The cloud: no longer an up in the air idea

Over the last 20 years, technology for storing digital information has advanced in leaps and bounds. Originally there was the floppy disk, then came the CD-ROM, followed by the USB and the external hard drive. Now, the latest and greatest in information storage is cloud computing.  Whilst cloud computing may seem like a new technology, we've all used cloud computing in some way, shape or form for years. Beesley (2011) explains that Facebook is a good example of cloud computing as it is a social sharing site that stores your comments, photos, videos right up there in the cloud. Gmail, Flickr and others all also rely on the cloud. These are all applications we use freely each day and have in one way or another changed our lives. But it is in the commercial field where cloud computing offers so much more and may transform the way small businesses operate by saving them money and increasing their productivity.

So what is cloud computing and what is the idea behind it? According to the National Federation of Independent Business (2012) cloud computing is 'an information storage and backup system which allows you to access software, tools or other services that are stored on an offsite server (in the cloud)'. The idea behind this in small business terms is being able to log onto a website and access all the tools and programs that your employees need to do their jobs without having to invest in lots of standalone software licenses.

There are many opportunities afforded to small businesses in Australia due to the many benefits cloud-computing technology brings:

Cost: When using cloud computing instead of software and the equivalents, prices can be kept lower than other software because it doesn't require costly materials such as discs and manuals. In addition to this, because the provider takes on the responsibility of storage and upgrades, there's no need for a small business to hire an IT specialist for that aspect of the business.

Flexibility: Given the speed with which the business landscape may change, small businesses need to be nimble and equipped to alter their operations quickly. Most cloud-based services are priced per user or per subscription, which means as small businesses grow it is easy for their cloud based IT infrastructure to grow with them by simply adding additional email accounts, storage and so on.

Availability: You don't have to be connected to a server locally to access the files you've created. In other words, you could create a document in the office on your desktop and edit the document on your train ride home on your smart phone'.

Simplicity: There is little technical knowledge required. Levett (2011) points out that when it comes to the cloud, any complexity or technicality is taken care of by cloud providers, not the business customer, meaning small business professionals can focus on what it is they do best.  

However there are a few drawbacks to consider before converting to cloud computing:

Security: Your documents should be safe so long as you don't share your password with others that shouldn't have access to it. So as the same goes with any password don't write your password down and label it 'my password'.

Loss: There is a small chance that the software company storing your documents can lose your information through a server crash or some other disaster. In order to avoid this be sure to save backups of your files from time to time to a hard drive in your office.

Connectivity: If you don't have Internet access you won't be able to access your software. This means you will need to have a backup plan in case you were to lose your web connection.

Small businesses have no need to be daunted by the cloud; the opportunities to be exploited by harnessing this new technology are not reserved for larger businesses only. Whilst there are some negatives that may make cloud computing unsuitable for some small businesses, the cloud can also provide a great deal of value to other small businesses due to its simplicity, accessibility and flexibility.


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