Does your company subscribe to Salesforce.com or rely on Microsoft Exchange Online? Do you use WebEx for conferencing or DropBox for storing and sharing files? Got a Google Mail account? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’ve used cloud computing—maybe without even realizing.
So what exactly is cloud computing? Think of it as Internet-based computing. All software, information, and resources are located on a provider’s server that sits on a network far away. These services are delivered to your computer, and other devices, on demand. Most cloud computing services are so quick and easy to use that you don’t even realize you’re accessing software that’s not located on your computer’s hard drive.
You can get applications, called Software as a Service (SaaS), and hardware resources, called Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), from the cloud. SaaS providers, which include such companies as Cisco, Google, Yahoo, Salesforce.com and others, install and maintain their software on their network servers. Cloud applications are designed so that each customer has its own customized instance of that software; data and configuration details are kept separate from any other customers. Customers pay a monthly subscription fee for only the exact number of users who need the application. Of course, some personal cloud applications, like Google Mail, are free.
IaaS providers, including Amazon, Rackspace, and Terremark, deliver storage capacity and computing resources. These providers charge customers for the resources they use on an on-demand basis, or they charge a subscription fee for reserved resources. With either option, you’re not paying for an expensive server set up to handle spikes in your website’s traffic that only occur during certain times of the year.
Small businesses can get a lot of bang for their buck with both types of cloud computing—and many already are. Cisco surveyed more than 500 small and medium-sized businesses and found that at least 75 percent of them are using cloud computing for a variety of applications, especially security, storage, and desktop productivity applications.
Here are five ways your small business can benefit from cloud computing: