If you’re a small business, it's tempting to dismiss cloud storage as an offering aimed primarily at large and complex organizations. But this simply isn't true. In fact, it's likely that you're already depending on the cloud for things like email, collaborative document creation and instant messaging between employees. It's estimated that 94 percent of U.S. small businesses were employing at least one software-as-a-service (SaaS) application by the end of 2017. The truth is, leveraging cloud software and storage can be a practical strategy for even the smallest of small businesses.
Why moving to the cloud makes sense
I've written before about how small businesses should think about optimizing cloud storage. For many small business owners, cloud solutions are a sensible and affordable early choice. In fact, many small businesses now opt for cloud storage right out of the gate, since there's minimal upfront investment and few hardware or licensing costs.
The benefits of the cloud are numerous. For one thing, data storage requires no maintenance on your side, so you don't need a large IT department. Hardware failure is also no longer a disaster, as the company's data isn't isolated to a physical server or scattered across a collection of laptops and hard drives. The cloud generally has built-in redundancy.
When starting out, most businesses make use of public clouds – hosted by a third party on servers that are shared with other clients – and this typically leads to some concerns. Not only do business owners worry about having to rely on a cloud host to keep data safe, but they also fear being at the mercy of service outages and performance degradation during peak hours. While these worries are not unfounded, there's a tendency to overemphasize them. As long as you use a reputable provider, your data should be safe and accessible. Although there have been public cloud breaches and unexpected downtime, your data's generally safer than it was sitting on a hard drive in your office. The main reason many businesses actually abandon the public cloud is that it stops meeting their needs in a cost-effective way.
On-premises servers and private clouds
Small businesses tend to find their cloud needs evolving as they scale up. Monthly fees that were manageable in a company's early days can become prohibitive when the organization reaches a certain size. After only a few years, running a business entirely on public clouds can actually become more expensive than implementing your own solution. This is especially true when you're working with applications that boast predictable usage and low storage costs.
Public hosting solutions are also generic by design so that they can be adopted by a broad user base. Private clouds – hosted and run by the company on-premises or through a third-party, managed-service cloud – offer greater control and configuration options, allowing solutions and services to be geared toward the unique needs of a business. A private cloud can be configured to host your applications in a way that suits your business and provides high-performance access to large files.
Third-party, managed-service clouds often take the place of traditional servers, but in some cases, having your own private cloud hosted on-premises might make more sense. Many companies prefer to store particularly sensitive data locally, while others might be dealing with legacy applications and configurations that are easier to simply keep on-premises than migrate to a third-party cloud solution. Moreover, these on-premises cloud offerings still boast cloud-like characteristics like virtualization and the ability to dole out partitions.
Embracing a hybrid or multi-cloud approach
Most companies end up using a hybrid solution that incorporates the public cloud, private cloud and on-premises servers. This hybrid approach often moves a step even further toward a multi-cloud strategy, which includes a combination of private and multiple public cloud options. A major advantage of this is that it enables users to host data and applications where they make the most sense in terms of costs differences, security and speed to data. Businesses that use a smart combination of all solutions gain the agility to move around valuable data and applications to where they are most effective, both in terms of productivity and cost.
So, while a company will likely start off using a public cloud solution, a time will come when a private cloud and on-premises servers make sense. Perhaps, noncritical apps and cold data will increasingly move to the public cloud, but other needs will continue to demand a hybrid or multi-cloud approach.
Think of a multi-cloud solution as a way to make your company's IT infrastructure more agile and responsive to changing demands. Where does it make the most sense to house apps and data based on usage patterns? Where are they most secure? How could speed and access to data improve? What storage solution is the most cost-effective? The answers to these questions will rarely be set in stone. A multi-cloud solution allows you to quickly and effectively adapt to an ever-changing IT landscape.