By Jay Caissie
The cloud is awesome: limitless computing and storage on demand. Big companies use the cloud because they save money by scaling infrastructure up and down as demand changes. They love the cloud because it allows them to outsource the complex and expensive business of building data centers and managing servers.
But does a small business really need the cloud? Many small businesses are content with a couple of servers in a server room, looked after by a solo IT professional or perhaps a part-time system administrator. They use the servers to host email, a few back-end applications, perhaps to run payroll software every month. It’s not super reliable but it works.
What benefits does the cloud bring to small businesses over and above the well-understood office server?
Cloud platforms are built, managed, and maintained by some of the most experienced IT engineers in the world. They are designed for resilience and redundancy.
You know that feeling when you arrive at work and everyone is panicking because the server is down and email isn’t getting through? That’s really unlikely to happen when your email server is a cloud server running on a well-managed cloud platform.
I’m not claiming the cloud is perfect and that nothing ever goes wrong, but it’s way better than the single point of failure sitting in your server cupboard.
Pay for What You Use
Many businesses use their servers for batch processing or to process intermittent loads. Perhaps the business does payroll once a month and for a few days the server is running flat out. The rest of the time it’s mostly idle.
The problem with buying servers is that you have to pay for hardware based on periods of highest demand. Most of the time, that investment goes to waste because the server isn’t being pushed hard.
Here’s how that problem is solved in the cloud. If you need to run a big batch job every once in a while, you spin up a suitable server, let it run the workload, and then shut it down. You only pay for the resources you use. That can work out much less expensive than buying and maintaining a server that isn’t fully utilized.
In many offices, the bulk of the business’s live data is stored on desktop and laptop computers that are backed up, perhaps daily. There’s a backup server and everything has to be copied to that server.
This system works reasonably well, but there are limitations. What happens when someone deletes an important file from their desktop and they have no clue how to get it out of the backup? What if a desktop machine goes down before the backup runs and takes a day’s work with it? What if the backup machine breaks down and all the data disappears in a puff of magic smoke.
An alternative is to back up to the cloud, but the real benefit of the cloud is revealed when data is stored permanently on a cloud storage platform. The cloud becomes the “source of truth” for all data. Files can be accessed on desktop machines, laptops, and mobile devices. It can be worked on in collaboration with colleagues. It is far more secure because it can’t be lost or left on a train with an employee’s laptop. Authentication and access control can be managed centrally. And the cloud provider takes care of redundancy and backups.
The cloud is not only great for large companies. Migrating application hosting and data storage to a cloud platform reduces costs, increases reliability and availability, and is much more secure.