A fairly new phenomenon and taking the business world by storm, is that of cloud computing. With a range of applications from business plan writing to small business accounting software, stock management, word processing, budgeting and a hoist more, small businesses especially can only benefit from the flexible availability that this technology provides us. Cloud computing gives business a way of managing data, hardware and software requirements using resources on the internet. Documents, emails, customer information, business applications and other assets are all stored online - 'in the cloud'. This makes them accessible from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection and a web browser.
A very simple example of cloud computing are email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail or Google. Instead of running an email client locally on your computer, you access your emails from any computer, anywhere in the world, by logging on to your account over the internet.
Software as a service is one of the most common forms of cloud computing. Examples of web-based software that's available 'in the cloud' include services like office software, customer relationship management systems and tools that support collaborative working.
Cloud computing gives greater flexibility, letting you adapt your IT needs to meet the changing requirements of your business and the market place. For more information see our guide on cloud computing.
The advantages of cloud computing include:
- reduced IT costs - including capital expenditure and operational costs
- the use of a 'pay-as-you-go', subscription-based business model
- scalability of service to meet your business requirements
- access to the latest technology over the internet because it's a hosted solution
- more flexible working practices - eg mobile and virtual working
- enterprise-level back-up through professionally managed data centres
- a more environmentally friendly approach - eg reduced utility costs and hardware redundancy
The disadvantages of cloud computing include:
- Data protection - loss of data by service providers, unauthorised access to your data, or malicious activity like hackers or viruses tageting providers.
- Business continuity - it is possible for service providers to lose data, suffer denial of service attacks, or go out of business. How will you manage such risks and how will you minimise the impact on your business?
- Service 'lock-in' - it may be difficult to change providers once you have committed to a service. When choosing a service provider, look for an established product from a reputable vendor. You should also look at the contractual and technical restrictions that may affect future software decisions.
See our guide on how to comply with data protection legislation.
With cloud services, it is no longer necessary to install and set up software across the business yourself. All your 'business applications' will be provided and managed over the internet. This differs to the more traditional approach of managing all your IT requirements, both software and hardware, inhouse.
Cloud computing can help businesses make the most of limited IT budgets, while the level of professional support they provide can help the business develop more quickly. However, cloud computing may not be suitable for every business - so look at piloting cloud services with non-critical applications or business processes first.