Just a little over 3 years ago (July 2009), Cloud computing was at a stage of the Gartner, Inc. Hype Cycle called “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” Gartner has since segmented Cloud technology into several components, most of which they now (October 12) show on the “Slope of Enlightenment.”I believe several components of Cloud computing are now at the”Plateau of Productivity,”especially for Small Business.At the beginning of the hype cycle, many different but related technologies are lumped together in one big family and given a catchy name. While this may be necessary in order to generate the excitement or “buzz” that motivates investment and product development (the trigger), it confuses many potential customers, especially those without ready access to technical knowledge – small businesses.Later in the hype cycle, each technology begins to be scrutinized separately and the group fragments into different components again. But, it can still seem to the less technical, like an all or nothing proposition. Small businesses need to understand what pieces of cloud technology are important to them and which pieces can be left for service providers and others to worry about.
Cutting through the hypeAll small businesses use electricity, but most don’t need to understand how it is generated. Virtually none of them generate it for themselves. Cloud computing can be thought of as a utility, much like electricity. Cloud computing encompasses many different outsourced data processing services. There are three major categories of services:IaaS – Infrastructure as a ServiceInfrastructure includes server and network hardware, operating systems software, backup systems, data center cooling, fire suppression and operations services like monitoring and maintenance. Companies that use only IaaS have to provide platform, application and other software, as well configuration and maintenance of the software.One of the promised benefits of IaaS is “on demand,” scalable processing power. It is hoped that when this technology matures, a more cost effective “metered” approach to billing for IaaS services will develop. IaaS customers will likely be larger businesses. They will migrate slowly by business unit and application. Some will deploy “private clouds” and many will adopt a hybrid of private and managed services clouds.PaaS – Platform as a ServicePlatforms are database systems and middleware – application, web, email and groupware servers. Companies using PaaS will also need IaaS. Like most technologies, once widely adopted, IaaS and PaaS services will move down market as they become more and more affordable.SaaS – Software as a ServiceSaaS includes applications like Salesforce.com, Google Apps for Business, and Microsoft Office 365. Accounting, finance, customer relationship management, expense reporting, project management and many other types of business software are available as SaaS.SaaS can be thought of as “off the shelf” application software. Most small businesses will be able to find all the SaaS applications they need to run their business. It is configurable and customizable, just like other “off the shelf” software, but with the major advantages that come with not needing to provision and maintain platforms and infrastructure.
Businesses using SaaS only need to worry about inputting, processing and retrieving their data. They access their applications via the Internet. Their employees need only a computer, web browser and Internet connection. Businesses large and small will benefit from greatly reduced costs for information technology. Existing IT staffs will need to become more business oriented and use their skills to focus on integration, solutions and training.Many SaaS cloud offerings available today are already in the “Plateau of Productivity” stage of the hype cycle. SaaS is secure, reliable and affordable. Remote computing, real time collaboration, and video teleconferencing are just some of the affordable features included in many SaaS products and services.Small businesses should start taking advantage of the cost savings, flexibility and capabilities of cloud computing now.