An examination of the pros and cons of migrating parts of your small business to cloud computing is simple because the pros simply outweigh the cons. The cons are a small set of predictable objections including concerns about data security and vendor viability. The pros are many that do vary from business to business.
A good strategy for migrating to cloud computing for many small businesses is to migrate parts of the business that make sense one at a time. For example, when it’s time to replace an aging server hosting Microsoft Exchange, migrate to a hosted Microsoft Exchange Server. It’s not smart business to try to migrate too many applications at once. Change is good for any organization. But too much change can be overwhelming. This approach remains true for most existing businesses. However, if you are starting a new business, it’s very smart to use the cloud for nearly every business application.
Cloud computing is a game changer. Customers do not need to own as much IT infrastructure as in the past. They can rapidly deploy new applications without up front capital expense and pay as they go. Many cloud application vendors offer new users a free trial period and then either a monthly or annual fee for service typically based on the number of users. New users can often be added through the application’s administrative console.
Cloud computing lowers the cost of using computers in small businesses. Capital expenditures are limited to the devices used to access the applications and the infrastructure to access the Internet. The need for multiple servers, private networks, server and application software licenses, maintenance contracts, software updates, and the support staff needed to maintain the client/server environment simply goes away. Cloud computing enables small businesses to have rapid access to the type of computing power previously only available to large businesses.
Cloud computing enables users to work more effectively. Users are able to access their business systems and data from many locations. All that is needed is an Internet connected device that supports industry standards – PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. Users can work as efficiently from a hotel in London as their home office in Boston. The need for a virtual private network (VPN) or remote control software is gone as well as the complaints about their poor performance and reliability.
Cloud computing is highly reliable. Users of cloud computing share costs and resources amongst many users allowing for efficiencies and cost savings around things like performance, load balancing, and even locations. Data centers can be located in areas with lower real estate costs leveraging very smart employees and state-of-the-art equipment and data centers. These are costs far beyond the IT budgets available to small businesses in a typical client/server model. Cloud computing is thought to affect reliability, security, and scalability in positive ways. In a cloud infrastructure, security and availability typically improves as the vendors comply to industry standards.
Cloud computing makes small business applications much less costly to maintain. Cloud-based applications are being used by an increasingly large audience. Application reliability improves as more users become involved, application updates are automatic and do not require local IT staff involvement, and technical support – when needed – is provided by highly trained staff at no additional cost. Technical support is included as part of the monthly or annual use fee. All costs associated with server and private networks disappear.
Examples of Cloud Computing in Small Businesses
A customer of Consider It Fixed has owned 1 restaurant for several years where they use a client/server application to manage their catering business. Due to the high cost of purchasing and installing upgrades, they have been using a very old release of their catering software.
Recently, this customer purchased another restaurant in a different town. They plan to offer catering at this location as well. If they were to employ a traditional approach to integrating both locations into their catering system, they would need to add additional user licenses, a dedicated server, and a private network (including communications hardware/data services) to join the 2 locations together. This is a typical approach, but one that requires a large capital investment and high, ongoing maintenance costs.
I discussed my client’s requirements with their catering software vendor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the vendor offers a cloud-based solution in addition to their client/server solution. The solution to my client’s expansion became simple. The vendor took my client’s existing data, migrated it to their cloud-based application, and the multi-site catering software was up and running within 2 hours. Now, they can access their catering system from any Internet connected PC at a fraction of the cost typical of client/server solutions.
A Gas and Oil Investment Company
Consider It Fixed recently migrated a small investment company from a traditional, 5 year old client/server environment to a light weight, cloud-based architecture. Consider It Fixed made many changes to their computing environment and moved their user data from their internal server to the cloud via a very smart application service called Dropbox. The server is now only used for print services and to run an old accounting program that is specific to their industry. Dropbox allows multiple users to access data via the cloud, synchronize file changes, share files, maintain file change history, and automatically back up their data to a state-of-the-art data center.
The other day, I received a call the from the managing partner. He had a problem with a very important Excel spreadsheet. He explained that the problem began a couple of days earlier when he updated the file’s format from .xls to .xlsx.
I reminded him that Dropbox saves 30 days of file change history. He simply needed to log into www.dropbox.com to access an older version of the file that pre-existed the problem. His problem was solved in a couple of minutes. This would not have been possible before their migration to the cloud. Previously, the company backed up its data files infrequently and no one in the company has ever retrieved a file from a backup.
A Lobbying Company
Consider It Fixed setup a new political lobbying company leveraging light weight, cloud-based technologies. They purchased one desktop PC, a multifunction printer, netbooks, blackberry smartphones, and Microsoft Office for each users. I setup:
- Hosted Microsoft Exchange for messaging, calendaring, and contact management
- Dropbox for file management, sharing, and backup
- Xmarks for bookmark/favorites synchronization between the PC and a netbook
- Internet access was provided by each user's home broadband connection and from free Wi-Fi access available in the state capital buildings.
It took the equivalent of one day of consulting to order the equipment, setup the equipment, and setup the applications software and cloud-based applications. I refer to this approach as light weight computing. It is very low in cost, rapidly deployed, and highly reliable. In fact, I have had only two requests for support from this client over this past year totally one hour of work. My client is very happy with the setup and has better access to modern technology than they did before as partners in a large law firm.
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