Cloud computing is a very broad term, which can lead to confusion, uncertainty and doubt about how to use it effectively in business. So here’s information to demystify and simplify cloud computing for the small and mid-sized business, giving you the confidence to include cloud computing in your IT strategy roadmap.
Types of Cloud Computing
To start with, there are three different types of cloud computing:
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) provides users with a wide variety of software applications on a subscription basis (typically monthly), connected through the Internet. These applications generally require little or no software to be actually installed on your local computer; instead, the applications are accessed through your browser. Examples of SaaS applications for business cross a wide spectrum, from basic services (like Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, and Dropbox) typically costing between $5 and $25 per month per user, up to full-featured applications (like NetSuite ERP and Salesforce CRM) that can cost hundreds of dollars per month per user.
SaaS applications are designed to allow the developers to host the applications in their own data centers, meaning that you will not need to invest in server infrastructure. These applications are easy to license and easy to get started with. They are hosted by the providers themselves, but they may – or may not – fit your needs. You still need to carefully identify your requirements and assess whether the application’s functionality fits your organization’s workflow and business processes, or you’ll wind up with a mess.
Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provides a cloud-computing platform (think: toolset) for developing, testing, delivering, and managing software applications. This platform makes it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network, and databases needed for development. But PaaS is not really designed for the average end user.
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is a self-service model that allows you to rent IT infrastructure such as servers, firewalls, and disk storage on a pay-as-you-go basis. This removes the need for companies to have to purchase and maintain expensive hardware, operating systems, and network components. Instead, users purchase IaaS resources on a consumption model, just as we do with electricity or water in our homes.
The IaaS platform essentially gets small business out of the server hardware business, allowing them to host their legacy applications (like ERP and CRM) in a purpose-built, high-availability data center. Examples of IaaS providers include giants like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Engine (GCE), as well as smaller providers that tailor solutions to the customers’ specific needs.
Unlike SaaS, IaaS users are still responsible for installing and managing the applications that run on these platforms. Navigating the endless and often complex choices are why many small and mid-sized businesses depend on local Managed IT Service Providers to make this easy for them.
Now that you know the three basic types of cloud computing, let’s explore the methods of cloud deployments:
Public clouds are owned – and operated – by the cloud service provider that delivers their computing resources (servers and storage) via the Internet. All hardware, software, and other supporting infrastructure is owned and managed by the cloud provider. You essentially rent services from the provider.
Private clouds are computing resources (e.g. servers) that are used and owned exclusively by a single business or organization. Often used by larger, Fortune 1000 companies with large IT budgets, these computing resources may be physically located in a data center, at the company’s own location, or both.
Hybrid clouds are a combination of public and private clouds, using technology that allows data and applications to be shared between them. This provides great flexibility and, perhaps most importantly, allows small and mid-sized companies to adopt cloud computing slowly over time.
Benefits of Cloud Computing for Business
Why should small and mid-sized businesses use cloud computing? The benefits include:
1. Reduced cost and headaches
Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware (servers) and operating system software, the cost of configuring the servers, the cost of electricity for power and cooling, and the ongoing cost for IT experts to manage the infrastructure. Cloud computing simplifies a company’s overall IT infrastructure, often reducing and sometimes even eliminating the high cost of IT staff.
2. High availability
Most cloud-computing services are architected to provide high-availability, from replicated servers to switches and firewalls that automatically fail-over when something goes wrong. Few small and mid-sized companies can afford to do this, and many don’t have the expertise to ensure it’s done correctly.
Cloud-computing services provide the ability to scale elastically—up and down—as needed. This means delivering the right amount of IT resources; for example, more or less computing power, storage, and bandwidth when it’s needed, without having to “overbuy” in advance for growth.
Cloud-computing services typically operate on fast and efficient computing hardware, often far more powerful and capable hardware and software than the typical small company can afford.
Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity easier and less expensive. Few small or mid-sized businesses can afford to come even close to the redundant power and Internet connections at high-availability data centers.
For many small businesses, being able to access their line-of-business applications anywhere, anytime, on any device is worth its weight in gold.
This may seem at first to be counterintuitive, since you would expect a higher level of security when a company is using its own servers. But the reality is that many small and mid-sized businesses are at greater risk from inferior and poorly architected internal security systems, and are often much more secure using cloud-computing services.
How to Decide on Cloud Computing Services for your Business
With all of these options, how should a small business decide what’s best? First off, consider engaging the services of an IT managed services provider that can help you analyze your business workflow and requirements in order to make sound recommendations.
For most small and mid-sized businesses, SaaS applications are recommended (provided that their functionality matches your requirements), with IaaS servers hosting legacy applications that you’re not just ready to get rid of. An example of this is a manufacturing company that uses:
In the above example, the company’s older, licensed (and paid for) “legacy” applications – GoldMine and Macola – are running on cloud-based IaaS servers instead of servers in the plant, providing all the benefits of cloud computing right alongside and integrated with the company’s newer SaaS applications. All of this is monitored, managed, and delivered by their local managed IT services provider.
Need help or have questions? Call me personally at 973-944-5000 or e-mail me at EBerk@CertusTechnologies.com.
About The Author
Evan Berk is Managing Partner at Certus Technologies, an IT Managed and Cloud Services firm that specializes in helping clients dramatically improve their business productivity.
Evan is passionate about simplifying and demystifying complex Information Technology systems and believes that the best IT systems should make our lives easier and more productive, both in the workplace and at home. He can be contacted at EBerk@CertusTechnologies.com or at 973-944-5000.