It was only a few years ago that the idea of storing sensitive, powerful information and performing operations in some remote, unknown location seemed ludicrous. What if something went wrong and precious data was stolen or erased? Those concerns have since been addressed.
Today, as security and technology have come of age, businesses of all sizes are more comfortable with their head in the clouds—“cloud computing,” to be exact. The “cloud” refers to a system in which, instead of housing servers, databases and the applications to run and maintain them on premises, they’re in remote locations to allow more efficient, centralized access by those maintaining and using the information.
A 2014 RightScale.com survey reported that 94 percent of the responding small and large businesses surveyed are running applications or experimenting with remote, cloud infrastructure as a service. In fact, 87 percent of organizations are already using the public cloud.
For businesses with fewer than 1000 employees, 20 percent were developing cloud strategies, 29 percent were beginning to work on proof-of-concept or initial projects, 25 percent have multiple projects and applications deployed in the cloud, and 26 percent were heavily using cloud infrastructure.
Pros and Cons of Cloud-Based Business Solutions
So what’s behind the popularity? Florida-based tech blogger Ericka Chickowski explains: “One of the biggest financial benefits of cloud comes by way of how it is booked—you’re shifting from a heavy capital expense burden over to a less risky operational expense model. This makes it much easier to pivot as the business needs change without worrying about tons of ‘sunk’ costs. Additionally, depending on the cloud service, they’re also just a whole heck of a lot cheaper than building something on premises.”
In addition to cost savings, survey respondents reported higher availability, geographic reach, and business continuity. Amazon describes speed as another benefit: “In a cloud computing environment, new IT resources are only ever a click away, which means you reduce the time it takes to make those resources available to your developers from weeks to just minutes. This results in a dramatic increase in agility for the organization, since the cost and time it takes to experiment and develop is significantly lower.”
Other benefits of cloud computing include:
- Data can be strategically located so it best serves customers
- Creating new services and tapping new markets that require data available on demand
- Greater system protection and backup capacity in case there’s a disaster or security breach on your premises
Security is a natural concern, but gone are the days when you could keep your data safe by locking it in a room— experienced hackers have no trouble finding holes in an under-secured system. “Cloud offerings have matured to the point where a lot of them are going to be much more secure and hardened against attacks than what the typical small business could do with their own IT assets,” Chickowski said, and recommended entrepreneurs to the Cloud Security Alliance for guidelines on how to evaluate cloud offerings for security.
Keep in mind that as security worries are being soothed, they’re being replaced by new concerns. According to the RightScale survey, compliance represents the largest challenge and continues to be an issue for 18 percent of cloud-focused users. Cost and performance are the second and third-largest challenges, respectively, and organizations are advised to keep an eye on those issues.
Chickowski warns against depending completely on smaller “pro-sumer” — which is a crossover market for professionals and consumers — software to support major initiatives. If there’s a tech failure or the vendor stops supporting a feature for any reason, you’re in trouble.
The Hybrid Approach to Cloud Computing
The survey showed that 74 percent of companies are taking a “hybrid” approach to cloud computing—moving information between their public and private cloud networks. Companies such as Microsoft and Amazon offer various combinations of services on their public cloud, service provider clouds or in the customer’s own clouds.
Don’t know where to start? Managed service providers or “cloud brokers” can help pick the right public and private mix for your needs, Chickowski says. She also advises entrepreneurs to take little steps toward their cloud strategy.
“Start small and work incrementally—just like any IT project, you’re asking for trouble if you do too much at once.”