As a small business owner, you’ve likely heard talk about the cloud – but it still may not be clear exactly what it means, or if it’s relevant to you.
Guess what: if you use SkyDrive, for example, you’re in the cloud already. What’s less common is for small businesses to use some of the more sophisticated opportunities cloud computing offers, particularly for deploying and managing Web platforms.
We recently chatted with Eric Diamond, founder of Tribeca Cloud, to get his take on the cloud and its role in small business.
1. Can you explain “the cloud?”
One analogy I like is that the cloud is like renting a luxury apartment (at a great rate), rather than building your own customized, expensive home from scratch.
When you’re using the cloud, you’re “renting” top-quality computing services – programs and data storage – via the Internet, rather than buying and maintaining them yourself. You give up some control, but in exchange you can get tremendous flexibility, scalability and value.
Nowadays, when it comes to the cloud in business settings, people generally refer to three main subsets:
Software as a Service (SaaS) enables you to use a software application without having to install or host it yourself. Web-based email is an everyday example: you can send and receive emails using Microsoft Outlook without installing any software on your own computer.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) is an outgrowth of SaaS. PaaS provides all the tools and services you need to build and run applications on the Web. The hardware, software and servers are set up and maintained for you. You only pay for what you use, so you can direct more resources towards developing your application.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides and maintains the underlying infrastructure – including virtual servers, storage and networking hardware – for building and running your applications. You’re responsible for installing and setting up the operating systems, software, databases, etc. Website hosting is a basic use case. With IaaS you essentially rent these resources on a pay-as-you-go basis. IaaS can replace dedicated hardware servers under your own roof.
2. Why does the cloud matter for small businesses?
Most small businesses already take advantage of the cloud and don’t necessarily realize it. They may use SkyDrive for file sharing or subscribe to Microsoft 365 to use Web-based versions of Office tools like Outlook or Excel.
Small businesses benefit from cloud services in two significant ways:
For one, the cloud alleviates the need for in-house IT staff, advanced technical know-how or deep pockets to create and deploy sophisticated Web-based applications or services. It’s a way to “outsource” those functions so a business saves considerable time and money.
Second, the cloud is scalable. Maybe you’re launching an ecommerce site, and you don’t know how big it will become. Using cloud services enables you to easily scale your project up or down as you go, in real time. You can test the waters of your business idea without a huge upfront investment.
3. What types of small businesses do you think can benefit most from the cloud?
Any growing business can benefit, but the cloud can be really instrumental to a Web startup that doesn’t have its own software developers. Such business owners may have a great idea but don’t really know how to deploy it. They can tap into cloud services and get their idea out there at a relatively low cost. They may not know what the next day will bring – their business could explode or stay smaller – and a pay-as-you-go model just means more cost effectiveness and scalability.
4. What specific cloud products might a small business want to investigate?
It completely depends on your needs as a business. Many small businesses’ first exposure to the cloud are through SaaS services, like when they migrate away from internally-hosted email to cloud-based email. PaaS and IaaS services haven’t traditionally been oriented towards small businesses, but that’s changing. Think about what you services you need, and then you can explore if the cloud can help you.
5. Will the cloud become more prominent?
We’re at a point that is similar to the beginning of dotcom era. Everything is moving to the cloud. Within the next three years, the majority of business/productivity tools will be cloud-based and affordable for small businesses. That means smaller businesses can compete more easily with their larger counterparts – it will level the playing field.
Eric Diamond is founder of Tribeca Cloud, a service created to help businesses get their websites, intranets and business platforms off the ground and in the cloud quickly and easily.