2011 has been billed as the ‘year of the cloud’ and cloud computing is predicted to boost the EU economy over the next 5 years by £645 billion, with the
as the biggest beneficiaries of this growth.
Other reports say that cloud is moving faster than any other ‘next big thing’, will be mainstream within 2-5 years, and could represent 15% of the total IT services market by 2014. Microsoft is reported to be spending £15million on promoting cloud in the
in the next quarter alone! But what’s all the fuss about and what does all this mean to the average British company?
In a nutshell, cloud brings together lots of internet technologies and developments under one umbrella and essentially offers a new cheaper, more efficient, and easily scalable way of delivering IT services. It is happening now, and will change how we do things for ever (in the same way that the new technology of trains signalled the death knell of canals, and changed transport for ever – and incidentally the anti-cloud arguments of today are the same ones that were use then! – ‘It’s too limited’, ‘It’s not safe’, ‘I don’t understand it’, ‘It’s not the same’).
The good news is though, that if you can cut through all the hype (and negative hype), there are numerous benefits for small business: It can help you cut costs, cut IT requirements, offer flexible working, trade internationally, and improve business continuity and disaster recovery policies. In effect, it levels the playing field in terms of access to technology and software, and gives smaller companies the sorts of facilities that previously only the biggest companies could afford.
Cloud Computing and You
The 3 areas of cloud that you need to be aware of are SaaS (Software as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), and PaaS (Platform as a Service). All these area are ‘as a Service’ because you don’t buy anything but subscribe (normally monthly) and pay for what you need, as you go. Generally you can therefore, change or cancel your subscription whenever you like.
PaaS is the tools that are available for developers to create cloud applications. Many of the bigger companies are now creating their own cloud platforms, such as Microsoft’s Azure and Google’s App Engine, that allow you to create your own cloud software that integrates with their software. Surprisingly, Amazon has the biggest cloud platform in the World.
IaaS is the infrastructure or hardware that developers and techies use to build, access and store your cloud. The big news here is that IaaS allows small companies to store their information in professionally-managed data centres and access the best, most powerful, continually-serviced servers by sharing them with other companies. And you have the peace of mind of knowing that they won’t fail, they’ll be automatically backed-up and that you can up or downgrade instantly as your needs change.
SaaS, however, is the most important development for small businesses. Essentially, it is software delivered over the internet and subscribed to on a pay as you go basis. The big advantage here is that it’s not dependent on what sort of computer you’ve got, which model and which operating system, and you don’t need any IT expertise to ‘install’ or use it. As long as you’ve got access to the internet it should work (and generally makes use of IaaS for securely storing and backing up all your information).
You will already have come across or may even be using SaaS (without perhaps even knowing it). The most common examples are the blogging platforms that are now being used to build flexible and interactive websites, business and social media sites like LinkedIn, and ‘Office-style’ products like Google Calendars, Google Docs, Gmail or Hotmail, and Google Maps.
Leading the way in SaaS business software are CRM (customer relationship management) systems and online/cloud accounting software. This is because there is a fundamental need that SaaS addressed: Businesses have to be able to share both their customer details (between different teams and departments) and their accounting information (again between different teams and departments but also with accountants and bookkeepers). And all these people may be in different locations, and need different access rights. SaaS allows you to do all this easily and cheaply with the guarantee that the information you’re getting is ‘real-time’, up-to-date, and secure.
It also allows small companies to quickly and easily trade over the internet/internationally and compete in bigger markets alongside much larger companies by allowing them to tailor an affordable package with multi-currency or stock control, for example, or giving them options for integrating their accounts with an e-commerce system, or webshop.
In conclusion then, cloud computing isn’t the future, it’s now. And it offers opportunities and choice to help small businesses grow and succeed, particularly in our difficult economic climate and ‘age of austerity’ and cuts.
Matt Holmes is the MD of UK-based online accounting pioneer, Liquid Accounts Ltd, and Chair of the Cloud Computing Special Interest Group for BASDA (the Business Application Software Developers’ Association) and as such is at the forefront of creating industry standards and guidelines for the newly-emerging field of cloud computing and SaaS. www.liquidaccounts.net