As a small business owner, you may or may not have heard the concept of Cloud Computing. It’s dominated the landscape of technology discussions over much of the past 12 months, but you may think it means nothing to you. Or you may find the concept scary because you don’t know what it means. I was the same way – I had heard of the concept a few months ago and was clueless. I figured it was something I should know about but didn’t so I just try to avoided it for awhile.
I finally decided to take a different route – discover what it was and what it meant to me as a project manager, consultant, and small business champion. What started out as an unknown has ended up providing me with ideas to write five articles on the topic and now I’ve even been interviewed by a major website as some sort of an expert on the topic. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned it’s certainly nothing to fear…it’s actually rather simple.
Cloud Computing Defined
Cloud means Internet. The computing all takes place on the Internet – in place of the software you use executing on your desktop or laptop, it’s hosted on the Internet on a server installed in a data center usually staffed by people who are experts in managing technology. This type of “cloud” software is sometimes called “on demand” or Software as a Service (SaaS).
The cloud term came from the image used to display the concept of the Internet in diagrams. Like a big cloud that we connect to not caring really what is in that cloud and how we get information and services from it. Basically, if you need more than your laptop and an Internet connection, then it’s not cloud computing.
What it Means to You
In it’s most straightforward form, what cloud computing means to you is simplicity and economy. When you use web-based software you’re cloud computing. When you utilize data storage on the Internet that’s located on some server somewhere out there and you don’t even care or know where it is, then you’re cloud computing. If you choose to use Google Apps, then you’re cloud computing.
Microsoft will soon be offering a lightweight version of their Office suite for free as web-based software that anyone can access and use…at no charge. No licenses to buy…nothing. This will include Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote. If you use that, you’ll be cloud computing. And for you – the small business owner – that’s huge.
Potentially, here’s what I see to be many of the benefits that small business owners like yourself can realize from cloud computing:
- Web-based office productivity software (Google Apps, Microsoft Office, etc.)
- Greener business processes (less paper, fewer resources used and wasted)
- Lower costs (cheaper licenses or no license to buy)
- Elimination of unnecessary hardware (you can use data storage, software, etc. “in the cloud” meaning less hardware and infrastructure support that you need to purchase and implement onsite)
- Incredible scalability
- Ease of information sharing between team members/employees and your customers
- More opportunities for remote workers thus reducing your operating costs
- Meetings using web-based tools
To you, cloud computing can mean a more green, less costly, and more carefree environment for your employees and possibly your customers depending on the type of business you are in.
Cloud computing is a relatively new term, but an old concept. Large businesses are trying to best position themselves to take control and offer new products and take advantage of cloud computing for new revenue streams. They must do that to stay alive. But for small business owners, cloud computing offers opportunities to do many of the same things you already do, but at a lower cost and with less painful processes of implementing new software and hardware.