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The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started in the Cloud

 Especially to small business owners and technology principals, buzzwords can be both confusing and worrisome. As your competition is embracing big data, machine learning, and predictive analytics, are you ready and willing to keep pace?

Cloud computing is one of those buzzwords. You’ve probably heard of it, and might even have a vague idea of what it’s about. That means little if you don’t know enough to realize its benefits or understand how you can begin to implement it. 

Let’s start to change that. Consider this your ultimate guide for getting started in the cloud, from the advantages of moving to this type of system to the platforms available to businesses and the steps you need to get started.

The Cloud: More than Just Air in the Sky

Let’s start with a formal definition. As outlined by Znet,

Cloud computing is the delivery of on-demand computing services — from applications to storage and processing power — typically over the internet and on a pay-as-you-go basis.

In other words, it’s all about being remote. From cloud storage to cloud applications and even complex implementation like remote desktop, what unites all services under this umbrella is the fact that you don’t have to host them on your own server and premises. Instead, the company with whom you contract for the service hosts them online, and you can access that through the internet.

You probably leverage it in your daily life, even if you don’t know it. Netflix hosts its shows and movies in the cloud so you don’t need a hard drive. Your emails are not stored on your computer, but online. And if you’ve set up a backup service like iCloud or Google Drive on your phone, that backup goes straight to the cloud.

That’s not to minimize the tangible business use cases for the cloud. There’s a reason one third of all IT expenses are now related to the cloud, with total revenues scheduled to eclipse $300 million this year. From large enterprises to small businesses, organizations are beginning to realize the benefits of the service. Let’s examine those benefits more closely.

5 Benefits of Moving Your Operations to the Cloud

Yes, it’s a new concept. It might even require a complete shift in your IT operations philosophy. At the same time, that shift may be well worth the effort and initial investment, considering these 5 business benefits of the cloud.

1) Decreased Maintenance Needs

Moving your IT services and applications to the cloud essentially means outsourcing the maintenance part of your IT operations. Take office software as an example.

Microsoft Office 365 is fully cloud-based, which means you don’t have to host it on your server or worry about having enough storage for your team. It’s accessible through the internet, no installation required – and it updates itself automatically, instead of requiring a standardized process. The same is true for almost any cloud service.

2) Remote Access

The lack of physically installed software or hosted servers on your premises also means significant improvements to accessing your applications. In many cases, and depending on security rules, only an internet access and login is necessary. Considering the fact that 70% of the global workforce now works remotely at least once per week, that increased access can be absolutely crucial to maintaining and even improving organizational efficiencies.

3) Increased Security

If you’re new to the concept, and considering the remote access benefit mentioned above, it’s tempting to conclude that data and applications hosted on the cloud are less secure. In fact, the opposite tends to be the case.

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Most cloud solutions come standard with security protocols like multi-factor authentication, which can be difficult to implement for small and medium-sized businesses. They tend to make security a priority specifically because of the common concerns mentioned above. As a result, most cloud applications have actually become more secure than their on-premise counterparts.

4) Scalability

Naturally, most businesses strive for growth over time. That can be difficult to achieve with solutions built for a specific business or workforce size. Fortunately, any application or environment built in the cloud is inherently scalable.

As mentioned in the definition above, cloud computing tends to be pay-as-you-go. That means an extra user, terrabyte, or even application only costs incrementally more. You don’t need to switch software or build new servers; instead, they grow with you. That scalability allows you to sustain an IT environment designed for your growing business.

5) The Move to Big Data

Finally, let’s revisit another technology buzzword that has been making its rounds. Big data is an umbrella term for all the infromation constantly collected about businesses, consumers, and the environment. It doubles in size every two years, and can be both structured (ready to analyze) and unstructured.

On its own, that concept is scary. It’s easy to suffer from data overload. With the right cloud solution, you can manage and streamline it, allowing you to not just store it but also prioritize it, analyze patterns, and draw conclusions. The big forest of data suddenly sees paths to business improvements and long-term success.

