I agree with Michael, especially as I write about the benefits of cloud computing for small businesses. I would only caution any small business owner to verify their cloud or cloud app provider has the experience to build a secure and stable environment. Ask who is hosting (many start-ups host on Amazon for example), do they have redundancy, what security is in place, do they have a phone number to call if you have a problem (one of my beefs is companies who hide their contact information for whatever reason) and the like.
Do your homework but by all means, get on the cloud.
At its simplest level, cloud computing is a state of mind. It means not knowing or caring about the physical location of your computing resources. For very small businesses, any time you use a web application like Gmail or Quickbooks online, you're effectively living up to this vision. For companies actively using computers as part of their operations, it means abandoning the antiquated need to own and/or control the hardware behind your tools. This doesn't mean simply hiring someone else to manage it, like a co-located or managed hosting provider - it means moving to a service designed to transcend single-box thinking.
The smallest businesses should 'move to the cloud' immediately. Using cloud-based resources is far and away the most sensible solution for companies without custom or legacy systems in place. For larger businesses, the question is somewhat more nuanced. There may be a business case for moving to the cloud to lower costs or eliminate dedicated staff, but re-architecting a system to work in the cloud can be costly in and of itself, not to mention the 'change premium' that goes along with that kind of decision. All computing tools are works in progress and need to change regularly, so as a rule of thumb I would advise making a move to the cloud as part of building a new system or revising an existing one. I would place a priority on that kind of move if you're facing imminent scaling demands or an increasing need for virtuality in your operations.
I totally agree with Michael. I've been working with organisations (businesses & non-profits) assisting in their adoption of cloud computing solutions and I'd say that SME's stand to gain the most from making the move.
Cloud/SaaS solutions provide access to enteprise grade solutions for smaller organisations that were previously unavailable due to a combination of software cost, hardware cost, ongoing maitenance cost and time/effort required to implement. Thankfully today things are different and we live in a world where small businesses have access to exactly the same systems as the fortune 500 enterprise.
As great as it all sounds, I have a few words of caution. Some organisations see the cloud as a "silver bullet", believing that the adoption of a cloud solution (specifically CRM/ERP) without any prior planning or thought is going to somehow alleviate all their business problems and magically help them grow. Not true! You still need to take the time to customise the solution to fit your business, integrate with any other critical systems and crucially take the time to train your staff (user adoption is always a hot topic) to ensure that you get what you want out of the system.
Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions, I'd be happy to help.
I agree with Michael's answer. Small businesses should absolutely consider using a cloud service for their software. The cloud provider acts as your IT department and there are no questions about backups, etc. I have so many clients that run into a hardware failure at some point and THEN realize that they should have had a backup plan. The Cloud takes care of all that and if you have a hardware issue, buy a new computer and you're up and running in no time. I've been in the cloud since 2006 when it was known as "virtual computing". I have no plans to go back in the near future.
I do really like Michael´s answer. Secondly, information that is in the cloud can be much more easily moved between sources, shared and accessed, and it is a major trend within the cloud computing industry to help customers with these connects. All-in-all, you should move to the cloud "yesterday".