Many small businesses have been resistive, or at least indifferent, to cloud services. For the first few years of its life the cloud just seemed like a buzzword, which promised so much but delivered very little in terms of real benefits for small business owners. The last few years have seen more and more providers delivering some or all of their services on the cloud, and based on Microsoft’s huge push on a business and consumer level for Office 365 we can see that the big boys are betting a good chunk of their future business on cloud services.
So, what should small business owners think about when faced with so much cloud stuff and so little clarity?
Firstly, it’s worth looking at accessibility. Up until 2010 the majority of homes and offices had a relatively slow broadband service via traditional ADSL. In January 2010 a shake-up of the UK’s internet services started when BT launched its Infinity product range and suddenly connectivity speeds (and reliability) previously only available on expensive leased lines were made available to millions of homes and offices.
This factor alone has made running some or all business applications in the cloud much more viable, and year by year we’re seeing increased speeds and decreased costs for connectivity.
So, how does the cloud aid accessibility? Well, at its core the concept of cloud computing is that the data is stored on the internet and is accessible from any internet connected device, at any time, from anywhere. Companies with numerous remote workers, branch offices or international/roaming staff can let their staff access everything they need to work, via the web.
Smaller companies can also benefit as they can improve access to their systems for suppliers, get data on the move, and in some cases can run their entire business from their iPad or mobile phone.
Secondly, a huge plus for small and big business alike is reduced costs. For big companies, moving to the cloud means they can get rid of in-house or hosted servers and pay a lower cost to a bigger organisation to manage these items. They can also shed IT staff – once your email is hosted on the cloud you no longer need that Exchange Server specialist in-house.
For smaller business, the cost saving is based on a reduced need to replace outdated hardware and the reduction in downtime caused by not being able to afford multiple servers or a high availability set-up. Once your email is cloud based, on something like Office 365, the back-end systems running this are being managed and patched by Microsoft. They are highly available (there are numerous backup servers ready for if something fails) and you don’t have to worry about replacing or updating your in-house server. The cost also becomes scalable – as you add an employee to the business, you pay a little bit more per month for their extra cloud services/licences.
So, what is holding smaller businesses back from taking more cloud services from suppliers?
Mainly, it’s a fear of losing touch with their data and the worry that poor internet connectivity may hamper their ability to work, as their core services are all on the internet.
Both of these points are valid, but easily managed. For organisations with sensitive data that must stay in the UK, speak to your IT team or a specialist about a private cloud. This can be your own dedicated cloud set-up that is UK based, and that is solely provisioned for you.
For connectivity, the money saved by moving to cloud services will usually justify the purchase of either a second back-up internet connection (make sure it’s with a different provider) or at least the purchase of a firewall that can use the 3G mobile network as a failover.
Also, with mobile devices and mobile internet, you can work from a phone/tablet if the office has an issue. Or just work from home. It’s much more flexible than the old ‘server in the corner’ which, should the office become inaccessible or the server fail, stops the whole business from working.
Author Bio: Craig Atkins is a Gradwell partner who runs 1-Fix Limited, an IT support company that specialises in services for small businesses, including private cloud, VoIP, Office 365 and fixed priced IT support.
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