Can Small Businesses Use Cloud Computing?

For years, small businesses have wondered how they could possibly compete against big firms like IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT) and Oracle (ORCL) when it comes to enterprise technology. But after a recent spate of reports and media headlines, small businesses are beginning to see how they could benefit from cloud-computing services.

Even the Department of Homeland Security has endorsed cloud computing, arguing in favor of keeping the best ideas and practices from the public sector within government.

“Adopting cloud-based solutions is not a game changer, but it is an important step for small businesses,” said Allan Nordstrom, CEO of Webdynamics, an Atlanta-based cloud computing company. “It could fundamentally change how small businesses get their information, manage their processes and communicate internally. And it may potentially increase their bottom line.”

Amazon’s Business Cloud, Microsoft’s Azure and Google’s Google Apps for Business are becoming more widely used, and many businesses are turning to these services to streamline communications, organize files, build websites and run other business functions.

How Can Small Businesses Take Advantage of Cloud Computing?

On-site systems still dominate many businesses, but in many cases, the small businesses that want to use these cloud services are not tied down by multi-year contracts. Often, cloud services are just as affordable as on-site systems.

Sydney Allport, vice president of the public sector for Oracle, said the average person spends about 80 percent of his or her time working on-site, so cloud systems could be a game changer for businesses.

“Once that security process is taken away, you can bring your best and brightest minds anywhere you want them,” said Cary Jordan, CEO of Webdynamics. “It becomes much easier to collaborate with businesses. There are so many more things you can do and much better flexibility.”

Small businesses are taking advantage of cloud computing. The Small Business Administration recently introduced its Enterprise Cloud Services pilot program, encouraging small businesses to get involved in the public sector and encourage the use of cloud systems.

Building Cloud Strategies

Getting started is not always easy. Cloud services can come with different security requirements, requirements that some businesses may not have considered. Jordan said that businesses may need to evaluate their security before joining any of the cloud services.

“Small businesses that are working on their credit could have a difficult time because they may be subjected to an extra layer of scrutiny or additional security measures,” Jordan said.

Jeff Davidson, CEO of Small Business Solutions, a cloud computing provider based in Connecticut, said small businesses need to evaluate the cloud services they are using, depending on what it is they want to use the cloud for.

“You need to take into consideration how much cloud computing you need to get what you want,” Davidson said.

He said that businesses need to look at a service’s security, but also ask about how they’ll need to manage their network.

Davidson noted that many small businesses are often tied into their own internal IT systems, so they may not need to worry about network security. But some businesses, Davidson said, do have specific concerns about what would happen if they were locked out of their own internal networks.

“You need to assess what your network security needs are,” Davidson said. “You need to know how much more you’ll have to pay for it. If you use the cloud for your back office and it costs you more, you might not want to jump to a public cloud.”

To build a cloud strategy, Davidson said companies need to do a lot of evaluation of the various cloud services.