The cloud: an introduction for SMBs

Getting fully acquainted with the cloud can pay off for your business

Over the last few years the cloud has been transforming how businesses operate and deliver their services to customers. Many small business owners, however, still find the cloud a confusing concept and wonder what the technology can really do for their enterprises.

The chances are your business already deploys some cloud services. If your employees use Gmail, Skype, Google Docs or use online storage services such as Dropbox – all these are examples of cloud computing.

In essence, the cloud moves data and applications off your desktop or on-site servers to remote hosted services that can be accessed by any internet connected device. Your business is renting instead of buying the assets and services it needs. What's more, as your needs expand, so can the cloud services.

For small businesses in particular using the cloud as an integral component of their business' operations is now essential. What the cloud has done is deliver a level playing field where SMBs can now access enterprise level applications that were only available to larger companies.

Cloud services offer a number of key advantages for SMBs:

• Low cost

The cloud offers even the smallest SMB the opportunity to use enterprise level services without any investment in new hardware or software, as all services are hosted in the cloud.

• Business expansion

As your business grows the cloud is the perfect partner, as it can also grow and expand, as your business needs more services. Cloud-based storage has no limits. And hosted services can be purchased, as they are needed.

• Improved business efficiency

Fast and efficient collaboration is possible when cloud-based services are adopted. A workforce can access applications and data from any location at any time.

• Increased security

Thousands of laptops are lost or stolen each year. Using the cloud to store data that is encrypted protects this information from unauthorised access.

• Greater competitiveness

As a small business it is vital that your enterprise is agile to remain competitive. SMBs that adopt the cloud become more efficient and therefore improve their competitive edge.

• Environmentally friendly

Setting up and maintaining a server room and multiple desktop PC, as well as mobile devices has an environmental impact. The cloud reduces this impact and improves the green credentials of your business.

So the cloud clearly has a number of key advantages that SMBs can capitalise on. However, your company should carefully consider where your business data is being stored, as this could be in multiple locations in possibly different countries. The question of data ownership needs to be assessed.

Moving to the cloud

If your business is ready to start leveraging the advantages of cloud computing, follow these steps to make the transition to a cloud-based business efficient and painless:

1. Assess your needs

Before choosing which cloud services to use, perform a data and process audit across your business. Look for areas where efficiency gains are needed, as these could be first candidates for transferring to cloud services.

2. Flexible working

Today business is done on the move. Most SMBs will have a dispersed workforce that still needs to collaborate and access information. Assess how the cloud could enhance the flexible working your business has already embraced.

3. Hardware needs

Is your business about to buy a new server? Server sprawl has been a major issue for several years. Adopting more cloud services could mean your business doesn't need to spend that money on a new server.

4. Software needs

To remain competitive and secure, your business will be used to software upgrades and renewing their licences. Moving to cloud based services such as Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud will save your business money and improve its efficiency.

5. Data storage

One of the main uses of the cloud is to store data. Businesses are increasingly adopting the cloud, as it offers infinite storage capacity at very low cost. Assess your business' data to identify which information types could be moved to cloud - easing the load for on-site storage.

6. Security concerns

It's a myth that the cloud is less secure than an on-site server. With appropriate security systems in place, data can be moved safely to and from the cloud. However, many businesses are taking the approach to develop a hybrid cloud system with only low-security data being saved to the cloud, with personal customer data still stored on-site.

The importance of due diligence

With so many cloud service providers in the marketplace, it can be difficult to choose the right service for your business. As with any other service your company buys, carrying out due diligence is vital. Look at the track record of the service provider. Speak to their existing customers. And assess the SLA (Service Level Agreement) your business will be asked to sign to ensure you are happy with the terms.

Peter Chadha PhD, CEO and founder of DrPete Inc. advises: "By turning to the cloud, SMBs benefit from a cost-effective, easy to implement and flexible IT option, particularly in an economic climate where flexibility of scale is essential. A well thought-through cloud strategy can also reduce IT costs by as much as 80 per cent and improve business efficiency by 100 per cent."

The cloud is transforming different sections of the entire business community, and none more so than the SMB sector where costs can be reduced and efficiency increased. In the current climate, all SMBs should have a cloud strategy that will help evolve their businesses into profitable and competitive enterprises.