A recent survey carried out by PEER 1 Network Enterprises found that of the 88% of key decision-makers that do not use cloud computing, 39% said it was because they don't know enough about it. So, for those who are still in the dark, what is cloud computing anyway?
Cloud computing enables users to store files and software remotely, rather than on a hard drive or server at their office. The fact is many people may already be using cloud computing without realizing it, whether through work or personal use. Examples include web-based email like Gmail and Hotmail, communication tools like Skype, video sites like YouTube and Vimeo and music-sharing sites such as SoundCloud.
Some examples of cloud computing applications include software as a service (SaaS), Customer Relationship Management, file storage, file synchronization and file back-up. It's now possible for businesses to have their own private cloud, which incorporates specific services and is only accessible to specific people.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing
There are lots of advantages to using cloud computing for international companies. One of the major ones is the flexibility that it offers. Cloud computing means that staff can access the files and data that they need even when they're working remotely and/or outside office hours.
As long as they can get on the Internet, staff can access information from home, on the road, from clients' offices or even from a smartphone such as a BlackBerry or iPhone. Staff can also work collaboratively on files and documents, even when they're not physically together. Documents can simultaneously be viewed and edited from multiple locations.
Cloud computing can be very quick and easy to get up and running. Consider, for example, how quickly you can set up a Gmail or Hotmail account and start emailing - it takes minutes and all you need is a computer and the Internet. Downloading and installing software, on the other hand, takes much longer.
Cloud computing is often cheaper and less labor-intensive for companies too. There is no need to buy and install expensive software because it's already installed online remotely and you run it from there, not to mention the fact that many cloud computing applications are offered free of charge. The need to pay for extensive disk space is also removed. With cloud computing, you subscribe to the software, rather than buying it outright. This means that you only need to pay for it when you need it, and it also offers flexibility, in that it can be quickly and easily scaled up and down according to demand. This can be particularly advantageous when there are temporary peaks in demand, such as at Christmas or in summer, for example.
A major advantage of using cloud computing for many companies is that because it's online, it offers virtually unlimited storage compared to server and hard drive limits. Needing more storage space does not cause issues with server upgrades and equipment - usually all you need to do is increase your monthly fee slightly for more data storage.
In addition, there is no need to take on specialist IT staff, and businesses don't have to worry about maintaining and upgrading software or fixing bugs, as all maintenance is done by the providers. This frees-up in-house IT teams to focus on technical issues specific to the business. Remote maintenance means it's easy for businesses to always have the latest and most powerful version of any particular software.
Automatic software updates can be especially useful for legal or financial compliance reasons. For example, consider accounting and bookkeeping software - when tax rates change the system will be automatically and centrally updated.
Many international businesses also choose cloud computing because of its green credentials. Microsoft recently claimed that cloud computing can reduce a business's carbon emissions by as much as 30%, as businesses don't need to power an entire server, they only use (and pay for) what they need online.
The Pros and Cons
There are some potential drawbacks to cloud computing, though, that are worth bearing in mind. One of the reasons many businesses choose cloud computing is because online storage and back-up means their data can't be lost or destroyed, but the flip side is that many are concerned about the security issues associated with storing their data on the web.
While some experts argue that cloud computing is more secure than traditional server methods, businesses are still concerned that outsiders (or insiders) could bypass security systems and access confidential data. A survey from IDC found that security was the main worry that businesses have about cloud computing, followed by availability and performance. However, it's worth weighing up the risks and remembering that traditional servers can also be hacked into, hard drives can fail and computers can be lost or stolen.
Privacy is another issue which businesses cite as a concern when it comes to cloud computing. Some wonder how much data and what kind of data companies are able to collect about them and their business.
Another concern for some companies when it comes to cloud computing is the risk of losing Internet connectivity. The risks associated with this are usually isolated and short-lived, but many companies' workflows are massively disrupted by any Internet downtime. Businesses that implement cloud computing need to take steps to reduce the risk of any Internet interruption or reduced speeds. However, these risks are comparable with servers or computers being out of action for a period of time, which is just as likely, or perhaps more likely to happen, than the Internet failing.
While there are a number of issues for companies to bear in mind, and cloud computing may not be ideal for every business, it can be an extremely cost-effective and beneficial way for large and small international companies to store data and access software - so it's well worth considering and researching in more depth. Because of the scalability of cloud computing, it's easy for firms to start small and try certain applications out to see how it works for them and their business before gradually expanding their use.
© 2008 SYS-CON Media Inc.