The last week has seen a strange coincidence of me being asked numerous times from friends and clients, "we've heard of cloud computing, is it the future, and should we get into it now?" It seems a good proportion of IT providers are pushing this into market at the moment, with clients who don't really understand what it is, or why they need it. Gotta love buzzwords to sell more product and maintenance plans.
So what is cloud computing? The "cloud" is being able to access servers that are hosted for you by a third-party, allowing you to utilise them without the traditional downsides of heavily initial capital outlay for new equipment, having to replace equipment in 3-5 years, and being restricted as your business grows while your limited hardware is stretched. Cloud computing means you purchase the capacity you require now, with the ability to quickly and easily add more space and power without having to upgrade hardware. A simple analogy is outsourcing your servers (as opposed to just outsourcing your IT support).
Sitting on top of the cloud platform, is SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). Instead of purchasing a license for software which is yours forever (and is a one-off), you pay a monthly, on-going fee to utilise software, usually through your standard web browser. The benefits include access from anywhere, upgrades are handled for you, and extra users and capacity are easy to add on. The poster child for SaaS in New Zealand is Xero (they can be compared to the incumbent MYOB).
What's my recommendation?
Cloud computing is a great idea, especially for new businesses. Start up costs can be hefty, and by using the cloud more, you can concentrate on your core business, rather than having to purchase a HP or IBM server, with Windows Small Business Server, paying an IT company to setup, then monitoring it as your business grows: now it's much easy - just get BPOS (Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, or Microsoft Exchange online) or Google Hosted Apps.
Downsides? I would shy away from any online backup solutions for now as broadband caps aren't high enough, and if a computer does fail, it will take a good amount of time to bring your data back to do a restore. It'll get better, but too cost prohibitive for now.
I would also recommend that should your IT provider toss buzz words around, ask them to explain them in layman terms. A lot of the trends happening at the moment are quite simple when broken down to their fundamental parts.
Any queries or comments, please add them below in the comments section.
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