More and more companies are turning to cloud computing, an umbrella term that groups together cloud backup, software as a service (SaaS), desktop as a service (DaaS), and cloud storage for small businesses, among other solutions. It’s a trend that makes sense: there are numerous benefits to adopting cloud computing, from the financial to the logistical and operational.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the many ways switching to the cloud can serve small businesses, as well as some of the common hurdles that can come up.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a catch-all term for technical, computational, and professional services provided to businesses over the internet.
These can range from infrastructure as a service (IaaS) models - where raw computing power and storage is made available with little or no underlying virtual environment - to platforms as a service (PaaS) and DaaS, which enable businesses to build their own cloud applications in a ready-made environment; and software as a service (SaaS), in which companies lease the use of fully functional applications.
A huge number of businesses now rely on cloud computing, and platforms like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft 365, and IBM Cloud power countless products and services around the world, alongside others providing elements including cloud storage, for small businesses and larger corporations.
Unsurprisingly, one of the most attractive benefits is the promise of reduced costs, something cloud computing can provide in a number of ways.
First, it frees small businesses from having to make significant investments in costly hardware and the staff necessary to maintain it. Rather than purchasing components, small businesses get on-demand access to industry-leading computing power and storage. Cloud vendors invest in top-of-the-line components, and lease out resources as needed. Small businesses can thus enjoy quick and reliable applications and computational power, without the hefty price tag.
This also means businesses can shift spending from a capital expenses (CapEx) model to an operational (OpEx) one. CapEx refers to major purchases intended to bring long-term returns on investment, but can be problematic for small businesses where managing cash flow is a big priority. OpEx, or “day-to-day” expenses, are much easier to manage, and are also tax-deductible in the year they’re incurred.
Finally, by choosing the right cloud services, IT costs can be greatly reduced by easing pressure on this department and shifting focus from problem-solving to innovation. This requires careful planning, however, as not all cloud services are fully interoperable. Some businesses fail to get this right, which can cause some headaches down the line. However, those that take the time to develop a strong multi-cloud approach can reap the many benefits.
There are many cloud services available to improve your business’s operations. Unified communications as a service (UCaas) providers, for example, can help businesses develop streamlined, efficient, cost-effective workflows within and between departments.
Facilitating the flow of data and eliminating the stumbling blocks that impede collaboration can have profound and widespread effects on a company and its people. It boosts morale, encourages innovation and cooperation, and can dramatically reduce the costs of doing business. In fact, studies have shown that poor communications can cost small- and medium-sized businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Businesses that opt for the rawer form of cloud computing, choosing to build their own applications on a PaaS or custom cloud environment on an IaaS, can take this even further by ensuring all the many moving parts of an employee’s or department’s day-to-day operations fit together properly.
This kind of approach requires massive investments in time, money, and IT resources, however, and can’t be managed by most small businesses. Instead, they should focus on building out clearly defined workflows that make the best possible use of the applications on offer, keeping usability and efficiency at the fore.
Easy, remote access
Remote working is another growing trend, not least due to stay-at-home orders worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is largely made possible thanks to cloud computing and cloud services.
The sophistication of cloud-based remote desktop applications, desktop as a service, cloud storage, and cloud collaboration platforms like Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, and Google Workspace has reached a point where there really are no more hurdles to remote working than those set by a business’s own operations.
Almost all cloud services are available on responsive websites that handle well on desktops, tablets, and smartphones, or as native applications thereof. This makes it easier for small businesses to support a distributed team, the benefits of which are manifold.
Scalability and flexibility
Because most cloud computing pricing plans adopt a pay-as-you-go or pay-what-you-use scheme, it makes it incredibly easy for businesses to scale as they go and respond with agility to sudden spikes in the need for resources.
Scalability is one of the primary benefits to using a cloud service. Vendors have huge amounts of computing resources at their disposal, and will easily (and happily) respond to requests for more power, more space, and more bandwidth. Pricing also tends to favor larger clients, so as a business’s operations grow, its operational costs can actually fall in relation to overall revenue.
But as any small business can tell you, growth is rarely linear. In the past, responding to unforeseen or temporary increases in demand posed a serious problem. Companies were either forced to make capital expenditures on resources that would fail to bring long-term returns on investment, or forego capitalizing on such opportunities.
With cloud computing, small businesses can respond with agility to increased demand, scaling operations up and down as needed.
Finally, cloud services, and cloud computing in general, have been designed to provide high levels of security. This is essential to the trust that customers place in a cloud service provider, and is something vendors are willing to invest heavily in.
After all, no business is going to spend money on a service that’s been shown to be insecure and a liability. In cases where that’s happened, vendors either make changes quickly or fail to keep their share of the market.
That being said, businesses are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a cloud provider. This is another area where it pays to do research, as some vendors offer more security than others. Of course, it’s important to think not only about competitors and hackers, but just how much information you want providers to be able to see as well.
Encryption during transmission and storage are key, but so is proper training and ensuring that best security practices are implemented company-wide. Usually, when data is leaked from a cloud environment, it’s not the fault of the provider but that of a careless, misinformed, or poorly trained employee.
The security that comes with cloud computing is greater in many ways than what most small businesses can afford to do on-premises and with modest IT departments, but depends entirely on how employees access the service.
Cloud computing is an exciting opportunity for small businesses. Reduced costs, improved workflows, greater accessibility, scalability and flexibility, and top-notch security are all proven benefits of cloud computing in its many forms. While there are some key steps to take to ensure the best possible return on investment, moving to the cloud is an important step for any business looking to stay ahead of the game.