This graphic was doing the rounds on social media sites last year.
Whilst it’s funny to anyone with IT knowledge, it does pose a question.
Is cloud computing all that it’s cracked up to be and is there really a business benefit to it or are you just paying for the privilege of using someone else’s computer?
We’ll be covering some real world examples of how small and medium size businesses are benefiting from the cloud computing.
The Road Warriors & Home Workers
Probably the biggest players to benefit from cloud computing are employees on the move and those working from home.
With a clean internet connection, they’ve got access to their email across multiple devices, laptop, tablet and phone. All of which are easy to setup and access if you are on the right cloud service for email.
The big 2 are Office 365 (Microsoft) and G-Suite (Google). Both have integrated their email platform into popular email clients like Outlook and smartphone devices running iOS or Android. In contrast, before these cloud services were readily available email on the move was not plain sailing.
Things like the correct exchange server login details had to be precise and varied with whoever set up your in-house server. If you were still relying on a POP/IMAP email service then it was hit or miss if everything was synced up across all your devices.
Let’s not forget the devices
Had anyone experience of setting up a blackberry to send and receive email? You had to know what you were doing both on the device and on the server end for everything to click into place. This was a gold mine for IT service providers. Where it took someone with the correct knowledge time to setup, this, in essence, cost your business money.
Whilst yes cloud might just be running your email through someone else’s computer. In this case Microsoft or Google – it’s a far easier approach and saves businesses thousands of pounds per year on hidden maintenance and IT support costs.
The Bean counters
Sage Accounting are playing catch up with their “cloud” solution. Xero has hit Sage hard and there are many fresh young accountancy practices benefiting from the flexibility of Xero as a cloud accounting package.
The biggest benefit to most businesses of running Xero is the ease of use and minimum requirements to get things up and running.
Sage 50 requires a software installation and regular backups taken. If you want to share access to Sage 50 between more than one user it gets tricky. Whereas Xero all you need is an internet connection and a web browser.
Of course, if your internet connection goes down then you will have an issue, however, it’s more than likely a risk worth taking due to the flexibility of Xero. Just like cloud email service you can access it anywhere with a stable internet connection and don’t have to rely on antiquated remote access like a VPN into your office.
Sage, as mentioned, is playing catch up and they do have a solution similar to Xero (Sage One) which does look good. Check back in a year or so and I’m sure they will give Xero a very good run for their money.
There’s also, of course, the larger installs of Sage, like Sage 200 which you are still going to need a server and IT support for. At the time of writing, there are no other cloud type products on the market than can compete.
The IT Department
One of the biggest winners in cloud computing is the in-house IT department or managed service provider.
Cloud just makes life a lot easier.
We’ve already covered email in the cloud but from an IT manager or service provider’s perspective, this is a huge responsibility that has now been taken out of their hands.
I remember the days when if your Exchange email server ran out of space or a service stopped working it was literally all hands on deck. With Office 365 exchange online services or G-Suite, this is just not the case.
Yes you may have service interruptions from both Google or Microsoft (see the links below)
However, the downtime is minimal and the business is not having to pay the correctly experienced IT professional to “be there” in case the exchange server falls over.
Other cloud services that change the IT manager’s life include tools such as GFI Max Focus which is a remote monitoring and management tool.
This compromises of a small piece of software that are installed on all desktops, laptops and servers. It proactively monitors all the machines in the company and reports on possible issues. Inbuilt to such tools are also the ability to take control of any device that has an internet connection.
This allows IT companies and departments to fix and work on issues without having to leave the comfort of their desk. This has totally changed the way that IT professionals now work when it comes to system administration and IT support.
Whole IT departments that had to be on hand for support issues can either be outsourced to a service provider or offshored, which in the current Oil & Gas climate here in Aberdeen has been done by some of the biggest companies. Personally, I know of two (Wood Group & Enermech) that have both completely offshored their technical support team and are using cloud-based RRM solutions to support the workforce.
Finally the last big change which is still coming down the pipeline is network equipment.
Cisco is leading the way with their Meraki acquisition
Meraki network devices allow IT professionals to remotely monitor and manage all aspects of the network. They are also super simple to set up compared to the command line knowledge you would have to have in order to setup up a standard piece of Cisco network equipment.
What does this mean in the real world? Well for the one you don’t need to send your IT guy on a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) course to be able to setup and maintain the office network. Meraki devices are fully GUI based (graphics user interface). This means that there’s a lower barrier to entry on maintaining the network which in turn allows the IT person deal with network issues quickly and effectively.
The other practical benefit is similar to the RRM solution, Meraki devices can be remotely managed. When the wifi network goes down in the satellite office it’s no longer a day out the office to go and troubleshoot what the issues are. Meraki allows you to control all aspects of the network from the comfort of any internet connected desktop computer.
These are just some of the examples of how cloud services have completely changed the IT department operations.
Last on the list are software developers. It’s a growing industry and costs have been reduced dramatically by cloud computing for developers due to services such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.
Both these services allow developers to build test environments for their software solutions with no physical hardware requirement.
Back before these services existed developers would have to invest £10,000’s of capital on server hardware purchases and connectivity.
A great example of just how flexible and scalable services such as Amazon AWS are companies like AirBnB. They own no physical hardware. The entire operation in based on the Amazon AWS platform.
See here for the full story on how AirBnB grew usings Amazon AWS. >> https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/airbnb-reinventing-the-hospitality-industry-on-aws/
This has obviously benefited many large-scale operations but Small and Medium business can also benefit from Azure & AWS. Business ventures which would usually require capital investment to host software or an application can now “on demand” with setup taking only a couple of hours instead of a 2-3 month project.
What does the future hold for these cloud services? Well, it’s anyone’s guess what path this is going to lead business and industry down but there are some predictions in my own mind that I already see becoming real.
This includes less reliance on IT companies for support and maintenance of hardware and servers. The IT person is now an advisor and working at a higher level in the business, advising on what services and strategy to implement for the most cost effective and efficient bang for the buck.
Smaller business can literally be run on a single desktop or laptop computer and I can see one day when there won’t even be a computer. Your smart phone will connect to your desk monitor and everything will be in your pocket at all times.
Here’s a perfect example of this.
This is the future and it’s great for business but it spells a radical change for the IT industry. IT Rockstars goal is to help you choose the right technology for your business and we think this goal is well placed for the technology future that’s happening right before our eyes.
Image credit (scared cat) Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dreamatrix/