The Benefits and Risks of Moving Your Business to the Cloud
In this highly digitized era, it is now the norm for companies to save, store, and share their work files on the Internet for easier and more secure access. In this transition, there is much for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) to learn when it comes to cloud computing in the workplace.
What is cloud computing?
Put in simple terms, cloud computing refers to a range of computing services delivered over the Internet (what is otherwise known as “the cloud”). From servers and databases all the way down to computer analytics and storage, cloud computing is here to revolutionize the workplace in the long run. Cloud services are often paid for with a monthly fee and are a good means to reduce infrastructural costs.
Cloud computing for small businesses: why should you consider the cloud?
Although there is little doubt that cloud computing is beneficial for businesses of all sizes, it may be particularly key for the success of small-to-medium businesses (SMBs). This is primarily because of its scalability. With the flexibility of cloud computing costs (i.e., you pay just how much you need monthly), cloud-based tools can be adapted as your company grows in size. Cloud computing promises small companies agility in their business and allows workers to stay closely connected.
Furthermore, for SMBs, the storage and sharing of data on the Internet also implies easy access for authorized individuals. This is particularly useful for initial-stage startup companies that may be recruiting talent from around the globe.
The benefits of cloud computing
Coming with a whole package of conveniences, it is no wonder that cloud computing has slowly become a must-have tool in offices. Here are some of its benefits:
1) It is accessible universally, facilitating collaboration and building productivity
By having all your work files saved, organized, and stored in the cloud, employees are able to access documents anytime, anywhere. There is also the added convenience of making edits easier to save and share on a server, saving your team the trouble of constantly emailing each other back and forth and saving files repetitively onto a limited disk space.
This feature is particularly relevant in a post-pandemic world where hybrid work is widely practiced around the world. Using a secure cloud computing system, a well-maintained server can hugely facilitate collaboration and build productivity in your workplace. Documents can now be passed on in a matter of seconds. The virtual space that cloud computing offers would make the physical distance between employees seem almost non-existent.
2) It saves money for your business
In a pre-cloud world, a business would typically need to purchase significant quantities of hardware for data to be stored. However, with just a monthly fee, businesses can now keep their files operational at a hugely affordable cost. Put in other words, why should you spend perhaps tens of thousands of dollars on hardware and network maintenance for your company’s data, when you can allow a highly-equipped company to do the job for you for a significantly reduced monthly fee?
3) It brings enhanced data security and extra peace of mind
With cyber security research growing firmly, an added benefit of cloud computing is its enhanced data security. To begin with, files on cloud servers are usually encrypted, meaning that information is converted into a ‘code’ to stop unauthorized access. Furthermore, servers and data centers are often situated in locked buildings where people cannot typically access, making cyber break-ins tricky to operationalize. Such elevated data security is especially important if a company has sensitive data that they cannot afford to have leaked.
4) It prevents data loss in natural disasters
A commonly overlooked benefit of cloud computing is data recovery in uncontrollable scenarios, such as natural disasters. When a hurricane, a flood, or a tornado hits the company grounds, there is no guarantee that a company’s data can survive if stored insecurely on vulnerable hardware. In disasters, rain and wind can often cause hardware supplies to break down, and data often cannot be retrieved if the hardware it is stored in gets destroyed. As such, in a way, cloud computing is an ‘insurance’ against data loss in such situations that simply cannot be helped.
5) Applications can be built with speed like never before
Perhaps one of the strongest advantages of a cloud system is how it allows people to build applications faster. On the cloud, there is no need to wait to procure, provision, or configure infrastructure—that is, software can be released or updated more conveniently.
What are the security risks of cloud computing?
Although cloud computing is here to stay, some risks should not be overlooked. These include:
1) Data security and data loss
While cloud computing does indeed come with added security (see above), data breaches are still possible. Additionally, in a shared cyberspace, with each employee carrying the responsibility of handling company data, data loss (i.e., where data is accidentally deleted or corrupted) may inevitably occur. It is therefore critical to raise employee awareness of such possibilities and make clear what measures to take to avoid them.
2) Vendor lock-in
Vendor lock-in is a tricky situation wherein a business using a given cloud computing service cannot easily migrate to a competitor's platform. This is a key barrier to the introduction of cloud computing in IT, and the lack of standardization among cloud computing systems also contributes to the issue. Careful choice of a platform in the first instance, hence, is critical.
