Technology, Market Demand Drive Cloud Adoption
Unless you have absolutely no interest in technology whatsoever, you have probably heard a lot of buzz about cloud computing, but you may be wondering exactly what those words mean. Don’t feel badly—it is still a term that means different things to different people, even those of us in the industry.
The chances are that you are already using some applications that are in the cloud. Do you use a payroll service that allows you to enter your employees’ information through a Web interface? Do you take advantage of online banking services? Or maybe you have signed up for something like Salesforce.com or a free e-mail service like Gmail?
All of those are examples of single cloud solutions that address a single issue or business problem. And for small businesses, that may be all that is really needed to stay competitive and use technology effectively.
But for larger organizations, the problem with this type of approach is that nothing is integrated. You have to go to a different website for each one and remember a multitude of logins. That’s not so bad when you are using your normal desktop since you have customized it to have everything you need easily accessible; but when you want to access one of your applications from a public computer, how do you remember all of the websites you need? Worse yet, none of the applications talk to each other and you get separate bills for each service.
That’s why many organizations are looking at complete cloud solutions that put absolutely everything in the cloud, including your desktop. Instead of a server room in your office with specialized cooling and power requirements, you don’t actually own a server, you just use one or more located somewhere on the Internet. When you are ready to work, you have a single login that takes you to your desktop, which is also located on the Internet, not on whatever physical device you happen to be using today.
In terms of technology, there are a number of changes that have made this a viable option. Broadband Internet connections are now the norm rather than the exception, with many areas serviced by fiber connections at a reasonable cost. Connections are fast and reliable, making Internet access almost a given. Additionally, server capacities have grown rapidly to the point where one physical box can be configured to run multiple virtual servers—so many, in fact, that only the largest organizations could efficiently use all of the processing power that is available on one box. It is extremely cost effective to configure these virtual servers and assign one or two to a single organization while the others are assigned to completely different organizations.
Market demands are also changing. Many business owners are looking for ways to lower upfront capital expenditures in favor of monthly operating expenditures. We are also demanding more flexibility—we want to work from anywhere, at any time and on any device. Why shouldn’t I be able to access my desktop from my iPad when I am traveling, or even on my smartphone in a pinch? Other business owners are faced with changing workforces—employing more people at certain times of the year. With a complete cloud solution, you pay for the resources you need when you need them as opposed to purchasing enough capacity for your largest workforce upfront. In that sense, it is much like we have become accustomed to with electricity. Simply turn off the users and stop paying for them.
Another advantage of shifting to a complete cloud solution is that you are no longer responsible for the risks associated with owning your own servers. All of the risk shifts to the company that is providing the resources. If equipment fails, you won’t be the one trying to figure out how to get it fixed and footing the repair bill. That said, you will, of course, want to be sure that you are working with a provider who has a solid track record and that their solution has sufficient redundancy to be sure that you won’t be down because a piece of equipment has failed. You will also want to be sure that there is a commitment on the part of the provider to keep hardware and software up to date—another expense and headache that you won’t have! Your cloud provider will take care of all of the details that keep your server up and running and protect your data—everything from backups to configuration details to redundant Internet connections and backup power generation. They will even make sure that your server is secure—both physically and virtually.
For businesses who have aging servers and are faced with the high cost of replacing them, or businesses that have grown and find themselves looking at installing their first server, a cloud solution is likely less expensive than purchasing the equipment themselves. Unless you really enjoy technology and don’t have anything better to do (like generating revenue for your company perhaps), you will want to talk to a technology company that has experience moving clients to cloud solutions and can navigate through all of the technical details for you. If you have specific line of business applications, you will want them to thoroughly test those to make sure everything will work properly.
With all of the advantages of a complete cloud computing solution, that doesn’t mean that it is a good fit for every company or that you will be able to move 100 percent of your operation to the cloud. It’s not going to be a good solution for engineering or architectural firms, or for companies or employees who are doing lots of graphic design. But if it is just one or two employees, they can always continue to work locally and periodically upload their work to the cloud so that it is backed up along with everything else.There are many other possible configurations that could fall under the cloud computing umbrella; space doesn’t allow me to explain all of the variations and nuances that might apply to your specific situation. To find the best cloud solution for your company, you will want to work with a technology company that will take the time to understand your business and the challenges you face. They should also take the time to explain various options to you and the pros and cons of each one. If they only have one proposal and you don’t feel like they understand how your business works, you need to keep looking for a company that will partner with you to find the best solutions. And if your technology company isn’t starting to talk about cloud solutions, you can be sure that they don’t understand all possible solutions to your situation.
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Linda Lynch is president of KI Technology Group, providing technology solutions that help Lansing-area businesses reach their goals and boost their bottom lines.