The Benefits of Cloud Computing
Small Business Cloud Computing
As a small business owner or future entrepreneur, you understand that saving time and saving money whenever possible are both critical to your success. Whether you are just starting out or your business is more mature, cloud software and services can help you cut costs while also freeing up your time so you can concentrate on doing what you do best - running your business.
If the benefits of cloud computing for small business sound attractive, that is because they are. But that does not mean that cloud computing does not have certain disadvantages or is right for every business. To decide whether cloud computing can help your business grow you need a basic understanding of how cloud services and software are delivered, you need to evaluate cloud software and service providers, then carefully weigh the pros and cons of cloud computing as they apply to the needs of your business, and you need realistic expectations.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a way of leveraging the Internet to consume software or other IT services on demand. Users share processing power, storage space, bandwidth, memory, and software. With cloud computing, the resources are shared and so are the costs. Users can pay as they go and only use what they need at any given time, keeping cost to the user down.
Cloud computing is very much a business model as well. Providers of cloud computing solutions, whether they are software, hardware, platform, or storage providers, deliver their offerings over the Internet. There are no shrink wrapped boxes containing discs or hardware for you to buy and set up yourself. Cloud providers typically charge monthly recurring fees based on your usage.
Cloud Computing Benefits for Small Business
- Lower Initial Investment - If you already have a computer and an Internet connection, you can very likely take advantage of most cloud offerings without investing in any new hardware, specialized software, or adding to staff. This is one cloud computing advantage that has universal appeal regardless of the industry you are in or type of business you run.
- Easier to manage - There are no power requirements or space considerations to think about and users do not have to understand the underlying technology in order to take advantage of it. You will not be responsible for maintaining and updating any new hardware or software. Planning time is considerably less as well since there are fewer logistical issues.
- Pay as You Go - Large upfront fees are not the norm when it comes to cloud services. Many software as a service applications and other types of cloud offerings are available on a month to month basis with no long term contracts.
- Scalability - Cloud computing can be scaled to match the changing needs of your small business as it grows. You can quickly add additional licenses, storage space, and more as needed.
- Deploy Faster - You can usually be up and running significantly faster with cloud services than you can if you have to plan, buy, build, and implement in house. With many software as a service applications or other cloud offerings you and your team can start using the service within hours or days rather than weeks or months.
- Location Independent - Because services are offered over the Internet, you are not limited to using cloud software or services just at work or only on one computer. Access from anywhere is a big advantage for people who travel a lot, like to be able to work from home, or whose organization is spread out across multiple locations.
- Device independent - Most web-based software and cloud services are not designed specifically for any one browser or operating system. Many can be accessed via PC, Mac, on tablets like the iPad, and through mobile phones.
Enjoy the Convenience and Benefits of Cloud Computing
Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
While the advantages of cloud computing are clear and easy enough to understand, what about the disadvantages? There are potentially a few so as a business owner you will have to carefully weigh the pros and cons.
- Downtime - While we would like to think our data or the cloud based services that we use are available on demand all day every day, the truth is they are not. System uptime is entirely out of your hands with cloud services. There are two types of downtime you may encounter.
- Scheduled downtime might be required to upgrade software, install new hardware, or perform other routine maintenance. Typically, scheduled downtime is infrequent, announced well in advance, and takes place at non-peak hours where usage is likely to be low so as to minimize interruption to the customer.
- Unscheduled downtime, otherwise known as an outage, is indicative of some sort of failure or problem. It is rare but outages do happen even for the larger, more established cloud providers. If it does, there is not much you can do other than wait.
- Security Issues - You are turning over data about your business and your customers to a third party and entrusting them to keep it safe. Without the proper level of security, your data could be exposed to users outside your company or accessed by a hacker.
- Data Loss - Hardware failures, outages, improper backup procedures, hackers, and rogue employees can all cause you to lose some or all of your data. With cloud services, you will have to give up some degree of control over the prevention of data loss.
- Integration and Customization - Some web based software solutions and cloud services are offered as a one size fits all solution. If you need to customize the application or service to fit your specific needs or integrate with your existing systems, doing so may be challenging, expensive, or not an option.
It's up to you to decide whether the cloud computing advantages outweigh the disadvantages so before you sign up for any cloud services be sure the concerns above and any of your own are addressed adequately. Most web based solution providers are very upfront about service levels, capabilities, and data security. They typically go to great lengths to address these issues, but don’t be afraid to ask further questions or walk away if you are not satisfied with the answers you get.
Cloud Computing Solutions for Small Businesses
There are some cloud services and applications like Gmail or Skype that you are probably familiar with and plenty that are not as well known. Many services and just about any type of software a business owner might need are available as cloud or web based solutions. Below are just a few examples of web based software and cloud services that might make you consider small business cloud computing for your enterprise:
- Harvest - If you are sick of cumbersome timesheets, Harvest is an online time tracking, reporting, and invoicing system that can cost as little as $12 per month. Can be used entirely over the web or via their companion iPhone app.
- Google Apps for Business - You are probably familiar with Gmail and other free tools from Google like Google Docs. For businesses, Google offers Google Apps for Business which is a cloud based office suite that includes applications for email, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, and more at a cost of $5 per month per user. Business customers get 24x7 support and additional features the free versions of these apps do not include. In addition to saving money on license fees for a comparable office suite, you get all the advantages of cloud applications: access from anywhere on any computer, no costly upgrades to manage, and the ability to share or collaborate easily.
- Carbonite - There are a number of online backup services that offer data storage and automatic scheduled backups of your data. Carbonite has annual flat fee pricing plans geared toward small businesses with no per gigabyte or per computer charges.
- Zen Desk - If you are looking for a web based help desk solution to manage customer support tickets and create a searchable, self-service knowledge base for your product, Zen Desk is a solid choice. Prices start at $9 per month per user for the Starter plan and go to $119 per user per month for the advanced features and capabilities of the Enterprise plan with mid-range plans available as well.
- QuickBooks Online - This cloud based software version of QuickBooks has many of the same features as its desktop counterpart. Can be accessed from anywhere via web browser or mobile device. No software to install and no upgrades to bother with.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing for Small Businesses
Small business cloud computing offers business owners a number of attractive benefits. With the pay as you go model there are no large, upfront investments in hardware or software licenses so your IT costs can be significantly reduced. You or your IT staff do not have the additional burden of keeping new software or hardware updated and running. The ability to untether from your desk and access your data from anywhere using any one of a variety of Internet capable devices can be a major convenience or even a lifesaver.
If you are in the market for new software or IT services and are looking to save time, money, and eliminate some all too common hassles take a serious look at cloud solutions. Many cloud providers offer free trials or apply the "freemium" model which allows you to use some of their features for free so you don’t have anything to lose.