There is a great deal of promotion these days around cloud computing. If you read the material distributed by the big players including Microsoft and others you would think that all computing these days is in the cloud. You know that this is not the case and if you are like the majority of SMB businesses then you realize that for your business it is not what actually happens.
There are many reasons why more organizations have not moved the majority of their computing to the cloud and probably the most dominant one is they are just unsure whether it is a safe and secure way to operate their computing operations. On the other hand there are a series of reasons to consider it.
When you operate your computer operations in a cloud system someone else provides the basic infrastructure; servers, backup systems, physical protection, internet redundancy, power, backup power etc. You do not have to invest capital in these features you simply rent the utility of the provider's installation.
When you operate in the cloud for software the ability to scale your operations improves. You can easily add another 5 users as you grow, or decrease the number of users as you contract. Need a seasonal size adjustment? You can set up a contract that matches your needs with most cloud based software companies.
You share the costs of the basic infrastructure and often the software costs with all of the other users who are on the same systems. What this means is that you often can afford to get access to software that might be out of your budget because you are paying for what you use not a whole system.
Software upgrades are the responsibility of your cloud supplier. This can be a significant benefit when you look at cloud software rental. Everyone knows how challenging it can be to keep all of your users on a consistent platform when you are purchasing software on your own. When you rent the utility of the software you need through a cloud installation then all of your users are on the same release.
Professional data centres generally have a much more robust and sophisticated physical infrastructure than an SMB would consider. Putting redundancy through stand by power generation, redundant internet connection, 24/7 support, earthquake, hurricane, flood and other disaster planning into place is a costly proposition for any company. Renting the capabilities of a data centre that has invested in this type of structure and then shared it across many customers is often the only way to access this type of security.
There are many other reasons to consider cloud systems. Some, like easier remote access, the ability to share systems from multiple locations and reduction in internal IT resources can be significant if these are challenges and needs in your organization.
Of course to function well in the cloud you must have access to a reliable and fast internet connection where you work. In some cases the cost and limitations of this type of access may make cloud computing a real challenge. This often is the case in rural locations where the communication infrastructure is limited. Gradually these limitations are reducing and with the reductions the ability to consider cloud for more computing operations will increase.
If you do decide that a larger dependence upon cloud systems is appropriate for your business doing your homework to determine the right supplier becomes the next question to answer. Jurisdiction of the data centre and its backup (and the surety that there is appropriate backup available) becomes an important consideration both due to physical needs but also due to legislative and political needs. Deciding what is right for your business depends upon where you do business, where you are located and the types of physical risks you want to be protected from.
Know who you are contracting with and what underlying systems they are using. Even the most sophisticated data centre is going to be using outside suppliers to support its systems. Ask who these are and where they are located. Understand what they are providing to your vendor so you know how those relationships affect your operations. In many cases you will find that this type of questioning will give you even more of a sense of security about your data and operations but the reverse is also a possibility. The wrong answers to your questions could lead you to decide to seek out an alternative supplier.
Are you comfortable with the cloud for your computing needs? Already there? What is your experience?
Photo credit: By Wakalani (Flickr) (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons