Cloud computing sounds complicated, but it’s really just a buzzword for services—most commonly web-based software—delivered over the internet.
Cloud technology offloads the processing and work of the service to off-site computers rather than the computers in your office. For example, when you sign in to a web-based email app like Gmail, that app is running on servers in a Google data center, therefore running in the cloud.
Cloud computing is a big part of the ongoing digital transformation that’s sweeping the business world. To help you get up to speed, we’ll walk through the different types of cloud services, how they benefit small businesses, and the possible issues you should look for.
The Three Main Types of Cloud Services
Cloud services can be divided into three broad categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS). Let’s look at each in more detail.
IaaS, or infrastructure as a service, is one of the most common forms of cloud service, where you rent servers or storage space from a provider. Frontier Business is a provider that offers cloud-based servers and computing.
PaaS, platform as a service, refers to services for developing and running software applications over the internet. PaaS provides the infrastructure for creating and operating apps without companies needing to maintain that infrastructure themselves. Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure are PaaS examples.
SaaS, or software as a service, is likely the type of cloud computing most people are familiar with because they rely on them for day-to-day operations. SaaS apps, such as Trello and Gmail, are often provided as subscription services, though this isn’t always the case.
The difference between these three types of cloud services isn’t always this clear, but it gives businesses (and IT departments) a simple way to differentiate between them and choose the service that best suits their needs.
Public, Private, and Hybrid Clouds
Whatever type of cloud service you’re considering, there are three ways it can be deployed: a public cloud, a private cloud, and a hybrid cloud.
A public cloud is owned and operated by a third-party cloud services provider and is then rented out to businesses and other customers. Amazon Web Services and Trello are examples of public cloud deployments.
A private cloud is operated by any individual entity and kept within that entity’s property; no one can access the private cloud without authorization. If your business maintains its own servers for cloud storage, it operates on a private cloud.
As the name suggests, a hybrid cloud uses elements of both public and private clouds. Information can move freely between the two in this setup, potentially allowing businesses more flexibility.
How Cloud Computing Can Benefit a Small Business
Cloud-based services offer several advantages, especially for small businesses with more limited resources.
It’s Cost Effective
IaaS and PaaS providers, like Amazon Web Services, allow small businesses to use powerful server setups without needing to worry about maintenance or physical storage costs, both of which can be overwhelming for start-ups. In this case, cloud services help free the business’s limited resources for other tasks.
Since servers are off-site and managed by the service provider, adding storage space or server bandwidth is often as easy as upgrading your subscription or plan with the provider. If you were maintaining servers on-site, you’d need to install and configure new hardware, which can put a strain on your IT department.
Software such as Google Docs allows for real-time collaboration between employees and customers, offloads storage to the cloud for secure backup and easy access, and can be accessed from any computer. This high-level flexibility is crucial for small start-ups.
The Downsides of the Cloud
There are pros and cons to everything, and cloud-based computing is no exception. The biggest downside of cloud services is the lack of control. If there’s an issue with your service provider that causes downtime, you’re often stuck waiting for them to fix it. If the infrastructure or software runs locally, your own IT staff could potentially get the problem diagnosed and fixed more quickly.
Another concern is privacy. With information stored on the cloud service provider’s servers, you may have less control over data sharing or leaking than you would with local storage. Most providers make data security a top priority to alleviate these fears, but it’s still a potential issue you need to be aware of. If your business handles extremely sensitive data, using local services or a private cloud may be the best option.
If you’re holding off on incorporating the cloud into your small business, you’re missing out on many key advantages. With cloud services getting more advanced, there’s never been a better time to jump on board.