In 1981, Video Killed the Radio Star with the launch of MTV. So yes I am dating myself.
In 2016, we are in the midst of another computing revolution. Again this is a story of the convergence of technologies, most importantly high-speed access over the internet and how software vendors are choosing to distribute their software principally, but it is also changing how companies of all sizes invest in software and hardware, and may even be the demise of the traditional IT department in some companies. There are also cost savings to the company at several levels both in the form of direct support staff and upgrade cycle of the software, no capital outlays for hardware.
Cloud-based services are far more secure than most small businesses can ever hope to achieve, they are at a level of or exceeding fortune 500 companies. Further, use of most cloud services include data back-up and recovery, often from multiple secure sites thus allowing for another area, data systems disaster recovery, an area where many businesses are vulnerable is covered.
The prime area where most businesses already use the cloud is in the area of Web Services, Websites, and Social Media, all of this data is hosted on servers remote from the company.
Then biggest change is in the way businesses use their basic day to day software such as office suites. This is commonly referred to as SaaS, Software as a Service. Rather than installing your office suite on each user’s machine in your office you purchase a subscription to the software and use it through a web browser, the actual software resides “In the Cloud”. Effectively taking the software out of the office but much of the IT infrastructure remains in the office including the servers. MS Office 365 or Google Office suite are mature examples of this cloud technology but there are many other examples, such as practice management software for many specialized industries such as Appraisals and Optometrist clinics. Salesforce is also an example of SaaS, as it is a combination of software and databases resident on specially configures servers that are all at a remote site from the office. Even Tax and Accounting software are moving to the cloud. Most of these services are paid by subscription and have the benefit of always being up to date, thus, no more version incompatibility issues where different users in the same office have different vintages of software. And the benefit is that you can access your software and documents on any connected device anywhere, anytime. Though many small business owners have concerns about having their files no longer located in their office, the reality is that within a few years many software providers will cease to distribute their software through the much more costly physical delivery of software. While the software resides on remote servers, there is also the possibility of easily storing the data files locally for backup and easy access, and this is often a concern for small business.
As far as hardware goes, there are substantial savings here as well. A basic netbook computer with only a browser installed can be all that is needed, these computers can be had for a few hundred dollars. The downside is that these computers are fairly useless without an internet connection as there is no software residing on them.
The next level of cloud applications is to pull the servers physically out of the office, the computing is done on a server at a remote location from the company, this is known as Platform as a Service (PaaS). The cool factor in this area is that you can configure and set up a server for specific applications very quickly and without the capital expenditures that can easily run tens of thousands of dollars and can often take weeks or months to configure. Further in a large data center, you have scalability, if you suddenly need more capacity just spin up a duplicate server. You can even manage your demand and scale up and down as need be hereby only paying for the service that you actually use at any given point in time. you have now pulled major aspects of the hardware out of the office. Rackspace and Windows Azure are prime examples of PaaS.
At this point all you need is a reliable network switch and fast internet connection, thus you have taken significant steps in simplifying your office IT infrastructure and needs for support. The downside is that if your internet connection goes down at either end you are effectively shut down until it is restored, but you may still be able to access things via cellular connected devices if the issue is at your end of the pipe. You still will have more up time than typical on-site installations of software.
At the highest level of Cloud computing is IaaS Infrastructure as a Service. Sometimes this is referred to at hardware as a service, IBM Cloud Services is an example, this is the heavy lifting level of enterprise cloud services that few small businesses would become involved with. Suffice to say that everything is massively scalable, and comprises all components of hardware and software that would be found in a traditional company, but it is all outsources and virtual.
At the end of the day, “The Cloud” offers small business substantial opportunities to save money and massive restructures the hardware and staffing needs of small business.