The cloud can be a scary place. It’s big and nebulous. You can’t see it and you can’t touch it. For that reason, many fear it. But in 2019, it has become an essential part of today’s business.
In the most basic terms, the cloud is just a metaphor for the internet. It is not a single physical entity, but a large network of remote servers around the world that are connected and operate as a single ecosystem. These servers can be used to store and manage data, run applications or deliver services. It allows users to access information on any device with an internet connection.
As the collection of data has exponentially increased in recent years, it has become difficult—and expensive — for businesses to keep all of their information, programs and systems running on in-house servers. This is where the cloud comes in. According to an IDG Cloud Computing Study, whether it’s private, public, hybrid or a mix of various cloud computing models, the technology is now used by at least 70 percent of U.S. organizations. That figure is expected to grow further, as 56 percent of businesses surveyed said they were working on transferring more IT operations to the cloud.
This shift to the cloud offers many advantages, including flexibility, scalability and continuity. Research from Dell shows that companies that invest in big data, cloud, mobility and security see up to 53 percent faster growth than their competitors. From backup and disaster recovery to collaboration and storage, the shift to the cloud allows businesses of any size to benefit from advanced IT services.
Switching to cloud computing is easier than it may seem – even small businesses can manage it with the right resources and partnerships. And it’s much easier than installing new software, keeping up with security issues, installing patches and upgrading to new versions of software. Since many small businesses don’t have an IT specialist on staff, cloud-based software makes things even easier. All of these updates can be handled automatically by the cloud service provider. And even if your business does have an IT department, it enables employees to spend less time on maintenance issues and more time developing ideas to grow the business.
According to the IDG study, 77 percent of enterprises have at least one application of their enterprise computing infrastructure in the cloud. The same study reports that businesses will invest an average of $3.5 million on cloud apps, platforms and services this year.
This could prove to be a sound investment, as cost savings is one of the cloud’s biggest benefits for businesses. Traditional IT is expensive, complicated to set up and can be ineffective or underutilized. Providers charge cloud computing services based on features, storage, number of users, time and memory space, and many cloud service providers offer free versions that can be suitable for a small business. So, you only pay for what you use. Instead of purchasing a costly software program, cloud services are often on a pay-as-you go, or monthly subscription service. If you like the product and service, subscribe to it. If you don’t, unsubscribe. No need to learn a new program or install or uninstall programs. This enables businesses to try this new technology without a huge commitment of money or time. No paying for hardware you do not use or buying software that your business outgrows and comes with licensing to purchase and annual renewal fees.
Finally, cloud services can help cut labor costs, since the service provider is responsible for tasks that would normally fall to an IT employee. This frees IT employees to work on projects that directly affect your company’s bottom line, or on more innovative projects.
Perhaps even more important than the savings cloud services offer is the security they provide. Every day, we hear news of a new security breach, from companies large and small. No company, no matter its size, is immune to malware, hackers and viruses. A reputable cloud service provider can offer better security than the average small business owner can provide. Storing your data in the cloud with a reputable provider ensures it will be protected by experts whose job it is to keep abreast of any security threats. The security options offered by cloud services providers can actually make it easier to meet compliance regulations mandated by fields like government and healthcare.
Cloud data, like much other data, is stored on hard drives. However, what makes cloud data different is that it is stored not on a personal or company device, but usually on a highly monitored server and made accessible to the owner via the internet. Unlike a personal or company server, this data is protected by some of the world’s top computer scientists whose job it is to worry about security and encryption.
Timely backups are also managed by the service provider. Cloud servers are regularly and securely backed up, so in case of some kind of office disaster or computer failure, you can reconnect and continue as normal on any device.
Another advantage of cloud-based computing is that you do not pay for services you do not need or use and can grow with your company. Cloud services can be scaled to suit demand. As your company expands, it is easy to switch to the next level of cloud services, and you can add servers or users almost instantly. This also allows businesses to manage any unexpected growth spurts, or deal with unexpected or seasonal slowdowns. If a product suddenly goes viral and the business website is overloaded with orders, you can easily scale up to the next level of services. If business declines, it is simple to downgrade services.
Gone are the days when workers are at their desks, in their office, from 9 to 5. Today’s workers require flexibility and mobility, sometimes even above a higher salary. They work from home, from hotels and from airports. They work early in the morning at a local coffee shop and late at night in their bedroom. It used to be, workers had to email files to themselves, or carry a flash drive back and forth. With the cloud, workers can access the latest versions of their data and documents from anywhere there is an internet connection. They can work from any device, be it a PC, laptop, iPad or phone. These workers must be able to do their jobs the same way no matter where they are working. And they never have to worry about leaving their presentation, contract or proposal at home or in the office when traveling.
Business owners are always looking for ways to improve team performance. Cloud computing can be an effective way to achieve this. Some cloud-based services provide collaborative social spaces that allow employees throughout the organization to connect, increasing collaboration and engagement. Staff members can easily collaborate to complete projects from different locations. Field or mobile workers can easily share data and updates with those in the office.
Another benefit of cloud services is centralized data. Information for multiple projects from different branch offices can be stored in one centralized location that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. All of these documents can also be emailed or shared whenever needed. Additionally, cloud computing eliminates redundant or repetitive tasks, such as data re-entry.
Migrating to the cloud is not an easy decision to make. Though the benefits are substantial, there are still factors to consider before making the move. The first is to consider what kind of cloud would be most beneficial—private, public or hybrid. A private cloud provides a dedicated IT structure, using your company’s own hardware and private network and is managed by your company’s own team or third-party provider. A public cloud is accessible by other users and offers the pay-per-usage model that is a popular cost-saving measure. A hybrid cloud offers a combination of the two. This model is most often used to process applications in a public cloud, while storing the sensitive information in a private environment. Once the decision to adapt one of these models is made, it is essential to create a comprehensive strategy and prepare for data migration.