Cloud computing has proven a boon to businesses—especially small businesses, for which it hits a particularly sweet spot. With cloud services, small businesses reap the benefits of not having to deploy physical infrastructure like file and e-mail servers, storage systems or shrink-wrapped software. Plus, the “anywhere, anytime” availability of these solutions, means hassle-free collaboration among business partners and employees using the ubiquitous browser. Cloud services also provide entrepreneurs, SOHOs, and mom-and-pop outfits access to sophisticated technology without the need of an IT consultant or tech worker on the payroll.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that aside from a locally installed desktop operating system and browser (or increasingly, from a single mobile device) a lot of today’s small business technology needs can be fulfilled almost completely with cloud-based offerings.
What’s cloud computing?
Many complain that the concept of cloud computing is merely a marketing term to define centralized, mainframe computing. However, the model of today’s cloud computing differs from that of mainframes of the past.
First, the sheer amount of resources available makes today’s cloud computing incomparable to mainframe/terminal host computing. It’s nothing for cloud storage providers to quickly add another GB of storage for a customer simply at the customer’s request thanks to scalable and flexible cloud-computing resources hosted by the likes of Amazon, Rackspace and other providers. The efficiency of delivering cloud computing resources is also credited to faster networking and Internet connectivity at a relatively low price.
Second, cloud computing is a broad umbrella under which many sub-divisions fall. Cloud computing can include Software-as-a-Service where a specific application or service is offered to a customer as a subscription. Dropbox, Salesforce.com, and QuickBooks are all examples of SaaS. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) allows businesses a platform on which they can create and deploy custom apps, databases and line-of-business services integrated into one platform. Examples of PaaS include Windows Azure and Google App Engine.
With Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), businesses can purchase infrastructure from providers as virtual resources. Components include servers, memory, firewalls and more. IaaS providers include Amazon EC2, Rackspace, and Google Compute Engine.
Most small businesses will more than likely only need to use SaaS services. For these businesses, SaaS provides a way of delivering a host of software and technical services that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive and difficult to manage as on-premise, local solutions.