Cloud Computing for Small Businesses

A small business obviously has to be extremely careful about its expenses and information technology has to be leveraged to the fullest extent to help the business become as competitive and efficient as possible. Used properly, cloud computing has the potential to do just that.

Where exactly is the cloud?

The cloud refers to the Internet. If you recall drawings of large networks, a large network is represented most commonly by drawing a cloud. Connections go in and out of the cloud, you cannot predict the path your data packets will take but people and computers will be able to communicate using the cloud as a medium.

What is cloud computing?

A number of IT companies (and some government organizations) have set up very large data centers that are connected to the Internet through high bandwidth lines. Since these are very large and centralized centers, there are major economies of scale and savings on costs of manpower, electricity, cooling etc. A large number of redundancies are also built in and typically one data center will have another one paired with it in a different region. The two will have copies of the same data so as to ensure that even if one is affected by a flood or an earthquake, the other one keeps functional.

Another advantage is load balancing. If my application gets too much traffic, the software controlling the site can automatically balance requests between the to data centers so that performance does not suffer.

So what do I hire?

What you hire from a cloud based service provider is a capability. In the simplest case if I hire just 100 GB of storage, it is just that. I do not know which server in the data center my data is actually stored in. I may also never come to know if the data center in North America or the one in Central America is servicing my request. All I know is that my requests will be answered in the specified time frame and the application will run.

Truly speaking, if this much can be assured economically, most owners of small businesses will be overjoyed.

US NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has laid down a detailed list of capabilities that cloud computing systems must have. The essential ones in the NIST definition are –

On demand, self service – you can change what you hire on a per hour basis. This can even be done programmatically. Say for example you have a website that sells Christmas gifts. As the season starts, the hits on it will increase.

Canalysnavigationforum write ” Cloud management tools often fail to reflect critical user needs. Development used to be really bad about that, too.” But, I think, you can ensure that as the load increases beyond a threshold, additional servers are hired. This will ensure your customers are not frustrated and you do not lose business.

Multiple types of Network Access – the services can be accessed using many different types of network devices – these could include thick and thin clients, mobile devices, tablets and workstations.

Elasticity – To a user, resources appear to be infinite. You can hire as much as you need. As covered above, the increase (or decrease) can be automatic.

Services are Metered – Utilization is automatically recorded and detailed reports are prepared. Since very detailed records are available, you can handle and fine tune your business far better. In many cases, it has been seen that the usage records provided by a cloud service provider are far more elaborate that your own IT center can ever give you.

What if you are an individual?

Even if you an individual, cloud computing can benefit you. In fact you may even be reaping its benefits without realizing it. Do you use Google Documents to store your files? Or YouTube for your videos? Or Picasa for your photos etc?

Welcome to the cloud! All of the above applications run on the cloud. Which is why you are able to access your files from anywhere in the world.

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