Cloud computing is taking the world by storm. And new research indicates that small businesses are the most aggressive users of the cloud. Cloud computing is a new approach to accessing the software and data storage resources you rely on to run your business. With the cloud, your data and programs no longer live on your own computer. Instead, a hosted service provider manages the applications and computer resources, and you access your applications, documents, photos, and other information over the Internet.
Cloud computing can eliminate the need for you to deploy file and e-mail servers, storage systems, shrink-wrapped software, and other physical IT infrastructure. You only pay for the computer resources you need as you use them, not unlike purchasing utilities, such as electricity and water. Another frequent analogy used to explain the cloud is: it's like renting a car instead of buying one.
The cloud provides plenty of benefits that are particularly appealing to small and medium-size businesses (SMBs). You can get the latest technology, putting you on equal footing with the largest competitors, without needing a big IT department to install, manage, and update it. You don't need to worry about buying a server or extra hardware to run the software on. The cloud provider handles all these chores. Again, it's the difference been renting and buying – which reduces your costs and eases your cash flow.
According to CompTIA, a technology industry group, nearly two-thirds of mid-size firms ($10 million to $99 million in revenues) are involved in the cloud. And more than one in three companies with revenues under $10 million are turning to the cloud.
In a recent CompTIA survey, more than eight in 10 companies said the cloud helped them reduce capital expenditures and drive down costs. In addition, "81 percent of end users expressed a desire to add new capabilities not available in current IT models as a reason for the move to cloud computing," says Carolyn April, director of industry analysis for CompTIA.
SMBs are going to the cloud for a wide and ever-growing range of computing needs—storage for the masses of data they produce; email; instant messaging; and newer technologies, such as web collaboration and customer relationship management (CRM). Many smaller firms have, up to now, been reluctant to use these resources because of their typically high upfront costs. Sophisticated applications, such as business intelligence and analytics, are also coming to the cloud, giving SMBs tools to more effectively manage their operations than ever before.
Customers also see immediate productivity gains by moving to online software, because they reduce IT downtime and support costs. With cloud computing, "It's not unusual to see help-desk ticket volumes shrink by 60 percent," says Kirsten Barrera, Director of eMarketing for InfinIT Consulting. "Downtime can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in lost productivity. With enterprise-like features such as shared calendars and instant messaging, "Customers tell us that they see productivity gains of up to 75 percent just from being able to adopt the latest software."
Experts agree that small businesses will keep their heads in the cloud—and that it will provide huge cost savings and competitive advantages, as they carve out new niches to go against large competitors.
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