Cloud computing is the use of applications that are housed on servers outside of a business’s location and accessed using the Internet. Instead of deploying servers internally and building a network infrastructure within their walls, companies contract with a cloud-computing provider that hosts the applications.
“Cloud computing is a key component of any company’s infrastructure these days, whether you’re Fortune 500 or a sole proprietorship,” says Eric Folkman, manager of managed services at Blue Technologies. “There’s a piece of it now that can fit pretty much any company. It wasn’t that way a few years ago, but the technology has progressed and the costs have come down so far that there’s something there for everybody.”
Smart Business spoke with Folkman about getting started with cloud computing.
Why should you look into utilizing the cloud to help your company?
Three simple reasons are:
- Financial benefits.
- Increased availability of data, whether for your employees or the public.
- Reducing your disaster risk with some form of backup.
What specifically can be taken to the cloud?
The ability to move applications to the cloud has exploded. It may sound cliché, but the better question might be: What can’t you take to the cloud?
Some applications are better than others in the cloud environment, such as email, financial systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, data backup and Microsoft Office-type products like Word and Excel. In addition, voice is gaining popularity, which works by routing your phones through the Internet. This can reduce your business phone bills and provide flexibility to telecom costs.
When is the right time to go to the cloud?
It depends on the situation, but anytime a company is considering a major change to its technology — whether a server upgrade or application change — that’s an appropriate time to consider the cloud.
Here’s a scenario I run across three or four times a week: A company is running an older, internal email server and decides to upgrade. It could spend tens of thousands of dollars on hardware, software licensing and implementation. The business gets an upgraded server but still has maintenance costs, security risks and the potential for downtime if something happens to the physical servers.
The alternative is to host email through the cloud. There’s no need to secure and maintain an internal server, and email is more accessible via the Internet. There’s also no disaster recovery component — you know the provider has mechanisms to keep your data safe. However, sometimes you have so many users going to the cloud that it doesn’t make sense, as opposed to doing it in-house, from a cost perspective.
What’s an easy way to get started?
Cloud-based data backup is a low-cost, low-risk way for a company to dip its toe in the water. Companies see savings quickly and don’t have to mess with tapes and the risk of someone (usually the receptionist) manually rotating tapes off-site. Although there are some configuration changes, it’s not a mission-critical application.
Email and a CRM, like salesforce.com, are two others to consider doing sooner rather than later with a quick payback.
How is the value of cloud usage measured?
Like any business process, do your homework and build a business case. Not every company is perfect for it, but it’s an option executives should at least look at. It can be difficult and cumbersome to figure out if you’re not familiar with IT and don’t understand all the pros and cons of the cloud environment. A little advice in the beginning could really help get you beyond the learning curve.
Once you’re using the cloud, many providers offer advanced reporting and monitoring tools, so if something goes wrong you can take corrective action. For instance, most backup providers offer a dashboard. You can see how many computers are backing up, how much from each, how long it takes, how many failed to back up, etc. You also want your cloud contracts to include flexibility to add services or make changes as needed.
Eric Folkman is manager of managed services at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or email@example.com.
Blue Technologies offers further insight on this and other topics affecting businesses on its blog. Learn more by visiting www.btohio.com/news-resources.
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