Cloud Inevitability and the Small to Midsize Business (Part Two)

By Eric Wilson

In part one of this series we examined some of the decisions facing small to midsize businesses (SMBs) looking to make the move to cloud-based computing, and some of the common questions they have regarding which cloud service provider (CSP) is right for their company. In part two of this article we will take a look at some of the developments in government regarding national agencies and public CSP’s, how they are affecting larger institutions like health care, and what this means for businesses of every size looking for cloud solutions today. We will also quickly review some of the more common advantages to cloud computing and whether they are likely to change significantly over time or not.

One of the major developments in government is the implementation of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which opens doors to all government agencies interested in working with the private sector. How does this affect the SMB? Most importantly it was a wakeup call for developers to make their software cloud-friendly. This was already the case, but with government contracts now on the table for CSP’s most developers have accelerated the process of making their applications available to the cloud. The end result being that more businesses today will find the right solution that can be fine-tuned to the exact needs of their company.

It isn’t all wine and roses however. While FedRAMP attempts to standardize the requirements for government agencies to move data and applications to the private sector, there are still going to be specifications for some organizations that are above and beyond what FedRAMP has laid out. Take the healthcare industry for example, while not a government institution per se, there is still a great deal of governmental oversight. The first step was the mandate that all paper go digital by 2014. It will be a while before CSP’s will even get the chance to help the healthcare industry make the important move to the cloud which will drastically improve healthcare across the board.

The effect of these developments is also positive for the SMB. Cloud computing is like any other business in the sense that it is market driven. With government agencies and huge, far-reaching institutions like national healthcare on board for cloud solutions, it is unlikely that there is any software in development at this time that is not focused on cloud compatibility. This of course is beneficial for businesses that have specific needs that may have not fallen under the traditional cloud solutions available a few years ago. At any rate, it appears that in the very near future almost every business will be able to tailor their cloud hosting and virtual server needs regardless of how mainstream they are. For all intents and purposes we are there already.

Still though, there are many business decision makers that are wary of cloud computing based in part on a lack of understanding of what the basic benefits really are. There are some fundamental advantages that are the cornerstones of why cloud hosting and server virtualization make sense. These are flexibility, mobility, compute power and security. Without going into too much detail, let’s just briefly describe these four benefits to cloud computing.

Flexibility refers to the scalability of resources available. Cloud solutions are set up to be a pay-as-you-go program where businesses can scale up or down to exactly what they need. This is very advantageous for companies that have varying power and storage requirements during the year.

Mobility refers to global access to data and software. There is no turning back from the need for mobile access at anytime from anywhere. There was a time when the central office was the only place employees could access their files. These days are thankfully over. Being able to access critical data en-route to a client can be the difference between success and failure in today’s business environment.

Raw compute power is available via the CSP that most businesses simply cannot afford the capital expenditure to build in-house. For start-ups up through multinational corporations the decision to outsource to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is both fiscally sound and one less headache to worry about internally.

Enterprise-grade security is also available with upper-tier CSPs. One of the main advantages here is eliminating the risk of sensitive data being stored on employee devices which are at risk of being lost or stolen.

The worry today from many cloud service providers is that cloud solutions are developing so quickly that it may be overwhelming for some small to midsize business owners to wrap their heads around. It is important to remember a good working relationship with the CSP is a two way street. They should have an understanding of your business needs and where they can help improve productivity. They should know your comfort level and what IT expertise is available. You should know what the CSP specializes in. By mutually exploring the exact nature of your business and the products and services that address important issues, together you can build a more profitable company.