This is the first in a 3-part series of articles where we’ll look at how small businesses can benefit from cloud computing. In this first part we’ll look at the basics of cloud computing: what it is, how it works, and how a small business can use it to save money and increase efficiency.
What’s the cloud all about?
In its most basic, general form the cloud simply refers to data that is stored on a server and accessed via the Internet. Many of the Internet services you already use are cloud services. If you use Gmail, or another web-based email service, you’re using the cloud. All your email is stored on the email provider’s servers and you access it by connecting to the Internet with your computer or mobile device.
So the distinguishing feature of the cloud is that instead of storing data on your own computer, you store it on a server somewhere else.
Using the cloud for your small business
The cloud concept – the idea of storing data somewhere else and using an Internet connection to access it – has evolved into a powerful set of business tools and services. Some of the world’s largest corporations use cloud computing because of the massive savings and the huge productivity advantages it offers.
And it offers exactly the same advantages to a small business. We can divide cloud services into 3 types:
- Data storage and access
- Software services
- Infrastructure services
We’ll look at data storage in this article, and software and infrastructure services in Part 2 and Part 3.
The benefits of cloud data storage
The cloud allows you to securely store all kinds of business data on a remote server: documents, databases, presentations, customer information – in fact any sort of file that you can transfer across an Internet connection.
There are several advantages to this:
You don’t need to use your own storage space
Data has become central to modern business functioning. As a result, IT overheads have become a significant portion of small business expenses. Using the cloud can help to reduce the physical hardware costs of your business, as you won’t need to keep buying more storage capacity as your business data needs grow. You simply store everything in the cloud. Dropbox is a cloud storage service that you may already be familiar with. You can also get affordable private cloud storage facilities from one of the large Internet service providers.
Your employees can access information from any computer
Before cloud computing was available we all needed to have copies of documents and other work files on our own computers all the time. A solution to this was to install a business network, linking everyone’s computer. But networks can be difficult and costly to maintain. By using the cloud, it’s no longer necessary to install and maintain your own network. All your employees can access all the documents they need to do their work from any computer in your offices.
You have a secure backup of all your important business data
With your data stored on a server in the cloud, you won’t have to worry about some of your own computers crashing, or your internal network going down. If this happens, you will still be able to access your business data via the Internet. You won’t have any business disruption while you call in an IT service to get your network up and running – you and your staff can carry on working by accessing files remotely. And if you have a truly catastrophic computer failure, you can restore all your data from the cloud.
You have increased mobility
Because you can access the information you need from wherever you are, you can work while travelling, waiting in airport lounges, or at customer premises. There is no longer the scenario where you are hamstrung because you don’t have a particular document on your laptop. Everything is available to you all the time, wherever you are – as long as there is some kind of Internet connection.
You can work using mobile devices
Modern smartphones - with larger screens, increased computing power and sophisticated apps – can function as mini computers. Which means that you can access all the data you have stored in the cloud using your mobile device. You don’t even need to have a laptop with you.
These are the immediate benefits that the cloud offers. In Part 2 and Part 3 we’ll look at how you can achieve significant savings on software and infrastructure expenditure using the cloud.