As new technology advances, businesses which adapt to – and adopt – new advancements thrive and ultimately drive out competition which doesn’t follow suit. An integral part of these technological advancements is incorporating “The Cloud” into their arsenal of tech tools.
It may seem hard to trust something so ethereal, but The Cloud is clearly driving small businesses – and their capacities – forward according to experts in the field.
So, why – and how – are small businesses using The Cloud to their benefit?
What is The Cloud?
At the heart of it, cloud computing is when one business provides hardware (servers), networks, software (programming), and their protection via the internet as a service to another – one whom would otherwise have to spend more resources to acquire each of these components separately.
AWS (Amazon Web Services) – which provides 90% of the world’s public cloud services – famously compares the idea to providing electric services to homes or buildings.
The concept is that one can source their own energy using windmills or solar panels, just as a company can build their own IT infrastructure, buy their own hardware, and maintain their own software.
But the time, money, and effort to do so most likely isn’t worth it. It’s easier and more cost-effective to have someone else provide electricity – or, in the case of The Cloud – provide IT systems, storage, and their protection.
From vapor to ice cube: the solid aspects of The Cloud
Contrary to the name’s implication, The Cloud utilizes very material hardware stored in a physical location. For example, there are “server farms” within data centers – huge warehouses, usually located in rural areas – full of servers that run 24/7.
A few of the big names like Google, Microsoft, and Apple utilize cloud campuses, or a collection of data centers clustered within a specific site.
Cloud providers can use servers physically housed anywhere in the world (and often outsource them). They typically will back up data on multiple servers so if disaster strikes, the data or running system is still safe. But don’t worry – there’s hardly a disaster these centers can’t handle.
For example, Salesforce’s data center arms itself against physical attacks with bullet resistance, vehicle barriers, alarm systems, T.V. coverage, manned guard stations, and access limited by biometric scans and cages. The buildings can withstand harsh weather, natural disasters, employ guards 24/7 and have on-site backup generators.
In summary, the data centers are the back-end to the front-end users see when accessing The Cloud from their interface.
The Cloud is comprised of a few key characteristics:
- It’s elastic in nature. AWS calls this “pay as you go.” This means capacity isn’t limited to that of one particular server, but it can expand or shrink depending on demand. This extends to adding or taking away particular features of a service. In terms of the electricity model, one pays only for the electricity they use but has seemingly unlimited electricity available to them.
- It allows for self-service so users can easily acquire more storage or more computing abilities without having to request them from a customer service person.
- There’s a pool of resources When a company isn’t using certain storage space anymore, that space can then be used by a different company. Perhaps Company A paid less one month while Company B paid more that month, but the Cloud Service Provider utilized the same amount of storage altogether. This type of storage allocation means The Cloud is quite eco-friendly, as many users efficiently share large systems.
- It has a high level of accessibility. Information and system capabilities aren’t strictly located to one server in the office anymore. Instead, they’re available on any device – including mobile devices – anytime, anywhere. Well, any time and place with access to the internet, that is.
- It’s seamless. No matter who’s looking at it or from which device – or place – it looks the same. Updates happen instantaneously across the board for all users.
Benefits of the Cloud for Small Businesses
There are two major concerns when it comes to data security: the data will either be lost or stolen. With localized data storage, there are a plethora of imaginable possibilities for how either could happen: natural disasters, fires, mistakes made by employees, hackers infiltrating, employees hacking their own company, etc.
Again, the illusive “cloud” analogy can make it hard to imagine how much safer utilizing The Cloud can be – however, it’s the absolute safest place to store your private or company data. Cloud providers must splurge on IT security because their very business is built upon creating and upholding client trust.
They’re trusted by the most profitable businesses and banks in the world – businesses which can’t afford a security breach in the slightest. Aside from the above-mentioned security measures placed on the physical Cloud computing equipment, Cloud providers also hire the best in the business when it comes to cyber security.
They hire hackers to protect against hackers to fully ensure any leaks are clogged immediately. They can also back up data more thoroughly. This level of expertise would be hard for a company to afford or find on their own. In fact, there’s a large disparity between supply and demand for cyber security experts in the market now.
2] Costs and Scalability
With the “pay as you go” model, small businesses only pay for the services (and the amount) they use. Running on their own, the company would have to either buy more than they need (unnecessarily spending extra money) or not buy enough and risk a system crash.
Or, the company may want a system update or to add a new component as their business grows and changes. Without The Cloud, the company would have to re-invest in new hardware and software, as well as the man-power to re-develop it.
However, The Cloud System allows it to instantly add or take away these components as it deems necessary and provides the latest, greatest updates to its clients. This adds to a businesses’ efficiency as well, as staff members can focus more on doing their jobs.
3] Convenience and Collaboration
BYOD culture has become increasingly popular lately, and utilization of The Cloud has helped foster it. Can you imagine chasing colleagues for their flash drives to work on a project?
Employees can now work remotely from any location – especially handy for traveling workers and those who can use their mobile devices when a job requires them to be on-site.
Workers can share project information and data in real-time which maximizes their efficiency and helps their growth as a team.
4] Real-Time Data
Data entered or analyzed by software is updated and can be downloaded in seconds from anywhere. For example, management can check on company stats or look at information being entered by their team members. This applies to client information, as well.
CRM tools are especially effective by updating the client information, drawing relationships between the bits of information, and analyzing trends in effectiveness. The system is constantly updated as one cohesive unit without having to wait for everyone to be in the office at the same time and place.
As the definition of The Cloud broadens, we realize we have been using it in some form or another for quite a while. An ideal example is the humble email account. The emails are stored somewhere ‘up in the internet’ (or on a server in a datacenter, as we now know better) instead of being stored on a local desktop or any hard-drive for that matter.
Cloud storage has revolutionized the use of computing systems by anyone, but especially by businesses. It has increased efficiency, cut costs, and expanded possibilities for smaller companies by giving them access to tools they’d otherwise not have. Even when it comes to technology and business, pooling resources proves to lead to greater productivity for all.