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Are you on cloud nine yet? Demystifying cloud computing

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Cloud computing offers so many benefits for business that they simply outweigh any potential drawbacks. The cloud offers real cost savings in a variety of areas and provides the flexibility to work productively from anywhere that there is an Internet connection.

Cloud computing is computing that is based on the Internet. It provides a virtual data centre where users can tap into a range of business tools and services through third-party cloud service providers. It offers SMEs in particular, a host of advantages – so much so, that it is estimated that small business has already spent $100 billion in the cloud.

Innovation

The key to small business success is remaining on the cutting edge and the cloud offers the opportunity to try out new ideas without investing in costly support systems. New ideas can be developed and tested cheaply using on-demand cloud services, providing the incentive for businesses to innovate without the fear of costly failures.

Integration

When companies or departments merge, the process of transferring and integrating huge amounts of data can be costly, laborious and time-consuming. The cloud allows mergers and acquisitions to be achieved faster and more smoothly, as all end users can access cloud-based systems simultaneously.

IT savings

Up to 80% of a company’s IT budget can be tied up in routine maintenance of existing in-house systems. Transferring those systems to the cloud frees up IT staff to concentrate on projects designed to create revenue rather than waste it. And in smaller businesses, the IT component can often be done away with altogether, as cloud service providers take care of all the IT tasks associated with their services.

Online services

The cloud not only benefits the internal workings of a business, but can be used to improve external services as well. Many businesses subscribing to cloud services have extended those online services to their clients. For example, businesses that ship items by courier or mail have offered their customers access to their tracking service.

Mobility

One of the major advantages of cloud computing is the mobility it provides. With businesses now able to work from anywhere, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, employees can access company cloud services while on the road, travelling overseas or from home. This remote access not only improves productivity but also offers the opportunity for a better work/life balance for employees, which in turn leads to higher retention rates, less absenteeism and greater overall job satisfaction.

Scalability

Because cloud services are on-demand, SMEs can increase or decrease their services as business demand dictates. And the cloud offers virtually unlimited data storage capacity, so there is no need to invest in expensive equipment upgrades onsite to cater for anticipated future growth.

Disaster recovery

Complex disaster recovery plans are unnecessary when using cloud services. Many cloud service providers offer automatic data backup, so if you experience a local disaster such as a flood or fire, your critical data is stored safely elsewhere and is immediately recoverable.

Collaboration

Collaboration is the key to productivity and cloud services offer employees the ability to work on the same documents and projects simultaneously, regardless of their locations. The ability to share data simply by giving authorised users access to a central common location means all kinds of internal and external business transactions can be streamlined. So much so, in fact, that studies have shown that businesses who invest in collaborative technology can achieve up to a 400% return on their investment.

Software savings

Where once a business had to buy multiple licences to use commercial software across it’s various departments, now cloud services provide software on demand and at much cheaper rates. Upgrades are also usually automatic and included in the service fee, so a business is always using the latest version incorporating the latest security protection.

Competitiveness

Because the cloud provides SMEs with the latest tools at affordable prices, they are able to compete with their larger competitors on the world stage. They can often react faster to market changes and can offer customers the same services as large companies, deploying them almost instantly.

Eco friendliness

Something that is becoming more important to businesses every day is reducing their carbon footprint. Studies have shown that using cloud services rather than onsite servers can reduce a large company’s energy consumption and carbon emissions by around 30% and a small company’s by as much as 90%.

So why isn’t everyone on cloud nine?

With so many benefits for business, why is it that not every company is rushing to migrate their processes to the cloud? The answer is that some still have reservations about the cloud’s reliability and security.

As far as reliability is concerned, it is true that because cloud computing relies on the Internet, there will probably be issues with downtime, but if a business chooses reputable and recommended Internet and cloud service providers that downtime can be reduced to an acceptable minimum.

And if a company’s data is too sensitive to be entrusted to a third-party cloud service provider, there is always the option of building a private company cloud, which, while expensive, can provide all the benefits of the cloud without the threat of data theft or loss.

As we have seen though, the benefits of the cloud are just so numerous that businesses really can’t afford not to get onboard. For SMEs in particular, cloud computing could be the means of turning an average business into a highly successful enterprise.

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