This year’s State of the Cloud report found that the majority of businesses have adopted cloud computing in some form. In fact, 93 per cent of the organisations surveyed are employing cloud-based applications or experimenting with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
However, it is important to remember that the cloud is not a one-size-fits-all solution. SMBs (Small and Midsized Businesses), in particular, need to carefully assess which particular cloud approach is right for them to ensure that already-stretched IT budgets are not wasted.
With that in mind, SMBs need to be aware of the various ways that they can use the cloud to enhance their organisation. First of all, companies must assess whether a public, private, or hybrid cloud approach is the right way to go. The public cloud relies on third-party suppliers which usually offer a number of benefits, but also come with added security risks. A private cloud approach, meanwhile, offers less flexibility. Increasingly, SMBs are turning towards hybrid cloud platforms that look to encapsulate the benefits of both the public and private cloud ecosystems.
Once IT leaders have decided on the cloud format that best suits their company, they can start to benefit from the many uses of cloud technology.
One of the cloud’s foremost uses is lowering IT budgets. If SMBs use an external vendor for their cloud needs, often they will sign up for an operational expense (OpEX) payment model. Essentially this means that large upfront hardware and software costs, which are often prohibitive for smaller firms, are avoided. Instead, a subscription service is implemented that avoids long term financial commitments.
Another financial benefit of the cloud is that hardware maintenance and software updates are all carried out off-premise and are the responsibility of the cloud supplier. This means that IT departments can make significant reductions on their maintenance outgoings.
SMBs should shop around to see which cloud vendor is offering the most cost-effective service. Google Apps for Business, IBM, Microsoft’s Office 365 and many other suppliers offer businesses entire suites of cloud applications, so it may work out cheaper to get as many services as possible from one vendor. The ability to consolidate software under one package is one the cloud’s main benefits.
Another benefit of using the cloud is achieving added business agility. Today’s fast moving digital world requires companies to react quickly and seamlessly to change, something that can be easily facilitated by the cloud.
Organisations can leverage the cloud to test new software solutions and bring applications to market quicker than ever before. Adopting a hybrid cloud approach can also help businesses achieve scalability without significant disruption. For example, SMBs are able to transition between private and public servers seamlessly in order to acquire more bandwidth and accommodate usage spikes. With traditional on-premise solutions, businesses may require time-consuming and expensive overhauls in order to scale their operations.
In this sense, the cloud also enables SMBs to gain a competitive edge on their rivals. By lowering costs and enabling greater agility, medium-sized businesses and startups are able to more readily challenge established players, making for a more competitive and, ultimately healthy, enterprise market.
While the cloud also enables SMBs to implement agile solutions to present-day problems, it also ensures that businesses are future-proofed against unexpected innovations. The Internet of Things (IoT) is just one example of a coming technology predicted to cause mass disruption across a multitude of industries. By having a robust cloud infrastructure in place today, SMBs can prepare for this and many other innovations safe in the knowledge that they can react to unforeseen change.
The cloud enables more mobile business solutions, fostering greater employee satisfaction and productivity, which is ideal for most SMBs.
Today members of staff, clients and customers demand a business environment that allows work to take place on multiple devices, with fluid movement between PCs, tablets and mobiles. Cloud computing enables this level of mobility by hosting files and applications externally, allowing them to be accessed and modified in real time across several devices.
Similarly, the cloud can work wonders for SMBs that have offices in multiple locations, perhaps in several countries. The cloud makes sharing information a far easier task than using on-premise technology. Often employees will simply need to send a link or the location of the file in order to share their work with a colleague, meaning the days of huge email attachments crashing inboxes should be relegated to the past.
SMBs should also consider the cloud when it comes to their storage options. Firms of any size will want to ensure that the files and applications they need are easily accessible at all times, but finding space for this information can be difficult and often comes at a cost.
Cloud storage providers offer significant savings when compared to local systems, coupled with easy access wherever your employees are based. Security regulations may mean that businesses must keep certain types of data in-house at all times, but it is likely that a cloud solution could still be effective in some way. Marketing materials, for example, which are usually made up of images, as well as audio and video content, can take up a lot of server space and may be better placed in the cloud.
Furthermore, although security is often viewed as one of cloud computing’s major drawbacks, many third-party suppliers are working hard to tackle this perception. Some cloud providers now offer encryption free-of-charge, meaning that they are not aware of what files they are hosting and ensuring your privacy is protected.
Cloud storage also offers SMBs added peace of mind in the event of system failure or any other local issue. By backing up your data off-site, businesses are covered in the event of technical issues, making the recovery task much more straightforward.
The cloud can also serve SMBs that are looking to integrate new applications into existing services.
The majority of cloud computing software packages use an Application Programming Interface, or API. Cloud APIs enable apps to request data and other resources from multiple services either directly or indirectly, making for a more connected business experience.
SMBs may find that by adopting the cloud, applications are already compatible with their existing infrastructure, and do not need to be modified in order to enable integration, saving businesses time and money.
Companies will have to assess whether cross-platform APIs, which are more flexible but could have reduced functionality, are right for them or if vendor-specific interfaces would be more suitable.
For the more environmentally-conscious companies out there, cloud computing can also offer a greener approach to business growth, without compromising on success.
Instead of operating on-premise servers, which must be larger than necessary to accommodate expansion and peak work flows, the cloud enables businesses to only occupy the server space that they need, improving efficiency and lowering their energy output.
A 2013 report found that in a small business environment, server utilisation rates lie between 5 and 10 per cent, compared to 60 to 70 per cent for cloud-based shared data centres. This means a lot of energy, and money, wasted for on-premise solutions.
Cloud service suppliers can also implement more efficient server layouts that are difficult for internal server rooms to replicate, allowing data centres to run more efficiently with a lower carbon footprint.
Although most SMBs are already utilising the cloud in some way, it is important for IT leaders to constantly reassess the technology at their disposal to distinguish whether an in-house or third-party approach is best for their business. There are many potential uses for the cloud, so it’s all about choosing the right one for your organisation.