In the modern world, we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in so-called “Cloud” technologies. For Small and Medium Businesses (SMB), “The Cloud”, and Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) in particular, provide a compelling case. In this series of articles, I’ll aim to help you understand if “The Cloud” is right for your business, provide a strong foundation for selecting the right partners, and explore some strategies that will help ensure a smooth transition.
In this article, I’ll explain what “The Cloud” is and why it is rapidly becoming the default choice for SMBs.
What is “The Cloud”? What is SaaS (Software as a Service)?
Simply put, “The Cloud” refers to software and services that run on the internet, instead of locally on your computer or server- which I will refer to as “On Premises” in this article.
Cloud services come in several different forms. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on the last one. The others can have a place in the SMB space, but by and large, SaaS provides an easier and more affordable option.
You can think of SaaS as “Web Applications”. You open your web browser, navigate to the correct website, log in and immediately start working. You can think of Facebook as a basic example of a SaaS solution. You need to create an account and you suddenly have access to a range of services- photo sharing, a Marketplace, instant messaging and more. You are responsible for the data you upload to the platform and nothing more- except maybe your conduct.
Cloud services provide numerous benefits over the traditional “server in the closet” paradigm. These include:
- Greater business continuity
- Improved accessibility and flexibility
- Scalability and Predictable Costs
- Better functionality
There’s a (not so) old joke that goes “There is no cloud, just someone else’s computer” which, like any good joke, contains a useful grain of truth. The reality is that your programs need to run on a server somewhere– instead of in your closet, it’s now on your Cloud Provider’s server farm. Where this joke falls short is that there is very little in common between your server and the vast redundant infrastructure typically used by cloud providers.
The technology needs of an organization like Microsoft should conjure images of row after row of tidy-cabled racks filled top-to-bottom with blinking boxes. They are perfectly climate controlled and protected by state-of-the art fire suppression systems- all in pursuit of business continuity. For many SMBs, their technology needs have been served by something much simpler- and probably a little dustier.
With cloud services, you are essentially buying a small part of a much larger system. This provides the benefits of enterprise infrastructure without bearing the considerable responsibility and cost that these systems require.
Improved Accessibility and Flexibility:
Cloud services are built from the ground up as being internet-accessible. If you want to provide access to company resources from outside of the office in the traditional model, you are likely using VPN or RDP. These require that you provide the (sometimes expensive) infrastructure to support these services, and do not provide easy or seamless access.
With SaaS applications, you can access these resources from nearly any internet-connected device. Users can work from company laptops, their home computers and even their mobile devices. Businesses who adopted this model prior to the Everybody-Works-From-Home-Now surprise had a far less disruptive experience than those who did not.
Scalability and Predictable Costs:
Every server has a useful lifespan, and most businesses plan to refresh their server on a fixed lifecycle. This introduces a considerable recurring cost every 5 years or so. While this will typically be budgeted for in advance, it can be challenging to know “how much” server to buy. If you grow more than you anticipated, you can expect expensive expansion projects that you did not account for, and if you build a server that accounts for growth that never happens, you will have wasted the investment when your next refresh cycle comes along.
Most cloud services operate on a per-user licensing model. You have a predictable, fixed monthly cost to provide a set of reliable services for a given employee. Whether you grow by 1 employee or 100, you have a clear understanding of what that will cost, and can quickly provision services to account for the new staff.
The cloud-based model lends itself naturally towards better collaboration and better functionality. Integration with other platforms is easier, including Single Sign-On.
Many of these systems are built with User Empowerment in mind, and enable users to have far greater control over their working environments without intervention from their IT Overlords than ever before. This is especially true for managers who can be given easy access to systems that will allow them to provision their own resources and manage the access of their teams in ways that aren’t possible with on-premises systems.
For these reasons, along with the predictable revenue stream of subscription-based pricing (I’ll talk more about this in a later article!), most software providers are focusing their development efforts on their Cloud offerings. For better or worse, the on-premises versions of their software are maintained out of necessity, and do not receive the same level of attention.
The advantages that Cloud services offer over the “server in the closet” model are numerous, and will only continue to improve and gain popularity. Businesses who adopt these solutions will be able to increase their leverage well beyond their competitors who do not. If you are interested in learning more about the future of Great IT, I encourage you to reach out to us and book a free consultation- and look out for the next article in this series!