You are at your computer in your business, getting warning messages about the size of images. You wonder whether your customers will be able to see your photos. You question your system's ability to properly manage your inventory (with sufficient security and backup mechanisms), and whether it has the performance and scalability to respond adequately when you get a spike in traffic following publicity or announcement of a sale.
These concerns are shared by many organizations in the United States and beyond. Many small businesses simply do not have IT personnel on staff – and that makes sense, since IT people are often underused at businesses that have a staff of 50 or under. Plus, they may not have the capital on hand to pay for infrastructure (servers, space in which to store them, security and environmental controls) upfront.
When an organization is not sure that creating an IT department is a good investment, or if it wants its IT staff to focus on other tasks such as tech innovation, cloud hosting can make sense.
The cloud has been so successful as a technology because of its simplicity and convenience. Cloud hosting, or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), provides a central location for the storing, accessing and transfer of data between all web-connected devices. As an alternative to setting up a data center and recruiting IT experts to create applications and protect your systems, cloud solutions are engineered and maintained – patched and updated – by an outside party.
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To determine whether the cloud is right for your business, consider the attributes that many people find valuable.
Key benefits of cloud hosting
You do not have to worry about backing up or losing a single file. The cloud saves and backs up your data, making it accessible to your staff from any location. Teammates can collaborate in real time on the same file. The cloud allows you to manage various tasks and projects seamlessly without working with multiple copies.
Cloud hosting allows you to cut your expenses down for the maintenance and management of your computing infrastructure. Instead of undergoing the capital expense of building out a data center, you can use an operating expense model, allowing you to simply access the hardware and resources available through the host. This strategy can reduce your costs of operation as follows:
Core patches and upgrades to hardware and software are standard, so you don't incur additional cost for that maintenance.
You do not need to pay the labor cost of salaries for as much in-house IT knowledge.
You use less power (also improving your sustainability).
You are less likely to experience delays that cost your business money.
Rich ecosystem of supportive apps
With the cloud, you have an incredibly adaptive system. You can start delivering resources to systems that work and phase out ones that do not much more seamlessly than with traditional back ends. Once you have your cloud server in place, you can connect it to programs that bolster your communications, digitize document signing or other tasks previously completed by hard copy, automate vexing chores such as collecting on invoices, and make your workflow more efficient. Transitioning to the cloud gives you access to a vast library of applications that together can make the way you do business more intelligent.
Immediate knowledge of your finances
Using non-cloud accounting software can be a substantial investment of effort and time in the wrong direction. Using a cloud-based accounting system makes it possible to enter data into a single ledger that is shared with your financial staff. Directly integrated with all your financial accounts, and with bank reconciliation performed automatically, you can stay abreast of your company's financial status moment by moment via cloud infrastructure.
Ready-made for the global economy
A strong cloud host will give you a position from which you can approach the global economy. It is critical in today's business world to leverage IT systems for growth, and that need can be challenging to meet in a rapidly evolving landscape. The cloud can adapt to the change, since updates to equipment and software are central to this virtual model.
People have often worried about the security of the cloud, but it is actually one of the most secure environments to store data because it is monitored at all times by security professionals. For example, someone may still steal your laptop, but they won't be able to get into your data unless they have your cloud account login. The data is within that account as opposed to on your hard drive.
The cloud allows you to stay up and running, business continuity intact, if you experience a fire or natural disaster. Secure offsite storage of your data is provided automatically by cloud, since its servers are at a separate location from your business. With a web-connected mobile device or computer, you can immediately access the system and get to work.
Sometimes you will want other parties to have access to your systems and data. Within a cloud-hosted environment, you can control their levels of access. By controlling at the level of privileges, you can avoid risky activities such as using USB sticks, emailing files or even giving another person your login.
You can think of the cloud as flexible in that the easy resource access means you can run your business more dynamically, but it is also flexible in the sense that your staff does not have to be at a particular location. Employees can get into the system from home, coffee shops, airports and hotels (in other words, wherever they have a hotspot). Whenever you want to get into your systems and are not at any of your business's locations, you can simply jump into your virtual office.
A tighter ship
The cloud represents a way to tighten your organization's operations. Your efficiency will be boosted by transitioning to cloud computing. The energy consumption by IT will be reduced – a key draw for young talent. When you move your systems over to the cloud, you will want to look for organizations that comply with the well-known standards and best practices.
Once you have verified that a host passes your quality checks and has strong protocols and practices in place, you can get rid of single points of failure (SPOFs) within your IT infrastructure. Cloud will also allow you to present yourself to the world securely and reliably.
Simplifying the transition
While the benefits of the cloud may be compelling, migration can be tricky. A few important steps can help your organization transition to cloud computing successfully, without any unnecessary headaches:
1. You want to be able to rapidly and securely develop cloud apps – which means you should have people who are skilled in cloud computing on your staff. That knowledge can come from hiring people with cloud backgrounds or training your current personnel.
2. You want to rework your current applications to best leverage automation, with integrated security protections. This will allow a better fit with the capacity and security needs of the public cloud.
3. Figure out the sourcing. Generally, you will use a host to help you with the building and management of your cloud servers.
4. You need a public cloud operational model, acknowledging that you must manage infrastructure as code in the case of public cloud. To perform this management well, you need the skills of software engineers who have a sense of the security, storage and computing parameters of the cloud.
The cloud may not be right
Despite all the benefits of cloud hosting, no technology is the perfect match for every situation – and even if the cloud is right for you, that does not mean you are then required to handle your own IT. Co-location is another option from hosts (in which you rent space for your equipment), as is dedicated server hosting (managed or unmanaged), which gives you full control of the independent machine.
When you work with a hosting company that has a long history of providing diverse infrastructural services, the staff will be able to help you zero in on the best solution for your business, whether that is the cloud or otherwise.