Cloud computing for SMEs: bandwagon or good business strategy?

When U.S.-based made a prediction back in 2009 that SMEs would adopt cloud computing at a high rate, it was based on a survey that revealed 34% of small business respondents believed that cloud computing would evolve to impact their business in the next 12 months. Moreover, a quarter of the company leaders surveyed identified cloud computing as a priority, regardless of their business size. The reality that only 13% of small businesses are currently using cloud computing (according to the Enterprise Council on Small Business (ECSB) in its report Obstacles to Small Business Cloud Adoption) which is a far cry from past predictions. So what happened?

The answer lies in lack of awareness as well as confusion, says the ECSB. In its survey of small business owners, a full 30% of them said they were not aware of cloud computing and 36% said they didn't know enough about it to use it.

SME's top concerns about adopting cloud computing cited in the ECSB report include data security (35%) and privacy (34%). Ironically, good cloud service providers offer a better level of privacy and security than most SMEs have adopted internally.

Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company, echoes the state of confusion about hybrid cloud computing in its Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing, 2011 report. (It defines hybrid cloud computing as "the combination of external public cloud computing services and internal resources - either a private cloud or traditional infrastructure, operations and applications - in a coordinated fashion to assemble a particular solution.")

What cloud computing is
Some of this bewilderment may stem from the numerous forms of cloud computing in addition to the jargon. Here is some clarification:

In the most general terms, cloud computing means that applications, files and documents reside in an offsite data centre, not on your computer's hard drive, and you and your employees access them via the Internet. There are three main forms of cloud computing:

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Offsite storage or processing resources (like data storage, disaster recovery and servers) that you access via the Internet. You do not manage or control the infrastructure, but you do have control over your operating systems, applications, and programming frameworks.
  2. Software as a Service (SaaS) Applications or programs (like email and document creation) that are accessed via the web through various devices including computers and mobile phones. You do not manage or control the cloud infrastructure or application capabilities.
  3. Platform as a Service (PaaS). Lets you deploy applications that your company has developed onto the cloud infrastructure. Basically, businesses use virtualized servers and associated services for running existing applications or developing and testing new ones. You do not manage or control the underlying infrastructure, but have control over applications that are deployed.

Choosing one of these options will depend on your specific needs and budget.

What's a business to do?
While the cloud world can seem confusing and is quickly-changing, SME owners are wise to consider adopting it for a number of reasons:

  • Cost savings. One of the biggest advantages is eliminating the need to buy costly IT infrastructure, such as an expensive server. Plus, with all the choices out there, you don't have to migrate your entire IT department, but instead can pick and choose the services you want to outsource. An additional benefit is that you pay for only what you need - i.e. you can increase or decrease the amount of storage required to match the stage of your business. This is especially important for start-ups who want to avoid buying servers that may be under-utilized early on and overburdened when the business expands. PrimusCloud Server, for instance, minimizes your capital investment required by eliminating hardware and operational costs associated with purchasing and managing a physical infrastructure.
  • Security. If it's imperative for you to own your servers, and you want to retain complete control over the operation and maintenance of your equipment, then server colocation may be the answer. By utilizing Primus Server Colocation services, you are in control while, at the same time, enjoy the luxury of having 24/7 technicians monitor Primus also offers dedicated server options or custom Private Cloud infrastructure services to support your infrastructure needs, no matter what they are.].
  • Agility. The need to quickly respond to business demands is imperative in this new age. Waiting six to eight weeks for a new server deployment is unacceptable. By leveraging server resources in the cloud, you are able to quickly scale to meet the needs of your expanding business. PrimusCloud Server, for example, allows you to turn up new servers within days as opposed to weeks.
  • Disaster recovery. Data stored in a cloud does not suffer fire damage or theft. There are numerous Primus Business Services that keep companies' websites, servers, and mission critical applications connected and secure. And Primus Hosted PBX gives everyone the option of working at home in case of disaster.
  • Staff utilization. Using a cloud computing provider essentially offloads the headaches of running and maintaining certain IT services, ensuring you and your employees can focus time on more productive tasks. No more excessive downtime. No more having to be your own IT staff. No more data security concerns.

There may be a lot of hype out there about cloud computing. But hype doesn't always mean that something is simply a passing fad. It's obvious that more and more companies - large and small - will see the advantages and adopt various forms of the cloud. Still confused? Talk to a reputable cloud service provider about your needs and hear what they recommend. A vendor who gives you accurate, precise and relevant information will help you build a strategy that can help you save money and stay ahead of your competition.