The Small Business Guide to Cloud Computing

Drive-thru

  • Cloud computing has become the most common method of storing data and accessing software for a business of any size.
  • Using cloud services is secure and frees revenue to increase profits or to invest in other business needs.
  • Make sure your contract stipulates you own your data, not the cloud services company.

Cloud computing, moving to the cloud, SaaS: These are terms you must have read or heard non-stop for the past few years. More than 90 percent of US large businesses use some form of cloud computing, followed by over half of small and medium companies.

There are several reasons to move your computing needs to the cloud. However, before you decide to do so, you need some basics to get your research started.

What is “the cloud” and how is it used?

The term “the cloud” refers to storing data and accessing software applications through a third party via web browser instead of on your computing device. Everything is accessed via the Internet, usually as a subscription service.

Cloud computing may not be ready for performing processing-intensive activities like video editing and some forms of graphic design. Nevertheless, all in all, it is very versatile and offers a lot of benefits.

The benefits of cloud computing

The primary benefit of cloud computing is convenience. Users can access and work using cloud-stored data and applications anywhere and anytime they like. They are also free to choose the device through which they access the service. Thus, you are no longer tied to the office or a particular computer to perform the bulk of your work.

Other benefits include its rapid scalability, high availability, and low cost. When you no longer pay for on-site IT staffing or extensive equipment, you can achieve higher net profits or use the money for other purposes, such as growing your business.

Cloud computing, contrary to popular belief, is highly secure. Cloud companies understand their ability to remain in business depends above all on providing secure access and storage to their clients.

Cloud solution deployment

Deployment refers to the method of providing computing space. Cloud services are available through a public cloud, a private cloud, or a hybrid of the two.

  • A public cloud is built on a platform external to your business and offered by a third party. Customers from various companies share the resources (but not your data).
  • A private cloud is set aside for use by a single organization.
  • A hybrid cloud integrates public and private cloud service.

You may also come across the term “community cloud.” It is a type of service the government uses as an infrastructure shared between different organizations.

Cloud services

Small to mid-sized companies tend to use the cloud for Software as a Service (SaaS), meaning they access software and its functions via a web browser.

SaaS works like a subscription, giving you the freedom to use the software without having to worry about updating it (or keeping your data secure):

  • You pay as you go.
  • You can access the services from any device, anywhere and anytime.
  • Some examples include Dropbox and Salesforce.

These days you can get almost anything “as a Service,” including Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service, Database as a Service, and so on.

Subscribing to cloud services

The cost of subscribing to cloud services depends on the service you select. You can get file sharing and storage for free from certain providers like in the case of email clients Gmail and Yahoo!, for example. When you need advanced functions, you pay a monthly subscription.

Cost also depends on the provider, the number of users, and the type of tech support you require.

Before you sign a contract with a cloud service providers, there are two things you must do:

  1. Make sure the contract stipulates you retain ownership of your data, and the vendor services conform to specific standards. This clause will protect your data from being held hostage by the vendor for higher fees or to prevent you from moving to another company.
  2. Choose the level of tech support wisely. Providers have different levels of tech support depending on the way it is delivered (self-service, email, live chat, phone, or all of the above) and when it is available (24/7, eight hours a day, or something in between).

Talk to your peers who have migrated to the cloud about their experiences. Find out if the provider has redundancies to protect from regional outages and whether it is current with security protocols. Ask how encryption keys are managed and who can see your data.

Migrating your data to the cloud can save you money, give peace of mind, and provide convenient access anytime you need it. Just be sure you have security measures in place and are clear on who owns your data.

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