New Options Are Coming Online

The funny thing about “cloud computing” is that, although many people aren’t sure what it is the vast majority of computer and cell phone users do it every day.  If you’ve ever used services like Facebook, Google, Pandora, Twitter, Shutterfly, eBay, or even an online banking application, then you’ve done cloud computing.  The “cloud” is simply a metaphor for the Internet and since these services are all accessible via web browsers and the Internet, they are all examples of cloud computing.

Will cloud computing impact small businesses?  If you cut through the positive and negative hype, you’ll find a middle ground where – somewhere between never having to buy servers again and the potential loss of revenues due to data security breach – cloud computing does have its place.  And, chances are, that place will do nothing but grow in the upcoming years.

What’s In the Forecast?

How does cloud computing promise to help a small business?  In two big ways: cost predictability (expense-based) and information accessibility (Internet-based).

Let’s say there is a software application that was written specifically for your industry that you want to use.  In the past, there usually wasn’t any option but to pay upfront for the right to use the software, buy all the hardware and software required to run it, and hire someone to set it up. The capital expense for a small business could be tough to swallow or be flat out prohibitive.

Now, most software companies are revamping their business model to become providers of cloud computing services, just like the companies I mentioned earlier.  That is, the software vendor handles the computer infrastructure required to serve the application up over the Internet and the client just pays a monthly fee to use it.  There’s usually little to no up-front cost and you can usually adjust your subscription as your business needs change.

What’s the Catch?

So, that’s the good news.  Now, here are some caveats:

You are 100{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} reliant on Internet access to use cloud services.  If a cloud application is critical to your business operations, you should investigate options for backup Internet access from a different Internet provider.  This way, your business can still operate when your primary Internet provider has an outage.  Also, make sure you have adequate Internet bandwidth and service levels to support your business needs.

Regulatory compliance can be another issue.  Don’t assume your cloud service provider is in compliance with your business’ security and operating requirements.  If you have PCI DSS, HIPAA, HITECH Act, SAS 70,SOX, GLBA, or other regulatory compliance requirements and the cloud services you are considering must also meet these requirements, you should ask for documented proof of compliance from the vendor.

Establishing the Rules

Finally, with cloud computing, you need to establish the ground rules/processes for “breaking away.”  Before you commit your business to a cloud computing agreement, define who owns the data and how it will be returned in the event the relationship doesn’t work out or the provider moves, is sold, or closes its doors.

Cloud computing promises to give small business owners the cost control and accessibility they seek.  However, navigating into these uncharted waters without the help of a trusted IT advisor could mean heading into a storm instead of smooth sailing…into the cloud.