When it comes to implementing cloud solutions, the range of options available to small and medium-sized businesses is “simply massive,” Prasad Thammineni declares. “Basically, for any function that you can do via software, the cloud offers a solution.” That includes both the obvious—basic applications such as file storage—and the types of services most SMBs have come to expect from point solutions—things like invoicing, CRM, even email.
OfficeDrop, a searchable online cloud storage provider of which Thammineni is co-founder and CEO, estimates that 15 percent of SMBs are already using some form of cloud storage at this point, but that there is a strong trend for many companies to move beyond storage and into a wide variety of different service options. Two popular SMB cloud applications are finance and accounting tools and project management apps. “We also see an increased demand for tools that monitor social media, as well as outbound marketing management apps,” says Ferdi Roberts, founder and CEO of SaaS Markets, which builds, brands, and launches SaaS (Software as a Service) app stores with corporate partners. “Moreover, there is a strong demand for IT security (cloud apps), which remains consistent regardless of other market factors.”
SMBs also face options when it comes to choosing which type of cloud service to implement:
- Private clouds are owned by individual businesses and not shared with any other entities or organizations, although resources and applications can be shared internally with appropriate departments. This is the most expensive type of cloud computing solution, beyond the means of many SMBs.
- Public cloud is a set of hardware, networks, storage, services, and interfaces owned and operated by a third party for use by other businesses. The data centers supporting public cloud tend to be massive, which enables the scalability, elasticity, and flexibility that makes the cloud so attractive to business users.
- Hybrid cloud combines elements of both types. In practice, many businesses choose to manage highly regulated and/or proprietary resources within a small-scale private cloud that interfaces with public cloud resources, leveraging the latter’s scalability and efficient cost structure.
Large private clouds are beyond the means of most SMBs, but even managing public cloud resources can be a challenge for many companies. Instead, they should take advantage of the lower cost of ownership provided by the multiple services built on top of most public clouds, Thammineni suggests. “If you need invoicing, go buy FreshBooks, but don’t reinvent the wheel by trying to take a server/desktop solution and hosting it in the cloud yourself,” he says. The challenges of managing public cloud resources make SaaS applications a logical choice for most SMBs. “For instance, for businesses that do not have developers on staff, SaaS applications enable them to run their entire IT infrastructure in the cloud for dollars a day, without many of the IT management headaches that come with owning your own hardware,” Roberts says.
Cloud-based solutions make particular sense for SMB owners who wear a number of hats and find themselves spending too much time on non-core and/or non-revenue-generating items like IT. “Technology should enhance productivity, not eat your time,” Thammineni says. “With cloud solutions, software installation requirements are limited or nonexistent, and updates and maintenance are handled by the provider. Cloud apps are hugely cost-effective.”