According to a recent study, the real value of cloud services for SMBs is access to services that were once only available to enterprises – and for a faction of the cost: “Cloud computing can help level the playing field for smaller firms. It allows them to access sophisticated IT services that were previously out of reach. For example, it can allow them to manage and monitor their sales, operations and finances in real time.”
Research indicates that cloud adoption is steadily growing among SMBs. For example, in the U.S. the cloud market is expected to reach $32 billion by the beginning of 2016, representing a 19 percent year-over-year growth rate from $18.9 billion early in 2013. Onboarding your organization into the cloud will be a key differentiator that will help keep a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced market. If your business hasn’t adopted cloud yet then it’s already behind the curve. It’s not too late to catch up, but you’ll need to act fast!
In the following we outline 7 practical ways that small business leaders can start today to get onboard with cloud services to improve their business ROI and optimize workflows.
1. Cloud storage
Businesses have also gotten on the cloud storage bandwagon and are readily observing the benefits of giving employees access to their content when, where, and how they need it. Whether you’re a small business leader and need to provide cloud storage for your organization, or else a startup offering the next generation revolutionary app – you’re going to demand strong storage capabilities “in the cloud.” And concerns over security in the cloud don’t get as much attention anymore as data storage is regulated by the highest standards. Some of the top contenders in this space are Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, and Dropbox.
2. Email & office tools
Unlike the old days when you used to have to purchases enterprise subscriptions to Microsoft, now in less than 2 minutes you can enjoy instant access to email, document, and file sharing in the cloud. Now with the Office 365 Small Business Suite, you can get the full online suite of MS desktop tools for $150 per user per year. Gmail has also come a long way since it started in 2006. Google has expanded its ecosystem to include a full suite of cloud-based tools. Google Apps for Business provides professional email, online storage, documents, shared calendars, video meetings and all the other Google tools and resources that we’ve grown accustomed to using on a daily basis for a modest $50 per user per year. Forget the hosting of servers, licensing software, or upgrades to your infrastructure. If you’re not hosting your email, calendars, contacts and chat through either Google Apps for Business or Microsoft’s Office 365, then you’re wasting your time on unnecessary hassles and expenses.
3. Data warehouses
Everything seems to be going the way of the cloud and so why not your company’s production data as well? Traditional on premise data warehouses solutions are expensive and so it’s not surprising that this area was ripe for disruption via cloud-based solutions. Companies like Rackspace offer database solutions for MySQL hosted in the cloud, in addition to any other cloud solution – hosting, networking, app building, etc. – that your business would need. Amazon Redshift is another cloud hosted data warehouse that offers highly scalable and cost efficient ways to analyze company data using existing business intelligence tools. With the massive growth of Big Data in recent years, these are just a small sampling of the growing field of cloud-based data warehouse solutions that enable small businesses ways to scale up, store, and analyze their data without the prohibitive costs of large on premise resources.
5. Virtual desktops
Desktop virtualization has been around for years but has also gone to the cloud, thus offering small businesses numerous ways to save on hardware expenses, maintenance, and other hassles by offloading these over to cloud-based virtual desktop providers. The advantage of virtual desktops is that they can be tailored to end-user needs and as headcount increases more can be created for a modest fee. Solutions such as Cloud My Office provide end users with a fully customized Windows virtual desktop environment that is cloud hosted and maintained without the headache of hardware installations and standalone software. dinCloud is another provider that offers a private virtual data center (server, firewall, security, application hosting, ect.) along with co-managed services (help desk, software distribution, provisioning, and data center management).
5. Project management
With the growth in collaboration tools and resources, organizations have realized that proper project management is critical to business ROI. Without it workflows will get muddled, employees and customers frustrated, and deliverables delayed – ultimately resulting in lost revenue and negative impacts on brand reputation. Many cloud-based solutions have sprung up in recent years, offering project management resources and tools all under one roof. Basecamp, one of the world’s most popular cloud PM solutions, offers a fully integrated project management environment comprised of to-do lists, wiki-style web-based text documents, milestone management, file sharing, time tracking, and a messaging system. Trello and Asana are other cloud-based solutions for task and project management, with the latter focused on innovatively eliminating email as the basis for cross-collaboration.
6. Big Data in the cloud
Given the growth and popularity of Big Data in recent years, notable markets have opened up to help businesses leverage their data and move huge volumes in and out of the cloud. Analytics as a Service (AaaS) has emerged as a new cloud model for helping provide businesses with faster, scalable ways to integrate, analyze, transform, and visualize various types of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data in real time. Platforms like Aspera and Qubole offer solutions to the Cloud I/O gridlock. Google’s Cloud Dataflow also provides a native like environment for large-scale data processing on scenarios like ETL, analytics, real-time computation, and process orchestrations.
7. Performance monitoring
In the “old days” IT shops had to spend all kinds of money on servers and other hardware and software installations to keep the infrastructure running optimally. Even then bottlenecks, maintenance, uptime, and downtime were constant concerns. There are significant advantages to offloading your website monitoring to a cloud based host – cost, scalability, efficiency, to name a few. Not to mention, this frees you up to focus on growing your business, which matters the most anyway.
If you’d like to get onboard with the latest in cloud based monitoring then you should try a 24/7 monitoring service like Monitis. With its first-class global service, Monitis allows organizations to monitor their network anytime and from anywhere. For instance, with Monitis you can load test your website to determine at what point it starts creating traffic issues. They’ll also send you timely alerts by every possible means (live phone messages, text, email, Twitter, ect.) to keep you apprised about your site performance. If your web hosting services go down then Monitis will be first to let you know. Starting up with Monitis is easy; just go on over and sign up for a free trial today and let them help boost your bottom-line. You’ll be glad you did!