By John G. Alston, Jr.
May 6, 2010
Before the advent of cloud computing, big business technology capability always outpaced smaller companies with the latest software, higher data security and system flexibility. But leveraging capacity cloud computing now provides companies and offices of any size with access to enterprise-level software, security, and performance. They also can get the unprecedented flexibility to scale up or down immediately to match the needs and resources of their business — and all for less than they currently spend on in-house IT.
This is nothing short of a revolution in how the corporate world manages technology needs. And it gives small businesses easy access to technology once far beyond their budget constraints.
The cloud computing concept is simple: rather than paying for servers that age and malfunction, software programs that must be continually updated and relicensed, and service technicians who run and troubleshoot the system, data storage and applications such as Microsoft Windows, Exchange, and Office arrive from a remote central system, programs are delivered through the Internet.
Like a utility, billing is tied to use. Charges are assigned according to the applications provided and the number of users, calculated into a per-user fee. Adding or reducing users is easier too, and can be accomplished in minutes as opposed to days or weeks. All the user needs is a device with an Internet connection, which could be a PC, Mac, or mobile device, such as a cell phone.
Access is controlled by user ID and password. Nothing needs to be stored on hard drives or laptops that can be hacked or stolen. Reaching applications and files is as easy as turning the tap to get water. Not only does IT delivery from the cloud improve data storage capability and the quality of the applications, it also allows small businesses more staff time to devote to their core industry without the technical distractions an in-house server entails.
But the true beauty of the cloud lies in mobility. Because applications and stored data are delivered through the Internet, access can be provided from any location, at any time and on any type of device. Now, all the IT bells and whistles the big companies use are available to small and medium-sized businesses for less than they currently pay for their technology.
Certain types of businesses are particularly well-suited to cloud applications. Attorneys at the courthouse can access all their case files instantly from the courtroom. Physicians and nurses can access patient files as they move from room to room. For medical offices, cloud computing offers the easiest possible transition to compliance with the federal mandate for electronic medical records and HIPAA regulations. Sales reps in the field can file their orders on location with the customer. PowerPoint presentations can be delivered anywhere, anytime. Warehouse managers can check inventory on the move.
With cloud computing, disaster recovery is virtually instantaneous, too. In the event of a disaster at the business, no data is lost because none is stored on location, and users can simply just go to another working computer to access all their data and applications. Multiple backups and off-site storage give smaller businesses enterprise-class data protection that they would not be able to otherwise afford. With traditional IT systems, almost half - 49 percent - of businesses that experience significant, unexpected data losses never recover their information and almost a third - 29 percent - of those businesses close within two years. Eliminating those risks makes cloud computing almost like an extra insurance policy.
For all these reasons, cloud services are rapidly growing in popularity. According to a recent study by the research firm Gartner, cloud computing use grew by more than 21 percent in 2009 over 2008 levels to revenues of more than $56 billion. By 2013, cloud computing is expected to produce more than $150 billion in total revenues annually.
Cloud computing goes hand-in-hand with the globalization of commerce, the greening of office space and new work patterns that include collaborative partnerships, telecommuting and outsourcing. In addition to eliminating the need for IT networks, cloud computing also lowers a company’s energy bills and facilitates the sharing of work stations in offices with a smaller footprint. The physical infrastructure required to support a company’s performance is lowered when its workforce becomes more flexible and its IT capacity has greater reach. Increasing the number of employees that can be supported in a smaller space improves profitability.
A decade from now, we are likely to regard cloud computing services to be an element as essential in the toolkit of a successful business as cell phones. And in a tough economy when every extra dollar can mean the difference between success and failure, the efficiency the cloud can offer is too compelling to ignore.
John G. Alston Jr., an IT veteran with more than 16 years’ experience in creating and managing business operations as well as driving technology leadership, is CEO of ClubDrive Systems Inc. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, ClubDrive Systems (www.clubdrive.com) is a cloud computing provider partnered with Microsoft.