What is the cloud and why is it important? Simply stated, the “cloud” refers to services and applications offered via the Internet. Connection speeds have increased to the point where it’s viable to run a service via a server housed in a data center that you access via your web browser or other Internet-connected devices. While there are different flavors of “cloud” and we could go into hours of debates on what is or isn’t technically cloud, let’s just leave it at the definition above for now.
So what does Cloud mean to a small business? The Cloud changes just about everything when it comes to small business. Instead of needing to run a server in a back room, you can now obtain services via the cloud. You can typically run everything via cloud-based services, these days. Accounting, HR, Sales, and any other department you can think of have services and applications that can assist in running the business.
Should I Cloud?
At Tech Officers, we recommend migrating as much as you can to the Cloud. Why? Because the level of security, redundancy, and reliability that a cloud-based service provides will probably exceed what you could ever afford as a small business. When you hit 5 people, you may want to think of a local file-share, depending on how documents are used and distributed throughout the organization. Firms that utilize large files may need local storage in order to meet the needs of users. For local file-sharing, we highly recommend cost-effective solutions from Synology that are flexible and reliable for small businesses.
Why wouldn’t I Cloud?
There are some business applications that require a local server to run. While I might argue that you should look into a modern solution that provides a cloud-based service, that isn’t always an option. Even though you may need a server to run your industry-specific application on-site, there are options to move the server to a cloud-based server. This could be a bad idea, because any service that requires real-time response from a database may end up feeling sluggish and slower than users will tolerate. But really, why are you using that outdated software that doesn’t have a cloud-based option in 2015? Maybe it’s time to explore other options.
Won’t Cloud kill my Internet connection?
If you’re running on an old DSL connection, you may run into some issues with cloud-based solutions. Run a speed test from your computer. The ping is the millisecond delay in response from your machine to the test server. The lower the number, the better. The ping should be under 50, or you may see delays in response from cloud-based services. If your ping is over 100, contact your ISP and find out what the problem is. If your download is over 10 Mbps, you’re ok for most cloud-based services. The higher is always better with this number. Your upload speed is important, because this is how you will be sending data and requests into the cloud-based service. Ideally, this will be roughly 1 Mbps per user in your office. While you could get away with .5 Mbps per user, people may start to complain.
How do I get started in Cloud?
The most practical place to start in Cloud is your email service. Google Apps for Work is a fantastic example of applications and services that can be made available to your organization, backed by Google’s Gmail product. Since your email is probably the most critical communication tool in your business (not always), it’s great to have a service that is as reliable as Google’s. You keep your own domain, so email comes from and goes to your-company.com, just like it does now. Tech Officers has been using Google Apps since 2007, and we’ve been incredibly happy with the product.
In fact, for the next few months, we’re running an amazing promotion on Google Apps for Work. You don’t need to be a Tech Officers client to take advantage of this deal, but you do need to register and purchase an annual account, before we run out of these discounted licenses. Click here to find out more information on this promotion.
Next Steps in Cloud
Keep in mind that this landscape is constantly changing and in flux. While you’re making a commitment to one cloud service over another, realize that you’re not “stuck” with the service you initially pick. Yes, it can be a headache to switch later. Yes, it’s important to do your research and find the best fit for your business and your style. But just moving in the direction of cloud-based solutions is better than not moving in this direction at all.
One thing to keep in-mind when picking a cloud service is the ability to export and migrate data. Steer clear of providers that have proprietary database solutions that you can’t migrate away from (or they charge you tens of thousands of dollars to dump their database of your data). If you have the ability to migrate data off of one service easily, most other services will allow you to migrate that same data into their service fairly easily.
So what are you waiting for? Dip your foot in that pool and get going.