Small businesses have always had an inherent disadvantage when it comes to survival in their respective markets. In their earliest days, they simply don’t have the resources to compete with their larger, more established competitors. While they may boast a better service model or offer consumers a more thorough or comprehensive solution, those claims are often drowned out by the marketing presence of the big boys.
Thus, it becomes imperative for small business owners and executives to not only work harder, but smarter, as well. One factor that goes a long way in determining the long-term viability of a company is its virtual resources. Being able to support operations and meet customer demands through reliable internal applications and tools is a necessity, as is having the capacity to ensure the security of a company’s business-critical data. For big businesses, this isn’t a problem; they’ll often have the resources needed to maintain their own dedicated IT staffs in order to support their own private networks.
Small businesses, on the other hand, need to be able to offer the same promise of network reliability and data integrity without having access to the same resources. How, then, can they compete? The answer lies in looking to the clouds (or, more specifically, the Cloud).
The Story of the Cloud
What is the Cloud? That’s a good question. One could say that it’s simply another metaphor used to describe the Internet. Yet when people throw the term “the Cloud” out there, they’re typically referring to the concept of cloud computing. While the actual mass application of cloud computing is still relatively new, the idea of it dates all the way back to 1960’s. It was then that forward thinking developers first began to propose the idea of data access being managed as though it were a public utility, only with users being able to pull information from any site, anywhere. However, it was not until the Internet started to offer high enough bandwidth that delivering enterprise applications via the web became possible. Since that time, developments such as universal high-speed bandwidth and software interoperability standards, as well as improved virtualization allow for smaller companies to rent online resources on which they can run both their own applications, as well as the browser-based apps supplied by their providers.
Today’s cloud computing services offer clients two distinct elements:
- The ability to store and access information over the Internet as opposed to a local hard drive or server.
- The opportunity to “rent” hosting and IT services rather than expending resources on increasing personnel or investing in increased infrastructure.
Many hear this and believe that it sounds just like a traditional web hosting service. However, cloud computing differs in three ways:
- Services are available “on demand.”
- Users can use as much or as little space as they want.
- All services are fully managed by the cloud computing provider.
Clients have the option to utilize the Cloud as a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, which offers specific programs and desktop applications. However, to truly capitalize on all cloud computing offers, many recommended combining PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) service packages. This allows clients to utilize the software packages of their choice to create customized web-based applications for internal use, while also enjoying the added benefits of remote access to server space, data storage device management, and other IT resources.
Small Business Advantages
So what makes cloud computing ideal for small businesses? Well, first and foremost are the costs. Storing and managing data from the Cloud means not having to worry about increasing server rack space on-site. This translates to money saved from less energy consumed and not having to pay to increase one’s own personal IT staff. Plus, the web-based applications offered through Cloud are updated regularly, meaning that one no longer has to worry about constantly replaced outdated programs and other technologies.
Then there’s increased access that cloud computing offers. Whenever files and/or applications are stored on a personal computer or in-house server, they can only be accessed, saved, and modified from that location. When those same elements are available on the Cloud, all one needs to access then is an Internet connection. This allows for improved collaboration as multiple people can access and modify the same information from separate locations. For small businesses that are constantly on the go trying to secure new clients or increased resources, this allows for excellent out-of-office connectivity.
Some may hear of the ability to access information from anywhere and think that poses a security concern. However, encryption protocols put in place by the Cloud services provider help to prevent unauthorized access. Anyone wishing to view information must have the proper credentials.
Speaking specifically of security, cloud computing can actually help to eliminate concerns by removing the risk of data loss if and when devices are lost or stolen. Security personnel from airports, train depots, and hotels report that every year in the U.S., millions of devices are left behind by business travelers in a hurry. For companies that utilize cloud computing, those devices will typically not contain any sensitive information. Rather, they’re simply the tools used to access the information in the Cloud.
Having one’s information on the Cloud offers further protection from data loss in that if a business experiences a failure with its on-site server, all of their information is still available to them through their rented virtual server space.
Finally, the ability to rent Cloud server space makes this service easily scalable to meet an individual business’ needs. If a company finds that not all of its space is being utilized, they can simply downsize their service. Conversely, as the company grows, it can easily rent more space, as well as get access to improved tools to help support the new demands on its internal operations.
In today’s business world, being able to run a reliable business network while also maintaining data integrity is the key to developing a strong presence within a particular market. Those small businesses that are able to do so without having to dedicate a good portion of their working capital towards developing and maintaining an on-site network infrastructure are set up well for success. Cloud computing makes all of this possible. Utilizing it allows a company to level the playing field with its competitors through more efficient and effective operating solutions.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community