Contemplating Cloud Computing Solutions For Your Small Business

HP announced last week its plans to make cloud computing a foundation of the company’s future direction, as reported by Computer Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, and others.

The decision by HP (and other vendors) to embrace cloud computing should offer small businesses new choices in their efforts to solve a wide-range of technical needs. In the case of HP, as the WSJ points out, they hope the new offering “will become a one-stop shop for businesses and consumers to store and retrieve data over web.”

Not so fast, say other IT providers. When it comes to cloud solutions, it’s better to bypass the hype, and focus case by case on implementing solutions that make sense, and outweigh risks and concerns. Obvious questions such as those related to service interruptions, and not so obvious issues such as data ownership and governance, arise when cloud solutions are contemplated.

Recent service interruptions from top cloud provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS), led to an inability by clients in the east coast region of the US to run applications over a period of several hours, and aggregator service Reddit saw “a complete halt” in some of its servers dependent on AWS.

All of this raises the question of how to get past the talk of cloud computing, and explore the real benefits, and concerns, associated with implementing the technology.

Seth Russell, president of Computer St. Louis, which provides outsourced IT solutions to small businesses in the Midwest, says first of all, avoid the excitement over the idea and consider what makes obvious sense.

“We’ve started to move some things into the cloud for our clients, where it makes sense to do so, and these include data backup, anti-spam, and some user applications,” said Russell.

When Microsoft’s Office 365 launches, presumably this summer, it will represent the type of cloud-based application Russell sees as compelling to small businesses.

While the AWS service interruptions represent an obvious concern, in so much as businesses are dependent on their providers to stay up, another area of risk is the Internet connectivity of the business itself. Few companies have more than one Internet connection, and if the single connection fails, all access to cloud-based services fails along with it.

If your business is running on a “best-effort” Internet connection, rather than a guaranteed service, such as a T-1 line, then you could be waiting for several hours, or even days, to regain access to critical services. Even if you are on a connection with a Quality-of-Service guarantee, stipulating you’ll be back up and running within four hours, the appeal of backup access to the Internet will become all too apparent during those four hours.

Ken O’Brien, president of FastBlue Communications, in Los Angeles, says in the near future, businesses should expect to see new, less-costly, options for backup Internet connectivity.

“Ethernet over cable, or copper, as well as wireless broadband connectivity solutions are coming down in price, and improving in reliability enough to make an attractive backup option for small businesses,” said O’Brien.

In the second part of this series, I will explore some of the cloud-based services that make obvious sense, and dig into examples of small business experiences related to cloud migrations, as well as contemplate the tricky issue of data ownership related to application usage in a cloud environment.

(Image Courtesy of centralasian on Flickr)

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About Tom Bedwell

Father, contributing writer on wine, sports, small business, and senior living...interested in many things including philosophy, literature, cooking, photography, and some forms of exercise. Contact me with questions at bwell.tom@gmail.com