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Demystifying the Cloud for SMBs

Cloud computing can help SMBs gain even greater competitive advantages by providing affordable, scalable solutions that use enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions. And SMBs have taken notice of the benefits of cloud computing.

Defining the cloud

Before embarking on a cloud strategy, it’s important to first understand what “the cloud” means as well as its pros and cons. Cloud computing is defined as a collection of computing resources, including virtual servers, computing capacity, storage capacity, network capacity or software, that is delivered over the Internet as a service.

There are three key service delivery models that support cloud computing:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

    SaaS is web-based software that is purchased from a service provider and is available as-needed. SaaS includes everything from email to web-based inventory control, CRM, marketing automation, banking services, project management tools, retail point of sale and WebEx meeting software.

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

    IaaS is web-based hardware that is purchased as an on-demand service. IaaS includes servers, memory, CPUs, disk space and network equipment. Most IaaS providers offer a highly available design model that delivers extremely secure uptime.

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

    PaaS enables software developers to create new applications or enhance existing applications without the cost of purchasing and managing the underlying infrastructure. IT departments who prefer to customize their own solutions favor PaaS.

Taking advantage of the cloud

Cloud computing can enable SMBs to compete against larger enterprises in a cost-effective way. It provides you with essentially the same applications and IT services. It is accessible via desktops, laptops and mobile devices. And you can purchase as much or as little capacity as you need at any given time to meet changing business needs.

The key advantages of cloud computing include:

  • Reduced costs

    Since you pay for what you use when you use it, you can lower your operational costs and nearly eliminate capital expenditures; there are no IT Infrastructure related costs for cloud-based solutions.

  • Improved flexibility

    You can react quickly to changing market conditions or seasonal fluctuations because you scale the services you need up or down based upon business requirements.

  • Automated updates

    The cloud service provider is in charge of all infrastructure, software and services. That means you don’t have to worry about keeping up with the latest hardware offerings or software versions.

  • Higher performance and reliability

    The cloud service provider is responsible for delivering high-availability, business continuity, disaster recovery and data backup services; so you benefit from enterprise class performance and reliability that is affordable.

  • Increased speed

    Dealing with physical computing resources often requires months of time devoted to specifications, ordering, installation, configuration and integration. With cloud computing, resources can be running in minutes and an entire solution can be configured in hours.

However the cloud is not a panacea. Certain downsides must be considered before you move to this business model. For example, your service provider is in charge of all the services and data stored on the cloud, which means security and data integrity may be a concern, especially if you are in a highly regulated industry. The physical location of their hardware and software is typically unknown, making site inspections and audits difficult.

Since your personnel will access the cloud via the Internet, any loss of that network connection may affect your workflow. And application performance could suffer if there are network latency issues.

Software customization can be challenging since your service provider actually owns the applications that your business uses. And cloud-based tools may not be as powerful as software applications. For example Google Docs lacks some of the features found in Microsoft Office.

Moving to the Cloud

Choosing to migrate to a cloud computing model is a major business decision. It requires careful analysis of your business goals, IT requirements and short- and long-term priorities. It also means determining the kinds of service level agreements your business needs, your regulatory compliance requirements and your security needs.

For those SMBs who conclude that you should move to the cloud, you’ll next have to determine the what, when and how to make that move. Do not under-invest when it comes to evaluating the options available and the service providers most suited to your needs.

For advice and guidance on your cloud decisions and implementation strategies, please contact us directly.

To learn more about the benefits that cloud solutions bring to SMBs, read the OSF white paper or contact us directly to talk to a specialist.