Is the cloud right for your business?

Many big tech giants are pushing cloud services as the next big thing. They promote these services to be a kind of panacea for small and medium sized business owners.

The promise is that companies can cut costs and enjoy cutting-edge software and other virtualization by sharing these services in the cloud. The goal is to greatly reduce expenses associated with office procurement, CRM and other products. In the long run, it provides savings on server upgrades and on-site maintenance.

For those unfamiliar with the cloud, the wiki dictionary defines it as “the use of computing resources (hardware and software) delivered as a service over a network (usually the Internet.”)

Users can access cloud-based applications through a web browser, lightweight desktop, or mobile app while business software and user data are stored on servers at a remote location.

Many claim that cloud computing allows organizations to run their applications faster, with better management and less maintenance. They say it enables IT to adjust resources more quickly to meet volatile and unpredictable business demand.

How it works? Cloud computing relies on resource sharing to achieve consistency and economies of scale similar to utilities (such as a power grid) across a network. The basis of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and service sharing.

Four types of cloud computing are available to meet most business needs.

The first is the public cloud. Public cloud applications, storage, and other resources are provided to the general public through the service provider. These services are free or offered on a pay-per-use model with online access only.

Another is Community Cloud. Community Cloud shares infrastructure among many organizations from a given community who have common interests. Managed internally or by a third party. The costs are spread to fewer users than in the public cloud (but more so than in the private cloud), so some of the potential cost savings of cloud computing are only realised.

A hybrid cloud is a configuration of two or more clouds (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities but are linked together, providing benefits of multiple models. By utilizing a “hybrid cloud” architecture, businesses and individuals can gain on-premises usability without relying on an Internet connection. A hybrid cloud architecture requires both on-premises resources and an off-site (remote) server-based cloud infrastructure.

Finally there is the private cloud. It is a cloud infrastructure that is only run for a single organization, whether it is managed in-house or by a third party. It is hosted internally or externally. Implementing a private cloud project requires a significant level and degree of involvement to virtualize the business environment. When done right, it can have a positive impact on a business, but every step of a project raises security issues that must be addressed in order to avoid dangerous vulnerabilities.

While the cloud has some benefits for email, marketing campaign tools (such as electronic newsletters), customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and office applications, maintaining an entire network in the cloud is still quite expensive.

Based on current pricing structures, the most efficient option is for small and medium-sized businesses to purchase their own hardware and have it co-located in the data center or on corporate premises.

The concept of virtualization (one physical computer with many virtual servers) will provide cost savings if the company is to build the infrastructure itself. Buying virtual servers from a large company like Amazon is still a more expensive proposition.

No matter which direction the company chooses, it must be managed by skilled engineers.

For small businesses, establishing or maintaining a relationship with an IT company or managed network services company is appropriate to analyze and recommend aspects of cloud that are appropriate to their needs.

In addition, an IT company can oversee cloud functions and provide day-to-day technical assistance such as 24/7 remote support, unlimited on-site support, a help desk, and even a virtual information manager.

Large organizations can leverage the technology company’s team of engineers and leverage their knowledge and skills to assist with any transition whether it involves full virtualization or the development of a Hybrid Cloud model.

While the cloud is well publicized and certainly attractive, it may not be appropriate or economical for every organization. Business owners should consult with a technical professional to determine if the cloud is appropriate for their business operations.

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