Phil Castle, The Business Times
Rob Benjamin views cloud-based computing not so much as a revelation, but a migration.
While the cloud often is marketed as something new, the concept of providing services on the Internet has been around nearly as long as the Internet itself. Companies using e-mail to communicate with customers are, in fact, conducting business in the cloud.
What is new is the increasing transfer of computing activity that used to physically take place at businesses to off-site locations made available through Internet access, says Benjamin, director of managed services at Networks Unlimited in Grand Junction.
In the process, business owners and managers face a choice between purchasing products or services — computers to run software and store information or cloud-based services that handle those functions.
Networks Unlimited provides a range of information technology services to businesses, including such cloud-based services as remote data backup and support.
There are a number of advantages to relocating technical services to the Internet, Benjamin says, including the ability to rapidly change the scale of those services. Benjamin compares the situation to turning on more lights and purchasing more electricity from a utility. If a business outgrows the capacity of computers located on-site, it faces the prospect of capital expenditures in additional equipment. But more capacity is available from cloud-based data centers for an additional monthly fee.
One of the other advantages is the ubiquity of the Internet, Benjamin says, meaning businesses can operate anywhere there’s access to the Internet. Businesses can move or quickly open and close branch operations. Employees can work from the field or from home. In fact, businesses can operate on a global level with no physical location at all, he says.
Cloud-based services often offer not only computer hardware, but also software. So a business doesn’t have to purchase software or worry about updates, he says.
Despite some concerns to the contrary, cloud-based computing actually offers more security than operating computers on-site, Benjamin says.
Internet data centers are located in secure facilities, some with biometric access and some with armed guards, Benjamin says.
Moreover, the companies that operate the centers use the most sophisticated and up-to-date methods to prevent hacking and data theft.
While it might feel more safe to keep a computer server in close physical proximity, that server still could be stolen, Benjamin says. “It’s only a window away from being somebody else’s server.”
There are some important considerations involved in deciding whether or not to take advantage of cloud-based services, however, Benjamin adds.
It’s important to carefully calculate the costs involved with purchasing, maintaining and upgrading computer equipment and software as opposed to paying for those services on a monthly basis. Those calculations also should account for the potential growth of a business and the need for additional equipment, he says.
Those decisions are usually made when business owners face the choice of updating or replacing aging equipment or purchasing Internet services, he adds.
The availability of high-quality Internet connections with sufficient speed to handle the required functions also should be considered, Benjamin says. Functions that involve large amounts of data could be handled more quickly with on-site servers.
For many businesses, the decision to use on-site computers or cloud-based services isn’t exclusive one way or the other, Benjamin says. Business owners might decide to go to the cloud for e-mail, data backup and support, but maintain other services on-site. “That’s the great thing with the cloud. You can pick and choose.”
A number of trends point to increasing use of cloud-based services, Benjamin says, among them the growing use of smart phones, tablet computers and other mobile devices connected to the Internet. And as technology has advanced, the price of services and high-speed Internet access has come down.
While cloud-based computing isn’t new, it is likely to become an increasingly popular option for businesses, Benjamin says.