CLOUD COMPUTING: IS IT RIGHT FOR MY BUSINESS?

CLOUD COMPUTING: IS IT RIGHT FOR MY BUSINESS?

Posted on: April 8, 2013

Imagine sitting in your office (or store, or warehouse), and you’re trying to upload photo files so large that your computer is giving you angry messages all the while wondering how your clients can access them, (or how to juggle the sudden large influx of requests after a promotion you just launched, or tracking the ever-changing inventory).

If your business is lucky enough to have 1) a great IT person on your team and 2) enough cash on hand to purchase large computers, your IT problems might be are solved. However, if you’re like many entrepreneurs in small businesses, your business is probably lacking in these. In fact, some experts argue that an IT person working for an organization with 50 or fewer employees would almost certainly be under-utilized. So, would Cloud computing be an option for you? And what the heck is that, anyway?

If you’re a non-techie person like me, you might think of cloud computing as programs that are floating around up there, somewhere. You’ve heard about it, but don’t truly understand what it all means. Maybe you’re like the 54% who in a recent study claimed that they’ve never used the Cloud, but actually are part of the 95% who have used it, and didn’t know.*

In general, Cloud computing allows you to store, access, and share data from Internet-connected devices in one central location. Instead of installing big computers at your business or hiring an IT person to build applications for you, these systems that help you do these tasks are built and/or maintained by an external provider. The range of services can be as simple as spam filtering or as complex as enhanced applications, like a Customer Records Management tool, and beyond.

Choosing the right options for your business comes down to the amount of control you would like to have and the specific needs for your business. Even more importantly, you only buy what you need. So let’s break it all down.

You might have heard of the 3 fundamental layers or service models that the industry uses, each one supports the individual user and their distinct needs: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). There are 2 more that were officially added in 2012, NaaS and CaaS, but they are out of scope for this article.

1. Software as a Service (SaaS)

1. Software as a Service or SaaS is one you’ve probably come across the most, even though you might not know it. In this model, the programs are already built and the vendor would simply grant access to you. This eliminates the need to install and run the application on your own computers, which simplifies maintenance and support.

A prime example of this service would be Gmail. You would not install or maintain Gmail. Rather, the provider gives you access to this application and all you have to do is sign up with a username and password. In a SaaS model, almost everything is managed by the vendor.

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service or PaaS is a variation of SaaS. Vendors provide prebuilt program libraries that you can use to tweak and build an application, giving you a little more control of the application. Let’s use Lego® as a metaphor.

Lego provides the building blocks or the prebuilt programs supplied by the vendor. Everyone’s blocks look the same; however what you end up with could be different from another user. You have the ability to build something slightly more customized to address your needs, within the constraint of the Lego blocks or the program you subscribe to. Using Google again, their Google App Engine is an example of PaaS. This service allows you to create and build your own applications using their tools.

Using Google again, their Google App Engine is an example of PaaS. This service allows you to create and build your own applications using their tools.

3. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

If the Lego structure was the PaaS, then the shelf that displays the Lego structure is the Infrastructure as a Service or the IaaS model. With this Cloud model, the vendor provides you the shelf, or rather the environment to host or build your applications. As well, you are in full control of what you want to build on the shelf to make it totally unique. You can also enjoy the economies of scale with IaaS, choosing to scale up or down based on how much capacity you require. This is a good fit for businesses that are seasonal or perhaps have fluctuations in the number of projects they work on throughout the year.

Making the Cloud Work for Your Small Business

Cloud computing allows you, as a small business owner, to take advantage of the technologies available without budgeting for that IT person or purchasing servers that either are not used to their fullest capacity or a server that is over capacity. Cloud computing will continue to grow in its usage and options. And as more companies move to this model, there will be even more options for small businesses to take advantage of.

So the question is really, how will you use the Cloud for your business?

* Study conducted by the Citrix Cloud Survey, August 2012

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