Mini-Guide to Small Business Cloud Computing

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the next “silver bullet” coming from the IT world to save your organization from today’s pervasive economic crisis.


We hear this buzzword all the time; from industry giants like Microsoft and Google to your local IT consultant hoping to cash in on the cloud bandwagon.

But what defines cloud computing? And how can it practically help today’s small and midsize organizations?

Before we dive into how or if a move to the cloud can impact your business, let’s first examine why an organization would consider moving their IT function from it’s decades-long residence in your organization’s server room.

Most of the executives we talk to are simply tired of having to manage the IT life cycle – purchasing, implementing, managing, protecting and supporting an onsite IT department.

Certainly, issues will vary by sector and individual business, but IT, in general, has evolved to the point in which the labor and management component has assumed a majority of the IT budget. However, since the onus of IT management is transferred to a cloud provider, this may account for why, according to Gartner, 3 percent of CIOs have the majority of IT running in the cloud or on SaaS (Software as a Service) technologies, and over the next four years expect this number to increase to 43 percent.

To avoid going into excruciating details on the different categories of cloud computing (infrastructure, software installation & operations, applications, process execution), let’s simply focus on the daily management of IT.

In this instance, the cloud computing provider invest the necessary servers (and major capital IT expenses) and support personnel, and IT resources to small and midsize businesses via the Internet – or cloud – that the small and midsize organization could not otherwise afford.

“Gaps in the Cloud” – What to Look Out for

For many business executives today, cloud computing is a new service offering, and many have agreed to allow their IT providers to literally test their processes on the client’s time – at the expense of the clients. Cloud computing is not so new that even early adopters cannot expect a reasonable amount of testing and perfecting. A good rule of thumb is to research the provider’s current client base. Look for vendors with long-tenured client lists that include security-sensitive businesses, like legal firms, or publicly-traded organizations that must comply with third-party IT infrastructure audits.

Of course, the vendor should be compatible with your organizations’ specific needs and objectives. Be sure to weigh the “importance” and “fit” of cloud benefits, such as:

• Performance/functionality
• Pricing model/length of contract
• Backup/recovery
• Security/privacy
• Data access capabilities
• Availability/up time
• Personalization/Integration capabilities
• Support responsiveness
• Speed of implementation

Each of these benefits will vary by importance to the specific organization or business sector.

If you choose to move only a select number of software applications to the cloud, make sure that they will still work compatibly with your in-house applications. In most instances, the SaaS or cloud provider will only take responsibility for the applications they provide. Responsibilities must be predetermined or you run the risk of getting stuck in the middle of vendor finger-pointing.

Disaster recovery is also a common impetus for moving to the cloud. If you’re just looking for a “net” or an offsite data backup for your organization, here are a few questions to ask your disaster recovery or business continuity vendor:

• What’s the recovery interval? How long will it take to get back to business as usual?
• Who’s responsible for restoring data? You or the backup provider?
• Do you document your backup process?
• How often should I test my plan using your backup service?
• What are your staffing levels in an emergency?

Finally, if you’re just beginning your foray into the cloud, try not to get locked into a long-term, binding contract. Make the provider earn your business by starting slowly, on a smaller basis, with the ability to scale up if they perform to your predetermined standards. Or better yet, find a provider that will allow you to pay on a -month-to-month basis to assure your satisfaction.

Author: This is a Guest Post by Yehuda Cagen, the Director of Client Services for Xvand Technology Corporation, which provides for IsUtility®, a name and pioneer of utility and cloud computing computer services (http://www.isutility.com/) for Houston’s small and mid sized businesses, backed by nearly two decades of research and proven client implementation.
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