Complicating this problem is the habit most technology experts have of picking six different names for the same technology and then using them interchangeably when presenting them to people who are not up to speed on the most current terminology. Every industry has its share of jargon, but for some reason computers and electronic commerce have compiled a confusing lexicon without equal.
„The cloud“ is one of the most talked-about technologies in the past five to ten years, and if you ask ten technology experts what it is you are likely to get ten different answers. The reality is the cloud is simply a networked computer somewhere else. The real technical term for it is „a server.“
The question is are there any benefits for a small business in having a server? Let’s examine this question and see if we can decipher the jargon.
The Obvious: Backups
As Internet speeds have increased, more than a few companies have sprung up in the past few years to offer on-demand data backup services. This normally consists of a background „daemon“ process of some kind that checks the business computer’s local file system for anything that has changed and then uploads that set of changed files to the data company’s computer for safe keeping.
These backup services are useful precisely because the computer where the files are stored is somewhere other than the small business‘ facilities. In the event of damage or loss to the company computers, the data would presumably be secure since it is „off site.“ This is actually one of the most important elements of the „data security triad“ which recommends that at least three backups of crucial data be stored: one in the primary media (like an external hard drive) one on secondary media (like a network attached storage unit) and the third at a remote location.
Marketing and E-Commerce
Very few companies host their own web sites or e-commerce platforms. The reason for this is usually cost and personnel hours. A fair number of hours must be invested in maintaining a remote site, keeping track of customer records, adding and changing product descriptions and pictures, managing search engine optimization and social media, and so forth.
Technically speaking, all web sites not hosted locally by a small business are „in the cloud“ since they are being uploaded to remote servers which then make them available to the larger Internet.
In fact, web hosting is one of the most popular and profitable „cloud“ businesses. Web hosting originated with the web itself. A large number of companies continue to succeed offering a service as simple as a directory where businesses can upload their HTML, scripts and image files to be presented to their customers.
E-commerce followed web hosting and continues to be one of the chief justifications for small business spending on remote servers and „the cloud.“ With advanced shopping cart software and remotely operated accounting and supply systems, a business can offer a wide variety of products and services to customers worldwide with a fraction of the investment that would have been required as recently as 20 years ago.
For those businesses that truly require a full-featured server computer at the opposite end of their network connection, there are „web services“ companies that make such machines available. Unlike a web hosting company, a services network makes the entire machine available to their client, including many kinds of pre-installed analytics services, data processing and even customer facing services like customized user interfaces and voice over IP facilities.
Web services are simply the natural evolution of what web hosting started out to be. The Internet can be far more than just the web and e-mail. The technological potential of two or more networked computers is only just now being explored in earnest, and it will soon be possible for small businesses to do things on a network they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
What the „cloud“ offers that ostensibly increases the value of all these other services is the kind of specialized support that would otherwise make the idea of a small business network impossible. Keeping a server running properly is no trivial task. Leaving aside the constant security threats, just making sure that all the software is up-to-date and is working properly can be a full time job and then some depending on the complexity of the server in use.
Making sure all the software interoperates can be even more burdensome for someone not familiar with the process of building and operating a server that has to be running if the business expects an income. This is true of all kinds of cloud companies for the simple reason that an interruption in service is an interruption in business, and that can’t happen very often without the cloud becoming an obstacle rather than an asset.
The key to making technology work for a business is to simplify the tools and the terminology to the point where it is absolutely clear what is being built and why. From web hosting to backups to services, all of the „cloud“ based technologies improve when a business‘ goals are clear.