The Cloud Hosting Services and Platforms You Need to Know

Considering its rapid growth and the many business benefits, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s largest technology companies are competing for attention through their cloud solution. A full listing would be too large even for this guide. Instead, let’s break it down by two categories: task-based software and more comprehensive enterprise solutions.

Task-Based Software: You Might Not Even Know It’s in the Cloud

Let’s start with some of the more narrow service providers that leverage cloud computing. They tend to sell its benefits, but their goal is largely to help improve efficiencies in one specific area. Solutions might include:

  • Storage solutions like Dropbox or Box that essentially act as a hard drive accessible from anywhere, with shareable data throughout your team.
  • Productivity solutions like Office 365 or Google G-Suite, offering word processing, spreadsheet software, and presentation preparation in an online format.
  • Cloud hosting solutions like HostGator, offering to host your website (and the data that comes with it) online rather than on a server that lives on your premises.
  • Analytics solutions like Google Analytics that help you collect and analyze data about your business and its target audiences.

When implementing these types of task-based solutions, a thorough implementation software might but is typically not needed. They’re essentially evolutions of services that have always existed. Moving to them is easy, once you determine that you need the specific service in question.

Heads-up: many of the companies providing these types of services also offer more comprehensive solutions. At the same time, especially as you move more of your IT operations to the cloud, it becomes more favorable to go with a more comprehensive solution that integrates multiple applications. That’s how we move to enterprise service providers.

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Enterprise Cloud Solutions: Get Ready to Change Your Technology Philosophy

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that cloud computing is task-based. At its best, it’s strategic, with the potential to build the basis for your entire IT infrastructure. Some of the solutions increasingly available and realistic for small businesses include:

  • Microsoft Azure, which offers a comprehensive suite of applications including the potential for virtual machines that take even your office PCs to the cloud.
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS), the most profitable arm of the e-commerce giant that is also the market leader in cloud solutions from hosting to security.
  • Google Cloud, focusing heavily on data management and machine learning alongside its G-Suite and Chrome integrations.
  • IBM, with comprehensive options from security to the internet of things and blockchain. 

These are the options that truly make you switch to the cloud, with all the benefits (and required technology shifts) that come along with it. They’re enterprise solutions designed to build an integrated system of cloud applications, all exchanging data and working together.

How Can You Start to Move Your Business to the Cloud?

Enough with the overview. Getting started in the cloud requires all of the above knowledge, but it never hurts to finish with some action steps that help you actually move forward in that journey. You know the benefit, along with the range of solutions available. Now, let’s discuss how you can leverage them. Making the cloud work for your small business comes down to a few steps:

  • Understand your needs. A comprehensive solution may be perfect to transform your business, or you might just need some distributed storage for the time being. The better you understand your current (and potential future) needs, the more smoothly the planning process will go.
  • Start with specific applications where a move to the cloud is more natural. That way, you and everyone in the business can get a taste of the benefits and get sold on the concept before you embrace a full-scale move.
  • Embrace the cloud philosophy, ensuring that all stakeholders throughout the business buy in to the same level you do. That might include some initial education to overcome the initial resistance to change.
  • Set your short-term and long-term goals. Exactly what are you trying to get out of cloud solutions? Are you hoping to save money through storage or eventually move completely to a distributed infrastructure? Make sure to include time frames, so you can hold yourself accountable down the road.
  • Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of working with a reliable partner on this type of project. That partner, ideally, knows about the various options and solutions, and can guide you on the right path. That way, you maximize your opportunities, ensuring a smooth transition to the cloud without 

Where you find that partner is up to you. One option: contact us. Our experience in the cloud, especially in working not just with enterprises but businesses of all sizes, could be invaluable in a potential partnership. Allow us to talk you through the process in more detail, and maximize your opportunities as you increasingly move towards virtual tech environments.

About Jeff Collins

Experience and Expertise make the difference when searching for top cloud providers. Appliedi has provided managed cloud services since 1999.