Cloud Computing on the Horizon for Small Firms

Somewhere over the rainbow for small businesses is cloud computing.

Cloud computing is all the rage in tech circles, with much chatter about how it can save small businesses money, resources and time. But what is it exactly and should small businesses be strategizing - or is that agonizing - over it?

David Eisner, president and CEO of Dataprise in Rockville, Md. (Courtesy of company)

The concept of cloud computing has been around for a while. In fact, Web hosting could be considered the first kind of cloud computing, said David Eisner, president and CEO of Dataprise in Rockville, Md. "That's a perfect example of renting application space for a shared provider. A business would be able to provision a Web server and put content on a Web site and pay a monthly fee for that and not have to worry about infrastructure," Eisner said.

But Web hosting firms traditionally haven't offered much beyond Internet connectivity and tools to create Web sites. The concept and services available through cloud computing really starting growing once Amazon and Google began offering cloud computing services to businesses and consumers a few years ago. Microsoft has also recently made a big push into the area.

In the past -- about 15 minutes ago in tech time -- a business would need to purchase software for databases and other needs, along with computer hardware. For many small firms in tight spaces, finding a place to store computer hardware is no easy feat.

"The first benefit is that [cloud computing] can save a company money because you don't have to purchase equipment," or power it, said Eisner, who added that there are many eco-friendly benefits to cloud computing. However, a business will have to pay to rent those services from someone else.

The second benefit Eisner sees is that a small firm tapping into cloud computing will have minimal downtime of their networks and databases.

Downtime is "still not going to be zero," he said, but will be much less than downtimes experienced by companies trying to maintain their systems alone, especially those firms that aren't very tech savvy.

But those firms that have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars upgrading their current infrastructures should be cautious about moving quickly to cloud computing. "My advice is to go slowly and move distinct or isolated applications or needs over to a cloud," said Eisner. "It's not an all or nothing decision."

Because cloud computing is a fairly new field to be introduced to the mainstream, Eisner cautions small businesses to wait about 18 months while the industry matures and larger firms serve as early adopter guinea pigs.

"Folks that ultimately will be providing this service to the world will be large infrastructure providers like telecom firms and Amazon and Google," said Eisner. He advises small firms to work with a tech consultant to come up with a cloud computing plan.

Eisner said it's a big misconception that cloud computing is going to simplify the small business world because "businesses are still going to need to depend on their own use of technology as a competitive advantage to others."

But, he added, it's important to start asking the right questions now. With cloud computing around the corner, small businesses may need to adjust their budgets for future IT investment.

By Sharon McLoone |  December 12, 2008; 4:17 PM ET Tools and Tips
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Posted by: srmaxhiggins | December 13, 2008 3:37 PM

Cloud computing is not just around the corner; it's here. Organizations such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon are offering both applications and computing services in the cloud now.

I've been using the Amazon EC2 for Windows service for a few months now and it's fantastic. Yes, it's more expensive than your commodity web site hosting plan and slightly more expensive than virtual private servers (VPS). However, I have full control of my virtual server and can easily scale up (or out) as my business changes.

For more information, check out my blog post about Amazon EC2,

Posted by: agilemediaventures | December 19, 2008 3:13 PM

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