In his first blog for My Business, Simon Foster, Cloud Computing guru and Managing Director of Shoeboxed Australia, explains in layman’s terms what Cloud Computing is and how it can benefit SMEs.
Once life was easy. We had a computer on our desk (if we were lucky) and if we wanted to save anything we got out a floppy disk. In business, if our data files were too big they were stored on the big IBM mainframes that took up whole rooms and, in some instances, whole floors of the building
Then times moved forward. Faster PCs with more grunt and more storage arrived, as did thumb drives and terabyte storage systems that fit in the top drawer. And if that still wasn’t enough, we had racks of server space on the wall or in a cupboard.
But IT times are a-changing again and the Cloud – or ‘cloud computing’ is new buzz topic. Some of you reading this will be thinking this is old news – and for some it is. However, according to the Sage Business Index for 2012, only released a few weeks ago, more than 50 per cent of business owners have little or no idea what the Cloud was, what it entailed, or what benefits it could bring to their business. And the figure was even higher for small business owners!
Even those who said they understood the cloud were mainly unsure of the benefits of implementing it. Yet, when the cloud concept and benefits were properly explained by the researchers, the respondents stated that it sounded like a good idea and they were very interested in embracing Cloud technology.
So although the Cloud is a new(ish), different and sexy technology to an IT manager – the IT boffins amongst us forgot to explain exactly what the cloud actually is and what it can do for everyone else, and particularly small business owners, before it became a trendy buzzword.
And given that 1.96 million of Australia’s 2.05 million businesses are small businesses, maybe it’s time, as the Sage report suggested, for us Clouderati to go back to the basics.
What is Cloud computing?
In a nutshell – it’s computer processing and data storage that exists on a network outside your company’s walls (ie, the internet) that allows you and your staff to access it wherever you are. It allows for:
● Greater flexibility in terms of storage space (think megabytes, gigabytes & terabytes);
● Processing power (think speed in GHz); and
● Bandwidth (ie, how quickly you can up/download your information when there are others also trying to up/download theirs).
Common examples you might have heard of, or experienced, are Gmail, Hotmail and Google Docs. You essentially store your email or data files on Google and the other providers’ many servers. The same can be said for storing your photographs on Facebook’s servers.
The benefits of Cloud
The benefits can be significant, especially around cost – which the Sage Index highlighted as an ongoing issue for Australian businesses. Purchasing an onsite server can run to tens of thousands of dollars, and then there’s the upkeep.
Hosting your data in the Cloud reduces the need for extra servers, extra IT maintenance, even performing your own back-ups – which are automatically done as part of the service.
Then there’s the flexibility. If you have a couple of months a year where you require extra bandwidth or space – rather than buying new racks of servers to cope with the load that sit idle the rest of the year, you only pay for what you need, and then they can go to servicing the needs of others (and you don’t pay for that).
Are there any issues to be aware of?
47 per cent of those surveyed expressed a concern around Cloud-stored data security. Certainly it’s true that you can be exposed to security hacking and data breaches, but you can also face the same issues with someone hacking into your server or deliberately altering/deleting information stored on servers from within the organisation.
If you’ve got incredibly sensitive data, it pays to examine the fine print of Cloud providers to see what promises they’re making regarding your information’s security, privacy and their uptime guarantees. Look for certifications from organisations like TrustE.
When it comes to cloud and how it can be leveraged by SME owners to their benefit, there’s so much more to talk about. Cloud really is the way of the future – but only if everyone understands it.
Follow @mybusinessau on Twitter for breaking stories throughout the day.