Lifting the lid on cloud computingPosted by Jason Hawkins / June 7, 2011
Cloud computing is definitely the new new thing in IT, but there’s a lot of ‘cloudiness’ about what it actually is. Here’s a short rundown of what we think cloud computing is (not everybody will agree) and what impact it will have on your business.
Cloud computing really refers to any ‘computing’ that takes place somewhere on the internet, as opposed to on a physical computer or server located somewhere in your building. Back in 2008 Larry Ellison (head honcho at Oracle) spat the dummy, saying he didn’t understand the distinction of cloud computing, since all software and data had to reside on a physical machinery somewhere – it was just a question of where. But cloud computing has not gone away, and is generally regarded as any software running ‘off premises’ that you access via the internet.
There are officially many different types of cloud computing, but the two main ones for most businesses are called ‘Software-as-a-Service’ (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). SaaS is software you can access from your computer just using your internet browser. Instead of buying the software you generally pay a monthly fee depending on the amount of use you make of the software. Examples of SaaS would include email marketing systems like Mailchimp and Constant Contact and contact management systems/databases like Salesforce. You could even argue that online email services like Hotmail and Yahoo! were SaaS applications.
IaaS on the other hand is a complete replacement for a server or set of servers, just accessible via the internet. You in effect ‘rent’ the computing power and disk space you need and all transactions take place over the internet. The benefit of IaaS is that you can scale up and scale down depending on what you need and pay just for that. Another important benefit is that you don’t have to make a capital investment in more computers, you just ‘rent’ the facility. A lead global provider of this sort of service is Amazon, and there are a number of local Australian companies now offering this service locally.
Cloud computing offers real benefits over conventional software applications – you can access cloud systems from wherever you are 24/7 as long as you have an internet connection and it’s really easy to trial new systems. And, particularly in the SaaS space, there are so many great applications to choose from.
Here are the main benefits we see for small business:
- Most cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) focuses on solving one or two business functions and isn’t bloated with unnecessary features. This results in tools that are usually easy to learn and assess whether they are a good match
- The low cost entry means that small business can integrate powerful software into their business that otherwise would be out of reach
- The monthly subscription approach is great for cashflow management
- Web access means your business is instantly mobile and not having to rely on slow (and flaky) VPN access back to the office server
- Cloud means flexible – the software can expand and contract with the needs of your business
- It is up the SaaS vendor to keep systems and software running and bug free, meaning less strain on your IT support budget
Here are some possible issues to watch out for, though:
- Security is an important concern. During the assessment phase, ensure that the vendor is compliant and has systems in place to keep your data safe and sound. If you are unsure – ask
- Support: due to the low cost of entry, some vendors only offer email support or in some cases no support at all! One tip is to engage the provider early in purchasing decision and test out their response times
- Performance: cloud software is designed for expansion, but if the service isn’t backed by solid infrastructure during busy times, the system can slow and disappoint
Cloud computing is here to stay, and allows small companies to compete with the big guys. As long as you keep the points above in mind, adopting cloud computing solutions can be a real help to your business.
Some useful cloud services worth checking out:
- Document Management: ourdisk.com (disclosure – this is our product!)
- To-do’s: Nozbe.com
- Accounting software: xero.com
- Project Management: Basecamp – basecamphq.com
- Sales & Customer Relationship Management: salesforce.com
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Image Credit: www.freefoto.com
About the authors:
Jason Hawkins is a senior application strategist, information architect and director at KND. His knowledge is based on years of industry experience in taking online application ideas to reality across a broad range of industries.
KND are web and digital professionals with over 10 years in the business. We specialise in web, cloud and mobile apps, eMarketing and SEO strategy, servers, hosting and design. We work closely with out clients to achieve successful outcomes. Call us today (+61 7 3832 4077) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss your next project.