Embrace Cloud Computing or Get Out of the Way

Cloud computing is the future of small-business technology — are you taking advantage of it?

Cloud computing has received plenty of hype in recent years. Now it’s starting to live up to its promise — and companies that don't take advantage of cloud services are in danger of falling behind.

While cloud computing is on the rise, it initially suffered from sluggish adoption (for more about the basics of cloud computing, please read our comprehensive cloud computing intro guide). Of course, many other major technologies that are now commonplace (e.g., e-books, smartphones and even the Internet itself) took the same slow path to prominence. (Need a refresher on cloud computing? Check out our Cloud Services Guide and Glossary.) `

Early cloud efforts are similar to the e-book story in many ways. Although products like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are seen on nearly every bus and subway car in the United States these days, the e-book wasn’t so quick to catch on at first.

In 1992, Sony launched its Data Discman, which allowed readers to buy books stored on CDs. A few years later, the NuvoMedia Rocket eBook also failed to create a market for electronic books. It took about 15 years for the concept of e-books to transition from visionary idea to mainstream adoption.

Similarly, early cloud-computing efforts were more about the promise of the technology than the implementation. The concept for the cloud actually dates back 50 years, to when computer scientist John McCarthy noted that computing could someday be presented as a public utility.

It wasn’t until Amazon took a chance on updating its data centers with cloud- computing capability, however, that the theoretical turned into the realistic. The company began offering cloud computing to its enterprise customers, and other providers started to develop tools and networks that could provide cloud computing and storage on a large scale.

Writing for Forbes in 2010, technology columnist Margaret Lewis noted, “I don’t think there is even a question: cloud computing is here to stay.”

Abundant Benefits for Your Business

Like any technology shift, moving to the cloud requires some changes to a company’s processes. An organization may find itself needing hardware upgrades, IT consulting, better networking capability and stronger security measures. Considering the advantages of cloud computing, such a major revamp is generally worth the effort.

Cloud computing delivers computing resources as a service. So instead of buying multiple software applications and infrastructure components, a company can “share” these resources with other cloud-service users. This produces a number of business benefits, such as:

  • Scalability. Your business can increase and reduce storage depending on need, not on hardware and software availability. You can expand and contract operations more easily, without being saddled by additional hardware costs. An e-commerce site, for instance, may need more computing resources for the holiday season and scale way back in the summer. Cloud computing makes this possible.
  • Security. For smaller companies in particular, keeping up with the type of automated updates required for security can be daunting. Every application and piece of hardware needs updating at some point. With a cloud-based strategy, you don't have to worry about those schedules because cloud providers do those updates instead.
  • Access. Cloud computing depends on a networked infrastructure, so you can access services from remote locations. All you need is an Internet connection.
  • Recovery. Data recovery can be easier when data is stored in a cloud-based service — especially if a company’s offices or server rooms are damaged. Power loss, hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and other disasters could cause a frightening amount of damage to an onsite technology-storage closet. But when company resources and data are stored in a cloud, they’re better protected.
  • Ease of use. Early iterations of cloud-based services may have required some major IT skills. These days, however, cloud companies can guide you through the process with ease. Companies can carry out cloud strategies for data backup and application usage in a way that’s intuitive and straightforward. Best of all, they’ve gotten far better at customer support, so you can get the advice you need.

Looking Toward the Future

While every executive must determine whether cloud computing is an appropriate strategy for his or her business, cloud services will play a role in the future of most companies.

Already, many enterprises use the cloud without even realizing it. Vendors may be backing up data about deals to cloud-based storage, for example. Sales reps, marketing professionals and finance execs, too, may be accessing certain applications via the cloud.

Using more cloud services can level the playing field for many businesses. A small firm in a rural location can have the same tools and resources as a large corporation in the heart of New York City. That gives companies of every size the clout they need — at affordable rates — to compete with much larger competitors.

The cloud may have started in the hype cycle that dooms some newer technology, but at this point, it clearly has staying power. So it may be time for your company to make a move to a cloud-based strategy — and reap the benefits of living in the cloud.

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