Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a boon to small businesses and organizations. With cloud services handling specific technology tasks, small organizations can reap the benefits. They don’t have to deploy physical infrastructure like servers, storage systems or expensive software.

The “anywhere, anytime” availability of these solutions, means hassle-free collaboration among partners, managers, and employees by using web browsers. It’s not a reach to say that aside from a locally installed desktop operating system and browser (and increasingly, mobile devices) a lot of today’s daily office technology needs can be fulfilled almost completely with applications accessed through the Internet’s cloud.

However, with all the technology readily available, it can make it a challenge for staff to understand and keep track of all the service possibilities out there.  The reality is that each time a cloud subscription is created to solve a particular problem, the company’s need for managing these services grows. Cloud services are generally not “set it and forget it.” There is some work required to manage the intricacies of a given service and its integration with other services.

What The Cloud Can Be

Many still see the concept of cloud computing as a marketing term to define centralized, mainframe computing. However, the model of today’s cloud computing is drastically different from the mainframes of the past.

First, the sheer amount of unique Internet resources available makes today’s cloud computing incomparable to mainframe/terminal host computing.

Secondly, cloud computing is a broad umbrella under which many sub-divisions fall. Most small businesses and organizations’ first exposure to the cloud is with a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offering. SaaS is where a specific application or service is offered to a customer as a subscription. Office 365, Dropbox, Salesforce.com, and Hosted QuickBooks are all examples of SaaS.  The value of SaaS is that it provides a method of delivering a host of software and tools much better than the legacy method of heavy and difficult to manage standalone solutions. SaaS is delivering the same beneficial software tool used in the past, but much improved and distributed centrally from the provider in the cloud.

As with all technology tools, improvements in workflow, process, collaboration, and integration are where the biggest efficiency gains (and cost savings) are made.  Justifying and setting up a given service is the easy part.  Understanding what efficiency gains are possible and knowing how to track and leverage the services are where success is ultimately found in this increasingly ubiquitous technology.

Cloud Considerations

For many, cloud computing means inherent concerns about security, stability and data ownership. For the small business owner or organization manager, these downsides are a tolerable risk in the value exchange for the subscription price entry points.

One extreme example of a cloud downtime a few years back had Intuit’s website down for two days, leaving its customers unable to access their data in Intuit’s online offerings including Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax. Such downtime stories serve as a sobering reminder that trusting your data and technology services to an off-site third-party places you at the mercy of that third-party’s uptime reliability.  While downtime is universally not desirable at any time, it is usually a short interruption. The larger challenges come from what and how to manage.

Improper management of cloud services can give any organization grief. This survey published in PC Magazine found that with cloud computing adoption rates ever increasing, executives’ concerns over efficiently managing disparate cloud services was rising. This is an issue for executives of any size organization. Protecting cloud data, planning for backstops in workflow, integrating services or managing the layers within various cloud services, mandate the need for effective management of technology with cloud services. With the tectonic shift being made away from maintenance and legacy (server/client) infrastructure, tending to one’s cloud organization, management, and processes are where the conscientious executive will ensure cloud success.

Without attention, IT sprawl will take over.  If someone on staff cannot handle, document, or maintain the particulars, the next best approach to avoiding having services in disarray is to engage an IT advisor that can guide your journey.  A qualified IT resource doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does require intent.  A qualified advisor will benchmark your services, provide a repository for documenting the roll up all of the sprouting services, helping the organization make sense of the particulars.

As the adage goes, you might think you are getting by, but you run the risk of spending a dime to save a nickel.

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