stated earlier, cloud computing allows for the sharing of physical resources. Separate servers can be leveraged, or scaled, to handle increased computing requirements.  Enterprises love this because their computing or processing needs vary greatly and can require the processing power of thousands of servers. Rather than ramping up a single operation with dozens of servers that may need to be decommissioned in six months, an enterprise will rely on a cloud provider that has thousands of servers ready to go, and can shut the servers down with very little notice.

Most small businesses have relatively stable data requirements and require the processing power of only one or two servers. So for small businesses, the scalability feature of the cloud is rarely an advantage. If a small business needs enhanced processing power for line-of-business software or other needs, it is actually more economical to fully leverage their existing server or servers, rather than to purchase monthly cloud services.

But let’s talk about cloud-based software for a moment, as this has been a definite trend – internet providers who need to exchange and process data with their partners are now hosting their key applications in off-site data centers. Likewise, software vendors are installing their applications in the cloud, enabling them to maintain and support one platform and reducing the chore of having to upgrade all users individually. They also can take advantage of the scalability feature and pass the savings on to their customers.

Hosted voice over IP (VoIP) applications should be noted here as well. Hosted VoIP solutions are perhaps the original shared processing solution; they use an Internet connection to scale a phone switch among users.

The takeaway here is that while the scalability feature often isn’t an advantage for small businesses in terms of infrastructure, it can be an advantage when it comes to software and third-party applications. That is why at Tektivity we generally recommend a “hybrid” environment for small businesses, with a mix of proprietary infrastructure and cloud-based applications.

Storing

You will hear many hawkers expounding upon the benefits of storing your data in the cloud, claiming that it is the most secure and convenient form of data storage/back-up out there. But we have found the opposite to most often be true. Data frequently becomes lost or corrupted as it is uploaded to the cloud, businesses may be left stranded when their cloud service provider goes out of business or reneges on their service agreement, and what the heck happens if and when the Internet connection is lost? Small businesses are the biggest losers when it comes to issues such as these. We highly recommend that small businesses continue their own on-site data backup, which can be fully automated and does not have to be the headache that it is often claimed to be.

Ok, but what about…?

It is hard to poo-poo that singular advantage of the cloud, as we stated earlier: “you can rely on the cloud service provider to maintain the infrastructure without unforeseen costs and downtime wreaking havoc on your office.” Ok, but if that is the reason you’re considering moving to the cloud, why not check out your local IT service options? For less than half the price of an in-house IT person or a full-on cloud service provider, a local IT service can monitor your network 24/7, de-bug it proactively, be on-call for any user issues, and dispatch a local technician in the off-chance of a hardware failure. At Tektivity, we even include automatic upgrades in our contract agreements, so that your technology remains up-to-date with no downtime and no disruption to your workflow.

Conclusion

So buyer beware, cloud computing is not the one-size-fits-all solution that it is presented to be. It is important to find an IT partner that is knowledgeable of the cloud but doesn’t hawk cloud services simply because they’re the latest and greatest. Your IT partner should keep the nature of your business in mind and ask that all-important question – WHY? – to find the best solution for YOU. And for small businesses, as we know well here at Tektivity, that solution is often a custom hybrid blend of local resources and cloud services.

Born and raised on a horse farm in Marion, IA, Kenyon got her B.A. in English Literature from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. She returned to the area after graduating in 2011, and interned at several different marketing agencies prior to coming on as Marketing Coordinator for Tektivity. In her free time, Kenyon enjoys riding horses, studying ballet, and being with family.

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