Reaching for the clouds

The term ‘cloud computing’ has become increasingly prevalent in small business IT discussions over the past couple of years. It’s not really surprising, given that Gartner predicts the cloud market will be worth $150 billion by 2013, and with a recent survey from global IT industry association CompTIA finding that one in three SMEs plan to use cloud computing within the next year. Essentially, cloud computing allows the delivery of computing resources as a utility, similar to the way that most of us purchase water or gas. Delivered over the internet, cloud resources generally run on a pay-as-you-use model, with short contracts and without up-front expenditure. Its two key benefits are obvious and significant – cost savings and the ability to access information from anywhere, at any time. Businesses must of course ensure they have robust internet access in place before considering cloud, but the beauty of internet-based computing is that employees can access the same services wherever they are. Owning and running your own computer servers can be expensive and is no longer necessary. Having your information hosted and managed by an external specialist makes a lot of business sense – particularly for SMEs whose IT resources are limited, but as with everything, there are factors to consider. Here are some tips for when considering moving your data to the cloud and managing it there.

  • Keep your staff involved – their view is important. Many will be using cloud computing in one form or another already; they may not call it ‘cloud’ but they’ll be using Facebook, Gmail and other services on someone else’s server. Take advantage of this – it will help diminish any fear of the cloud. Remember younger colleagues in particular may have more experience than you with the cloud, so don’t be afraid to use that expertise.
  • Be careful about where sensitive data is stored – remember it’s your responsibility rather than that of your host or cloud provider. Having data ‘in the cloud’ can mean it’s stored more or less anywhere; if it’s in America, for example, then your information will be subject to the Patriot Act,
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    under which the authorities may demand to inspect information if they deem it necessary. Speak to your cloud provider and ensure that its data storage is compatible with your requirements and local legislation. It’s a question they will answer for all their customers.

  • Give it time. While you can realise almost immediate cost savings, more significant savings will take time; you should think of cloud as a long term project. By significantly reducing upfront capital expenditure and management overheads, cloud enables SMEs to make long term IT investment plans, which deliver value and success over several years. There’ll be transition pains, but this is true of any technology evolution, and the benefits may well be worth it.
  • Keep local backups of anything vitally important. There is a good chance you won’t need them, but internet connections can and do go down from time to time. Sometimes this is because of something dramatic; sometimes it’s because a workman outside with a drill has cut through an important cable. By having data stored locally as well as in the cloud, you will find your business isn’t paralysed whenever there is a problem. Microsoft Office 360, for example, keeps copies of your work simultaneously in the cloud and on your own computer systems.

Epson has been working to develop products to support both businesses and consumers who use cloud applications. In 2011, we launched Epson Connect, which allows you to print photos, documents and webpages directly from your mobile devices over remote networks from anywhere in the world. Have you already managed the transition to a cloud environment? Are there any kinds of applications you’ve found easier to transfer than others? How have you encouraged your colleagues to support your cloud projects? Let us know any tips you’d like to share in the comments box below.

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