Moving to the cloud: advantages and considerations

Computing in the cloud involves gaining access to computing facilities, i.e. accessing and processing transactions or querying information via the Internet. Most people’s social lives already involve some cloud computing – from banking online and using social media for communication to keeping an email account with Google. But what about business: how much business is taking place in the cloud today?

More and more business applications are migrating from locally based desktop and server devices to the cloud. Whilst traditionally larger businesses have relocated computing to the cloud, we’re seeing a trend where even small business applications are now cloud based. Affordable fibre bandwidth and economies of scale mean that service providers can make it more economical for businesses to make use of services in the cloud than they can do independently.

Software as a service

In computing terms, a service that’s provided via the cloud is called software as a service. There are three examples of very useful services for businesses that take place in the cloud. The first is email. This is when your email system is hosted on a remote server and maintained by a provider that delivers your email service over the Internet. It’s then the responsibility of this provider to maintain the server, keep anti-virus and software up to date and deliver your emails 24/7.

A second example of useful cloud services for business is backup, which is an automated system of frequent data backup between your computer network and a secure data centre. The system is failsafe as your files are encrypted before they leave your computer network and are transferred to the data centre via the Internet with no human intervention.

A third example of software as a service is cloud accounting software. It automatically generates invoices and reminders so you don’t have to keep following up on your debtors, and it means you aren’t restricted to one computer that has the accounting programme on it – you can work on your accounts from any device that’s connected to the Internet. You can also pay for the software monthly and spread your expenses out through the year rather than forking out to buy accounting software upfront.

Advantages of the cloud

For small to medium-sized businesses cloud computing provides access to services that they wouldn’t be able to afford or have the space for in their office. The resulting benefits include:

1. Reduced hardware
You don’t need to spend money purchasing hardware (Capex) or maintaining it (Opex).

2. Cost saving
Without local, onsite hardware, you won’t need to pay employees or service providers to support and maintain equipment. Cloud-based solutions are ‘elastic’, meaning that you’re able to scale your services up or down to meet fluctuating workloads and pay only for what you use when you need it.

3. Automatic software updates.
You’ll always be accessing the most current, secure version of all the software. Monthly SAAS (software as a service) fees include all software updates.

4. Redundancy
Credible SAAS providers have structured their infrastructure to be ‘failsafe’ with mirrored devices. This means that the likelihood of downtime is minimal.

5. Peace of mind
Your backup is scheduled to take place automatically every day so you don’t need to remember to do it. Also, hardware failure doesn’t mean loss of data because your data is securely stored off site, in the cloud.

6. Strategic
Selling via the cloud means your products and services can easily be available to the global market. You also don’t have to worry about updating your apps or software because it’s done automatically by your service provider as soon as an update becomes available. And while cloud service providers manage your infrastructure, you can focus on your core business.

Considerations

1. Dependency on stable broadband
For a cloud service to work you need a consistent Internet connection.

2. Technical issues
You can’t fix cloud computing problems in-house. Ensure that your service provider offers technical support.

3. Where is your data?
Ensure that you’re dealing with a credible, contactable and securely located service provider. Also, ensure that you and your service provider are compliant with legislation and relevant data privacy laws.

Conclusion

Cloud computing is a fast-moving industry that’s showing itself to deliver evermore efficient, flexible, cost effective and secure services to the business community. Reputable providers of cloud services do offer technical support.


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