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To cloud or not to cloud?
There's no doubt about it – cloud computing has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Whereas just a few years ago a company might be seen as brave for moving from an on‑premise IT infrastructure to a cloud computing environment, today that's no longer the case. These days any small to medium-sized business owner could be excused for feeling as though they're behind the eight ball if they're not migrating their company's IT resources to the cloud. Or at least thinking about it.
So what's the best computing environment for your company? If you're considering investing in a new ERP solution, accounting system or employee collaboration application, as examples, should you go with a traditional on-premise solution or take the cloud-based option? Might it even be worthwhile to move 100% of your current IT applications to the cloud?
Naturally there are pros and cons involved in either approach. Here are some of the main things to consider.
Cost-savings are frequently cited as one of the strongest arguments in favour of a cloud migration. The international research firm Gartner has calculated that the yearly cost of owning and maintaining software applications can be up to four times the cost of the initial purchase. And then of course there's the cost of hardware and other components that go into setting up and managing an on-premise infrastructure.
Without the financial burden of building and maintaining your own infrastructure, a cloud based environment can greatly reduce the cost of your investment in IT resources. Importantly, cloud applications are typically paid for on a subscription basis where you only pay for what you use (without any hardware costs); no longer will you find yourself forking out for technology you don't need.
You also save on human resources because software and system updates and upgrades are installed automatically. Rather than call on someone to get these done, it all happens seamlessly in the background.
A lot of business owners are attracted to migrating their information systems to the cloud but have strong reservations when it comes to data privacy and security. Fortunately cloud computing has evolved to the point where this should no longer be a concern. Virtually all vendors, and in particular the more reputable ones, have systems and processes in place to ensure security and eliminate the potential for misuse of their customers' data. What this means is that your data is likely to be as safe from prying eyes when it's in the cloud as it is when you're operating from on-premise servers. Cloud computing vendors also provide reliable virus and malware protection along with encryption capabilities that further address privacy and security needs.
With cloud computing you also do not have to be fearful of lost data due to hard drive seizures, lost laptops or internal server breakdowns. Because your data is stored in the cloud, it's there for you whatever misfortunes befall your hardware.
If you still have nagging doubts about security, and want to be fully confident of your vendors' security capabilities, do your homework. Find out such things as what happens to your data in the event of a crash, where is your data stored, what happens if your provider gets hacked, how often is your data backed up, etc.
If you see some benefit from an IT environment that allows your people to access important systems anywhere, anytime and from any device with an internet connection, cloud-based applications are probably the way to go. Of course with remote access technology your employees can easily plug in to their work computers from non-work locations, however pure cloud solutions make it easier and more convenient, particularly for those who like to get work done on their smartphones.
Can your current IT hardware and software easily expand as your company changes in size and strategic direction? Cloud solutions typically allow you to add new users and new functionality without disrupting your business. And if you need to scale down, you can simply disable the accounts that are no longer being used.
Return on investment
As can be readily seen, there are several potential benefits that can be achieved by migrating your IT resources to the cloud. But there are costs involved as well. The key to working out what's best for your business lies in forecasting what your IT needs will be over the coming years. The old adage that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' may very well apply to your situation. If your on-premise infrastructure is working just fine the way it is, there may be no great advantage in changing things.
Nonetheless, it's undeniable that the trend for SMEs is towards cloud computing, and there are solid reasons for that. So at least look into it, assess the merits of each and steer a course that best sets your business up for the challenges and opportunities ahead.