What The Cloud Can Do For Your Small Business

If your company isn’t utilizing cloud computing technology, you risk falling behind in the marketplace. The cloud makes it easier to manage, share and store content and data, and the figures show that your competition has most likely already moved to the cloud or is about to make the switch.

Gartner predicts global IT spending will exceed $3.7 trillion this year, and the chief analyst at IDC estimates that 90 percent of the growth driving the IT industry from 2013 to 2020 will be driven by mobile, social, cloud and big-data technologies. To meet this rising demand, cloud service providers are stepping up their game to remain competitive—and this puts your business in good shape to take advantage of the cloud.

Implementing cloud infrastructure can reduce many of the costs associated with maintaining your own physical infrastructure and compensating the staff to support it. The cloud also revolutionizes business operations and strategies, especially for small businesses.

The Cloud Save Resources

Take a look at your accounting department, for example. You pay fees to own several licenses of accounting software, and then you pay for the PCs your employees use to access it. You also pay for servers to host the software, do the online backup and then hire personnel to maintain those servers and the software. You may also have to pay the software manufacturer directly to solve problems your staff can’t handle.

If you use an accounting solution that’s hosted in the cloud, you only have to pay for the right to use the software – you don’t have to fix problems associated with it. Your servers have a significantly reduced burden, in that they simply act as a conduit for the Internet; they don’t have to execute any programs. You can dedicate these resources to other business functions or reduce their use.

It Helps You Grow

The reduced strain on your own resources encourages growth for your business, making it an ideal solution for startups and small to medium-sized businesses. In addition, instead of having to research, purchase and install your own equipment, you simply have to find a cloud computing vendor. Once you sign on, then you have access to all the data and hardware you need to scale your business.

Customers Demand It

Although they may not fully realize it yet, your customers want cloud computing solutions to provide them with better service. With cloud computing, you can get software that enables a customer to open a ticket, multiple people to work on it, and then have it passed on to a more qualified representative. Many cloud service providers have a knowledge base where your employees can store and share information pertaining to specific customer questions. Not only does it help your customers, it streamlines your service processes and helps your employees use time and other resources more efficiently.

The Cloud Isn’t Perfect

Even though the cloud helps small businesses far more than it hurts, it isn’t perfect. You can safeguard your business by paying special attention to these common security issues and asking your cloud service how they account for them:

What happens if a disaster strikes?

Any reasonable cloud services provider stores data in multiple locations around the country. This is probably the most common reason small businesses transition to the cloud. Make sure you ask your services provider the geographic locations where your data will be stored.

How is your data protected?

Cloud service providers have to place a high focus on security. Hackers are waiting to get their hands on private data, and most cloud service providers realize a single breach could become a public relations disaster (and worse yet, a lawsuit). Ask the service providers you are considering what technology they use to protect your data while it’s in their hands.

How many outages have they experienced?

This is really the biggest concern. According to Gartner, private data compromises happen infrequently; the more common concern in the cloud computing industry should be how often outages occur and whether those outages result in data loss. Many enterprises aren’t prepared for such a scenario. To protect your company, you should classify the various types of data that need protection. Communicate this to your cloud services provider, and ask them how they will protect the most sensitive data. At minimum, encryption, tokenization and data loss prevention systems should be present.

Issues in the Cloud

Leading cloud services providers Microsoft and Amazon have experienced data outages in the last year, according to datacenterknowledge.com. These outages have affected large businesses like Instagram, Salesforce.com, Reddit, Quora, Dropbox and Netflix.

So, if even the bigger companies get hit from time to time, why would you consider using the cloud? It still makes sense, and the industry is rapidly adapting to market demands. Following are a few common issues businesses experience according to Redmond Magazine:

Public attacks do happen. Yes, companies do have their data held in cloud storage hacked from time to time, but the cloud is safe for the most part. No security solution is 100 percent perfect, and a few big stories will always make the headlines. You can always ask your provider if they encrypt your files while they’re stored and what other measures they take to protect your data from unauthorized access. Think of it like you think of the bank: Sometimes, the bank gets robbed, but you keep your money there instead of at home because it’s still a safer option.

Backing up terabytes of data takes a long time. The standard is 30–60 days for the initial backup, even if that backup is performed over a T1 line. Because the cloud industry is growing so fast, this can be used as an opportunity to test the service of a new provider. Also, even though the initial backup takes an extended period of time, data de-duplication (transferring only those files that have been changed) cuts this time down to a fraction of what it was initially for ongoing backups.

There’s a need for customization. Many businesses say this is one of the largest hurdles they encounter. Rackspace, however, has already implemented a solution to this challenge: It allows IT pros to customize where their backups go, even if they go to other providers.

The shift to cloud computing continues to grow, and business leaders are discovering it’s not so much if you’ll move to the cloud, but when.

By Dan Stelter

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