Soaring Through Cloud Computing

“The cloud” is one of the biggest trends in information technology today, but according to a recent survey, only 28 percent of small business owners say they really understand the concept of cloud computing.

What might surprise you is that cloud computing has been around for years under the term of “remote hosting.” The “cloud” is simply a network of off-location data storage and servers, and it isn’t necessarily a good fit for every business or every application.

Chances are you’ve already experienced working “in the cloud.” If you have an email account with a provider like Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo Mail, you’ve done cloud computing and may not have even realized it. When you log in to your email, you’re accessing a remote, Web-based cloud application. The data in your email account isn’t stored on your computer—it’s in the cloud.

Cost Savings and Flexibility

With the cloud, pricing is based on utilization and is a monthly expense. There is no equipment to maintain or purchase, simply a cost to store and retrieve data. This is in sharp contrast with businesses’ sole historical option: making large one-time investments (in money and time) for servers, workstations and software. Of course, more money and time were then needed to maintain them, and every few years, the cycle repeated itself.

Storing data in the cloud can be an easy, cost-effective way to add capacity or infrastructure without having to deal with up-front costs or physical equipment maintenance. Sometimes a little extra capacity is needed for a short amount of time or needed very quickly. Cloud computing is perfect for this—new server space can often be obtained within a matter of minutes and can be decommissioned just as quickly.

Downtime can be dramatically reduced, and often eliminated, by selecting the right cloud vendor with built-in redundancy capabilities. A few other benefits of being in the cloud include the ability to access your applications from any location, automatic backup and disaster recovery, and even lower electrical costs because the business doesn’t have to run servers and computers locally.

Potential Drawbacks

However, these advantages need to be weighed against a few key considerations. Because cloud computing relies on the Internet, if you lose your Internet access, you won’t be able to reach your servers. The upside to this is just because your Internet is down doesn’t mean that employees working remotely or customers can’t reach your cloud-based data or applications.

Security is always a concern, and careful research should be conducted, including how and where data is stored, who has access and if the data is encrypted. Cloud computing can be tricky for certain businesses, which have to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA regulations. Those laws require companies to control their own data and have knowledge of where it is stored.

The good news is that cloud computing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Small businesses may find that some applications are best served in the cloud, and others on a local server. Many companies, including our own, take a “hybrid” approach and have both physical local servers and utilize cloud computing.

All it takes is a little understanding of the numbers and the situation, and you can be soaring in the clouds, too.