What is the Cloud Anyway?

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The business and technology world is buzzing with the word “cloud”. You’re pretty sure that it could benefit your business – but you’re not really positive exactly how. Let’s take a step back for minute and ask what is probably the most relevant question of all: Do you really know what the cloud is? Really? An interesting survey that came out of Australia says that most small business owners don’t know what the cloud is. Of their 1000 respondents, 35% of Gen Y business owners pretend to know more about the cloud than they actually do.Here are some more interesting stats from the article:

  • 98% of business owners who say they are not using cloud computing, actually are
  • 90% of small business owners say they have a limited understanding of cloud computing
  • Only 19% of small business owners say they’re currently using cloud computing within their business
  • 88% believe there are benefits to cloud computing, with 73% believing cloud computing would be of benefit to their busines
  • 45% of small business owners say they are likely to introduce cloud computing technology into their business in the future

What’s the trend here? People might think they know the cloud, but actually have no idea what the cloud is. If you’re wondering if you understand exactly what the cloud is and how it can help your business, read on. We’ve got some answers to your questions.

Local Storage and Application Hosting is in the Past.

iStock_000043415606_SmallDo you remember the old way of doing things? You may or may not have a large room full of servers in your organization that houses all your data. If you have internal IT resources, they likely are charged with backing up that data and making sure that if a server goes down that they have everything they need to get your business back up and running. You might even pay for co-location of that data, which means that it also gets backed up to an offsite server. This is costly, but you have to pay for security, particularly if you’re in an area prone to natural disasters (ahem, hurricanes the Southeast). Now, consider if you could eliminate all the work associated with all of those servers. It might be worth considering, right? Now consider your applications. Do you have a line of business application that is installed on all your workstations? Even a small business application like Quickbooks – you likely paid hundreds or thousands to have all the right licensing and add-ons. The problem is, if you leave the office, you don’t have access to that software. But with the cloud, your application could be hosted entirely on a cloud server and accessible from anywhere, expanding your options when it comes to workflows and providing flexibility for employees.  Add the two together and it becomes clear that hosting your data and applications onsite is a thing of the past. On top of this, you eliminate the ever-burdensome 3-5 year capital reinvestment in infrastructure as the cloud can grow with you and is updated in real time with the latest software and hardware.

So, why isn’t everyone using the cloud?
Fantastic question. There are a few reasons for that. For one, many business owners are like yourself. Let’s not forget that most people do not trust new technology and it takes a lot of innovators to step into a new technology before everyone will adopt it. But many predictions put most businesses in the cloud by 2020, so if you’re not already making moves and doing research you’re likely to be left behind. That’s not the only reason, though. The truth is that the cloud isn’t a good fit for every business. Key considerations such as total storage requirements, specific application compatibilities, and internet connectivity can make or break a cloud migration strategy. Be sure you understand the factors before you rush into a cloud migration.

Am I already using the cloud?
The most ironic part of business owners’ hesitation to switch to the cloud is that they’re already using it in everyday business. What are some examples of this?

  • Cloud hosted e-mail. If you sign in to Google mail or any other web mail service, that is hosted entirely in the cloud. You don’t have anything local that stores your e-mails, they’re stored on Google’s servers and Google invests millions of dollars to maintain those servers and ensure their security.
  • VoIP. If you have a new business class VoIP phone system, you are likely using the cloud. Many VoIP providers pass data through the cloud rather than having a device on location to manage extensions and voicemail data.
  • Business Applications. Web-based software applications like Salesforce.com, Quickbooks Online and project management software Basecamp are perfect examples cloud applications. If you’re already using them, then congratulations, you’re in the cloud.
  • Online Storage. Services such as Dropbox and Box.com are examples of cloud-based storage solutions that millions use for both personal and business purposes every day.

The cloud is new for many business owners and just like you make a full assessment of your IT provider, any equipment you buy and even new employees that you bring on, you have to do your diligence. Take the time to fully understand the cloud before you start. Just like anything else, don’t make the decision on your own. Read articles, download resources that can help and ultimately request the help of a cloud consultant to assess whether your business is well suited for the cloud.

It’s not always easy to innovate, but sometimes that’s just what your business needs.