“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal
management effort or service provider interaction.”
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology
The “cloud” is a general term used to describe the Internet. “Cloud Computing” can be
defined many ways, but in its simplest form it is the ability to access files and use software applications hosted on and accessed via the Internet.
The cloud has evolved to provide small businesses shared hardware and software resources for low cost. Cloud computing service providers can afford to do this because the capital costs required to provide the services are spread across thousands of customers.
Some examples of cloud computing technologies include:
- QuickBooks Online – Hosted Accounting Software for bookkeeping
- SalesForce.com – Hosted Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)
- DropBox – Hosted File Sharing
- Google Docs – Basic Word Processing, Spreadsheet and Slide Presentation Software
- Hosted Exchange Accounts – Shared Email/Contacts/Calendars/Tasks for use with Outlook, iPhones, iPads, and smart phones.
The most obvious consideration and end user benefit focusing a cloud based service, also known as “Software as a Service” (SaaS), is the low upfront costs. Cloud based services generally require a monthly subscription and an initial set up fee. Because cloud services are based on consumption, monthly fees will vary with the amount of data stored and number of users accessing it. The benefit is that the end user is not required to have anything more than an Internet browser and a basic computer. No software or server hardware is purchased or installed at the end user’s office.
On the other hand, low cost cloud based services have several drawbacks. The Internet itself has a cost to access and it isn’t always as fast or responsive as you would like. End users waiting for their screens to refresh or data to download or upload can be time consuming and make for a less friendly and less efficient user experience. Most cloud based software applications have fewer features than a competing product that is installed locally on the end user’s computer. This is mainly because an Internet browser isn’t as sophisticated and has less capabilities than a traditional locally installed application. Web applications such as Google Docs are great for basic office document
functions but are incapable of doing more complicated word processing or spreadsheet
tasks. Many cloud based services are also a “one size fits all” model. Very few SaaS vendors allow you to customize their services to meet your specific organization’s needs.
To bridge the gap, some companies are blending the use of hosted hardware infrastructure with traditional software installations and many non cloud based applications now offer cloud capabilities. This provides the best of both worlds – a hosted application which can be accessed either locally or through the internet with the capability to customize it for your business.
Utilizing cloud computing has already become a regular tool for many companies. The key is to identify and understand which tool is the right one for the job.