3) Downtime and performance issues
The cloud may occasionally have downtime. The timing is unpredictable and it may occur during the peak of office hours, making it impossible for employees to access remote data when it is needed. Such downtimes, while usually not long-lasting, may still pose some consequences for the business if happening at an inconvenient time.
4) Potential hidden costs
Although cloud computing is considered an economical choice, IT expenditures on it are not always optimized. There are, for example, surveys that indicate how 30% of cloud computing spending is wasted. The optimization of costs is hence an ongoing topic for businesses to reflect on.
5) Legal and regulatory compliance can be complicated
With cloud computing being relatively new and unfamiliar to many, it may be easy to overlook legal and regulatory compliances. These compliances relate to the process of ensuring that a business adheres to the IT laws enacted by governing bodies. Training on this should hence be expected in businesses.
Microsoft Azure: an Optimal Cloud Computing Platform for Your Business
There may be some choices on the market when it comes to cloud computing. However, there are many reasons to suggest that Microsoft Azure would be an optimal choice when it comes to cloud storage for business.
With four categories of cloud computing – infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), and serverless functions – Microsoft Azure provides a large variety of cloud services. From computing to analytics, and from storage to networking, businesses can use Azure flexibly to achieve their goals. Any user can also either run applications in the public cloud or scale entirely new applications. It is compatible with open source technologies; importantly, when it comes to data loss or service interruption, its data recovery time is 66% faster than an on-premise IT solution.
How can you successfully introduce cloud computing to your SMB?
Despite the benefits that cloud computing can offer, not every business understands how to introduce it successfully. For instance, the Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report revealed that more than 30% of cloud activity turned out to be inefficient in 2021. Furthermore, as much as 80% of chief information officers have not yet truly reaped the true advantages of migrating a business to the cloud. New technology can be complicated and overwhelming to introduce into the workplace, so here are some tips to move cloud computing into your business more smoothly.
To move to the cloud, a business would have to first choose a platform (carefully, so as to avoid the vendor lock-in issue mentioned previously). Domain names should be synced, and existing files properly organized and uploaded. In addition to these, consider the following steps:
1) Assess Your Company’s Needs and Evaluate Relevant Costs
Before joining the trend of moving to the cloud, take time to evaluate whether the move is absolutely needed for your company. Is your business going partially remote and starting to see challenges supporting remote employees? Is collaboration between employees slowed down due to technological disconnection? Is your need for storage capacity growing? Although using cloud computing is often more economical, there are also costs associated with moving to the cloud that you’d have to consider beforehand.
2) Evaluate the company's cloud security and privacy
There are multiple cloud companies on the market, and it is important to first examine the security and privacy levels of the company you have in mind. Spend some time checking reviews – it may save you from unwanted cyberattacks in the long run.
3) Plan your data migration
A basic step is understanding the data your company possesses and deciding which datasets you'd like to move to the cloud. This can prevent the transfer of obsolete data and conserve space in your new cloud environment. Furthermore, you need to decide whether you'd like your data migrated online, offline, or perhaps using a combination of both. It's also crucial to determine whether you need a shallow or deep migration. Shallow migration involves the straightforward copying of data from an on-premises architecture and shifting it to a cloud platform as is. In contrast, deep migration involves 'decoupling' resources from the original system and making adjustments so they align as closely as possible with cloud-native resources before the move to the cloud.
4) Ensure the compatibility of your existing software with the new cloud system
Cloud computing systems are intricately built, and one system may not be easily applicable to all existing software. This means that even if you're ready and eager to move your business to the cloud, your software might not be entirely compatible with the new cloud system you're considering. The good news is, if your company is already primarily using Microsoft's software packages, then Microsoft Azure is likely to be fully compatible for use.
Get Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals Certification
While that might sound hassle-free without any coding, it is still beneficial for companies to have a thorough understanding of how the cloud functions. For companies or individual employees who would like to improve their knowledge of cloud computing, another avenue to explore would be the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals Certification. The certification program is particularly suitable for individuals who would like to learn more about the details of how to use cloud computing effectively. In addition to infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS), the course would also feature an in-depth exploration of the public, private, and hybrid clouds. With cloud computing being constantly developed and re-engineered, such a course would provide your business with the foundational knowledge of how the cloud works and the knowledge of how to make well-informed company policies regarding the cloud in the future.
Esme Lee is a science writer and editor in the UK, carrying a passion for tech copywriting. She has a background in educational neuroscience and holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge.