Cloud Computing: Taking it to the next level
Today everyone is talking about cloud computing as one hot technology. Think of the cloud as an important technology that gives small businesses the ability to access their data and applications anywhere.
You might already use the cloud. Services like Gmail and Google Docs are cloud-based. Because of the cloud, applications—and employees—no longer have to be tied to individual computers. Cloud-based applications allow employees to access key information from wherever they are. Data “in the clouds” is simply more accessible than data stored in a single location.
It’s interesting to note that, while the term “cloud computing” came into vogue in 2007, its origins are much, much older. In fact, the term stems from Douglas Parkhill's 1966 book, The Challenge of the Computer Utility.
So, why are we hearing so much about clouds now?
The massive explosion of bandwidth and mobile devices has made the cloud possible for the business community. Let’s go back to the early 2000s for a moment. Back then, most people accessed their data via desktop or laptop, the latter typically at dial-up speeds. That’s all changed. You are probably reading this on a computer accessing the Internet via high-speed broadband.
But there’s more going on. Mobile devices like the Droid, iPhone, BlackBerry and countless others allow people to hold mini-computers in their hand. In short, if we need to get to data anywhere now, it’s because we are using computers anywhere.
According to the Web. 2.0 Journal, clouds offer business owners:
· Reduced cost - Cloud technology is paid incrementally, saving organizations money.
· Increased storage - Companies can store more data than on private computer systems.
· High degree of automation - No longer do employees need to worry about keeping software up to date.
· Flexibility - Cloud computing offers much more flexibility than past computing methods.
· Increased mobility - Employees and customers can access information wherever they are, rather than having to remain at their desks.
· Fewer computer worries – Small businesses no longer have to worry about constant server updates and other computing issues; organizations can focus on innovation and running things.
With all these benefits, it’s no surprise that so many small companies have embraced cloud computing.
Now, all technologies have their risks and challenges—and cloud computing is no exception. Many technology companies help companies of all sizes put their apps “in the cloud.” The vast majority of risks related to cloud computing are closely related to their benefits. In other words, putting your apps data “out there” to access anywhere introduces increased potential security and privacy risks. However, it’s essential that no application is completely secure, unless it is left offline altogether.
Next, there’s the comfort factor. Many, if not most, small businesses are not used to relying on third-party vendors to host their applications and data. For instance, RackSpace is a cloud-based company that makes its clients’ applications and data cloud-friendly. To many small businesses, this represents a loss of control. They will report problems but can’t actually fix them. They have to rely upon their vendors. Note that mainstream cloud vendors use professional-grade data centers and uptime of around 99.9 percent.
Of course, that 0.1 percent of downtime can be crucial for a small business. Thousands of businesses recently lost access to their data and apps when Amazon’s cloud services experienced a day-long outage. But for most small businesses, the pros of using cloud services far exceed the cons.
The cloud is here to stay. In future columns, I’ll discuss other emerging technologies that small business owners need to adopt to remain competitive.