You’ve probably heard business analysts and others talk about moving to the cloud, but you may not know what they mean.
Exactly what is the cloud anyway? Is it safe to move some or all of your company’s operations to the cloud? You may actually be using the cloud already and not even realize it.
If you run a small business, here is what you need to know about the cloud.
What Is the Cloud?
Cloud computing is an important trend for businesses. According to an IDC Market Spotlight sponsored by IBM, small and medium sized businesses are projected to spend an additional 20% on cloud computing every year for the next five years.
Small business owners and retailers need to know what the cloud is. They also need to understand how it can help their small business.
Cloud computing refers to storing files and information online using a network of remote servers. Traditionally, information and files were stored on a local server or hard drive, but as the Internet grew so did cloud computing.
Applications that run on the cloud spread the information across thousands of computers, providing you with better security and speed. If you access your information through the Internet instead of through your local computer, chances are that your information is stored in the cloud.
There are several ways that you can take part in cloud computing:
To use SaaS cloud-based computing, you purchase a subscription to software through the Internet rather than installing the software on your own computer. You may be billed monthly or annually for our usage, and you can cancel at any time.
With PaaS, you purchase the rights to use a platform within the cloud where you can create your own custom applications and store data. The provider may provide you with templates or other tools.
If you run most of your operations from the cloud instead of buying servers, storage, and other hardware, then you are likely taking advantage of IaaS.
There are some definite advantages to cloud computing:
Access from anywhere. All you need to access cloud-based applications is a device that can connect to the Internet. Most cloud-based applications are designed for use by both a desktop machine and a mobile device, which can make using the cloud very convenient if your staff works from more than one location.
Hardware cost savings. Servers and computer network hardware can be expensive. Plus, the equipment tends to need repairs and updates. With cloud computing, someone else buys and maintains the hardware. All you do is pay for your subscription and use the application.
No hardware set-up time. When you buy your own servers, you have to set them up and configure them yourself. If you don’t have the IT skills in house to do this, you need to bring a specialist in-house to do it, which takes time and money.
Software is always up to date. Most software companies frequently update the software through patches and version upgrades. If you forget to bring your in-house software up to date, you could have problems. Cloud-based applications, however, are easily updated since they are centrally located.
Backup services. Many cloud service providers back up your data as part of their service. Plus, you don’t have to worry about a server crashing and taking your information with it since the cloud stores bits of your information on thousands of machines.
Of course, there are many other advantages to cloud computing.
Is the Cloud Safe?
Before making a move to the cloud, it’s important to understand the risks.
Ownership issues. Be sure to read your agreement with your cloud service provider carefully. Review any clauses that deal with intellectual property. If you have questions, ask your attorney.
Security. Cloud-based data security has improved greatly since companies first started moving information online. However, there is always a small risk that a hacker will access your files. To safeguard your data, never share passwords and change your passwords frequently.
Downtime. Even though the cloud uses multiple servers, there can still be a disruption in service.
Support. The technical support offered for cloud-based applications and services varies from company to company. Some companies offer excellent service.
What Functions Can Be Moved to the Cloud?
Really, there’s no limit to which business functions can be moved to the cloud. There cloud-based options for accounting, sales management, support, and more. In fact, there are software and services available for nearly every back office function.
ShiftPlanning is a good example of how staff scheduling has safely moved to the cloud and provided added efficiencies for users.
Has your business moved some of its functions to the cloud already? If not, why not get started by moving your staff planning function to the cloud?