Cloud Computing: How Can it Boost your Business?
Expert advice on how cloud computing can increase your business profitability, efficiency and chances of success
Jack Bedell-Pearce of 4D Hosting talks about how to move a small business to the cloud and how this can boost efficiency and cut costs.
To run a successful business today, organisations need to cut costs, improve margins, grow revenue, overcome competitive threats and comply with new regulations, to list a few. They have to develop their IT systems so they can step up to the plate with new and improved services that help address these issues as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Meantime, increasing customer demands make rapid service delivery all the more critical, so where does the cloud fit in and how can it boost profits?
Defining the cloud
The term ‘cloud computing’ was inspired by the cloud symbol that’s often used to represent the internet in charts and diagrams. Broadly speaking it refers to anything that involves delivering hosted services over the internet; it is typically sold on demand, by the minute or hour.
Cloud services are broadly divided into three categories:
IaaS, PaaS and SaaS
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is where a service provide will manage the underlying hardware (servers, storage and networking) to provide virtual servers that sit on top of this that the users have full administrative accessto. Users are then able to install their own operating systems onto these virtual servers and manage them as if they were running their own physical hardware. Examples of IaaS include Amazon AWS.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is one step further than IaaS and also includes the operating system, as well as any applications deployed on top of it allowing the user the run their own software. This means developers can create applications on the provider’s platform without having to worry about managing anything that runs in the background to support their applications. GoogleApps is a good example of PaaS.
Software-as-a-service is the model most often used by small businesses. The vendor supplies the hardware infrastructure, the software product and interacts with the user through a front-end portal. Because the service provider hosts both the application and the data, the end user is free to use the service from anywhere. Salesforce, Kashflow and Googlemail are examples of SaaS.
How can the cloud help your business?
- Flexibility – Cloud computing can give increased flexibility. Cloud applications let staff access files using web-enabled devices such as smartphones, laptops and notebooks. Ease of sharing documents and other files over the internet can also help internal and external collaboration.
- Scalability – One of the key benefits of using cloud computing is its scalability. It allows your business to upscale or downscale easily, as and when required.
- Cost savings – Pay-for-what-you-use or pay-per-user are fundamental elements of cloud computing. You no longer have to purchase expensive servers; software licences are factored into the cloud cost and no manpower is needed to maintain the systems. A 2013 survey suggested that 88% of people who have adopted cloud services have seen cost savings within their IT spend.
- Access to enterprise – class services – Small businesses often have little chance of affording enterprise-level software, but with the cloud model all businesses can have their slice of software, even on a small IT budget.
Tips on moving to the cloud
- Identify the types of application you need to run within the cloud and what type of cloud you need (i.e. Do you need access to the servers and operating system or do you want the provider to look after it all?)
- Shortlist a few providers and ask to speak to their clients about their experiences with moving to the cloud and using their platform.
- Service Level Agreement – Cloud providers have various SLAs. You need to consider the uptime guarantee and what infrastructure it has to keep your business operational.
- Data – Where will your data be held: in the UK or overseas? Does the location have any implications for your business’s data integrity? Or for the delivery speed? Also look at the guarantees made by your cloud provider for availability of your data.
The benefits from savings on personnel, hardware and software, plus its suitability for a workforce that is increasingly on the move, are compelling reasons to consider putting your IT systems in the cloud.
Jack Bedell-Pearce is the Managing Director of 4D Hosting.