Is cloud computing good for small business?
In our last Get Growing for Business blog, we discussed how telecommuting may help Canadian small businesses, but even if you don’t want to fully abandon your office, you may want to consider moving some of your operations off of your desktops and servers and onto the web by adopting cloud computing.
Cloud computing refers to software applications and data storage services that are delivered in real time over a network, usually the Internet. These services include basically anything that you can do on a PC: e-mail, data storage, and communications and productivity applications. The benefits of cloud computing may include lower costs, greater mobility and enhanced collaboration.
Cloud services may be considerably less expensive than the comparable desktop software and user licenses. Prominent IT companies offer free suites of productivity applications as well as the more feature-rich subscription services. The subscription services are pay for usage, but they offer priority customer support and premium features. Additionally, by leveraging cloud services small business can reduce the need for in-house exchange servers and IT staff, thereby potentially reducing operation expenditures.
Having such productivity applications and storage “in the cloud” enables access to your files anytime and anywhere there is a network connection. It can also make it easier for colleagues to collaborate on projects regardless of time zone or location.
One area where the results of cloud computing is mixed is reliability. On the upside, commercial cloud service providers need to have very solid data back-up systems. With cloud computing it is unlikely that your data will be lost as service providers will typically have data recovery systems in place. However, a more frequent problem is accessibility. While 24-7 access is one of the promises of cloud computing, the reality is that outages do occur. From time to time even major providers have services go offline due to system failures or maintenance. Additionally, you will need stable internet access at your end in order to ensure your access to the available services.
Still, as every computer user knows, physical in-office systems and networks also fail. When considering moving to the cloud, a question you have to ask is: “how often do your own office systems go offline?” Assess your tolerance to the risk of network outages. If a cloud-computing system’s stability is consistent with your needs, cloud computing might be advantageous to your operations.
A bigger consideration is security. By taking your data and workflow into the cloud, you are trusting a third party with your data. As well, by increasing access points to your data – for instance by allowing employees to access data from remote locations – you run a greater risk that third parties could access it. Get Growing for Business will offer advice on securing your network in one of our forthcoming newsletters.
Although switching to cloud computing may be a good choice for some businesses, it is also likely to be a growing practice in the future, and something that all businesses may ponder.
Most major computer firms are heavily investing in cloud offerings, therefore it is likely that some of the services you already use will be moved to the cloud (if they haven’t been already).
What are your experiences with cloud computing? Have you discovered any benefits or challenges?