It is almost impossible these days to operate a business without delving into some aspect of cloud computing. You wouldn't think of opening a business today without tapping into the benefits and applications offered by the Internet, so why would you ignore a major resource like cloud computing? According to the Gartner Hype Cycle, which measures the commercial viability of information technology, cloud computing has reached a maturity that makes it viable for nearly any commercial use. Let's take a closer look at the technology and a few popular providers.
The Basics: Why Go to the Cloud?
The simplest answer is to make more money. According to a recent study, 82 percent of companies have saved money by having the cloud as part of their network, and another 80 percent of companies have shown an increase in productivity in the first six months of adopting cloud-based technologies. Cloud-hosted servers minimize complex IT infrastructure as well as physical storage while allowing your users to access their data anytime, anywhere, on any device. This helps boost collaboration, improves efficiency, and also provides a level of security that is nearly impossible to match on a physical server.
Questions to Ask: PaaS or Fail?
The best way to start to integrate cloud computing into your business is to have a qualified provider do an assessment of your IT infrastructure, your needs, and your goals. Some common questions they may have include whether you need a public cloud, for example to operate a virtual marketplace, or a private cloud, to maintain the integrity of your data and applications.
You will also have to decide on the nature of your cloud computing platform. There are a wide variety of platforms and providers available ranging from behemoths like Google to local experts that offer custom-designed, proprietary platforms. But the most common systems operate as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). With IaaS, your developer will create virtual machines on demand to serve the functions you want. The drawback is that this configuration requires more administrative time. With PaaS, your developer provides an application that you and your employees can access, which allows for most robust services, but also allows less customization.
What to Look for in your Cloud Computing Provider
There are a variety of ways to assess the various cloud computing providers, and it's easy to quickly find online comparisons that offer side-by-side analyses of each. However, cloud computing is a very fast moving technology, so be sure you are looking at current information before making your decision. However, the first basic elements to examine are features. This requires looking at the type of data you can store, ranging from documents to music files to email and applications as well as ensuring robust mobile access from any device, automatic synching of data across all devices, and firm security protocols that include password protection and encryption. You will also want to consider ease of use, depending on the technical capacity of your IT provider and employees, as well as access to help and support to ensure that moving to the cloud doesn't negatively impact your business.
Choosing a Vendor
There are far too many choices to offer a comprehensive comparison here, but to get you started, let us point you towards some of the common providers. At the largest scale, you will want to look at about half a dozen companies. These include Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, the Google App Engine, Rackspace, and Salesforce's cloud computing solutions that include Force.com and Heroku.
In short, there are almost as many cloud computing provider as there are clouds up above, so it will take some homework for you to find the right solution for your small business. However, cloud computing is becoming a vital part of the marketplace and business solutions, and these vendors want to help you succeed. A new world is unfolding and you and your small business should be prepared to become a part of it.