So you’ve heard of ‘cloud computing’ and wondered what all the fuss is about. Maybe you know what ‘cloud’ is and thought it would only benefit large organisations. You may be surprised to discover that there is an uptake of cloud computing amongst small businesses, and it’s growing rapidly. Not only that, you probably already use cloud computing on a daily basis.

What is cloud computing?

In the days before cloud computing, we had to own and manage our own computers. We walked into a store, bought a desktop PC, and loaded it up with the software we needed. No matter which brand of computer you bought or how much you spent on it, there was one unavoidable limitation. You had to be in front of that computer to use it. Laptops gave us the ability to move about, but that meant we were shackled to the modern day equivalent of a ball-and-chain.

With cloud computing, your applications or files (often both) are taken off your computer and placed on specially designed ‘cloud servers’ located elsewhere. Often cloud servers are housed within data centres. What exactly gets relocated to the cloud depends on your desired outcome. One requirement of cloud computing is that it needs a reliable internet connection.

What makes cloud computing different?

Cloud computing differs from traditional computing in three ways.

Firstly, cloud computing is outsourced computing. Think about LinkedIn.com as an example. We do not maintain it, someone else does that for us and makes it all work.

This benefit alone is so compelling for many users that traditional software companies are switching to cloud based solutions.

Secondly, cloud computing is available on-demand. Similar to electricity bills, you pay based on your usage. You do not have to inform the utility company that you are planning to have a party and need more electricity. The more you use, the more you pay and if your usage goes down, your bill goes down too.

Compare that to purchasing a ‘super-duper’ server that may only be utilised at 5% capacity and sitting idle. Worse still is purchasing a ‘that-will-be-good-enough’ server that runs at 100% capacity everyday and crashes frequently. It is hard to predict the growth of business and matching your technology needs to your operational requirements.

Lastly, cloud computing can be either private or public. A private cloud is usually implemented by a multinational organisation specifically for its own use. By comparison, public clouds share computing resources and infrastructure. This shared model (economy of scale) makes cloud computing affordable for small businesses. It should come as no surprise that public clouds are the most common form of cloud computing today.

Putting the ownership model of private or public aside, all cloud computing comes in different ‘flavours’. Organisations choose the flavour based on their requirements.

Flavours of cloud computing

There are 3 flavours to cloud computing and they are similar in concept to building a house. A new house is built on a concrete foundation, and that foundation sits on a parcel of land.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is equivalent to the ‘land’. This is also referred to as a cloud infrastructure. It is the physical computer hardware, storage drives, and network components. No cloud computing is possible without this foundation layer.

Sitting on top of the IaaS is a Platform as a Service (PaaS). This is equivalent to the ‘concrete foundation’. This is also referred to as a cloud platform. It is the operating system layer, similar to Microsoft Windows on a PC. In addition, this is where core applications like the database and web server are located. If an organisation is planning to develop their own smartphone app that communicates with information in the cloud, this is the flavour for them.

On top of PaaS layer is Software as a Service (SaaS). This is equivalent to the ‘house’. This is where all the user applications ‘live’. LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com and Hotmail.com are examples of SaaS. They are software in the cloud ready to use. There are many other examples of SaaS, but the one that is changing the way small businesses operate, irrespective of industry, is virtual desktop (more on this later).

Full Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud

Two other terms you may have heard are ‘full cloud’ and ‘hybrid cloud’. As the name suggests, hybrid cloud combines traditional, local computing with cloud computing. Typically, hybrid computing takes the functionality of servers to the cloud, while desktop applications remain locally on their PC.

Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium is a popular example of hybrid cloud computing. A local computer is installed with Microsoft Office applications, while the backend Exchange mail server is managed by Microsoft within their global network of data centres. Not so long ago, small businesses had no choice but to maintain their own in-house servers. Thanks to Microsoft Office 365, traditional in-house servers are replaced by Microsoft Exchange Online solution.

Full cloud solution takes it up another notch. In full cloud model, Windows desktop, all applications, servers and data are place in the cloud. This means, you can access your Windows apps and desktop from anywhere. All you need is an Internet connected device. This is also known as virtual desktop or cloud desktop. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages.

Work from multiple devices

Most of us rely on multiple devices these days to get the job done. The biggest advantage of virtual desktops is accessibility from multiple devices. No matter which device you are working on, your virtual desktop remains exactly the same and applications work in exactly the same way. If you are using Microsoft Excel, it will be the same on your office PC, home Mac, smartphone and tablet. When you login to your virtual desktop from different devices, the only difference is the screen size!

You no longer have to be an IT person

Most small business owners juggle many roles. Between running your business, servicing clients and managing employees, you probably don’t have time to think about computer security or upgrading servers. You know it is important but there is never enough time. You are not alone. Most small business owners adopt a break-fix model. That is, fix it only when it breaks.

With a virtual desktop, you don’t have to update your anti-virus program, perform software updates or carry out backups ever again. All of these functions are outsourced, allowing you to focus on your business.

Work from anywhere

The ability to remotely access a desktop is not a new concept. In the past, due to cost and complexity, it was limited to larger organisations with their own IT departments. Virtual desktop brings all the benefits of remote access to small businesses, with an affordable price tag.

Because everything is already in the cloud, all you need to access your desktop is an internet connected device. How will this technology change the way you work?

Imagine being able to check your stock inventory while you’re waiting at the airport. Maybe finalise the report you are presenting tomorrow from your kitchen table late at night. Everything you can do on your office PC, you can do while sitting at the local cafe. Virtual desktop makes businesses more mobile and more effective.

Better Security for Your Data

Hackers around the world are increasingly targeting small businesses. It was only a matter of time before they figured out that small businesses do not employ full-time security experts to monitor and manage suspicious network activities.

Our data is critical to the operation of our business. Placing all our data on a USB memory stick and locking it up in a desk drawer offers little value. Striking a balance between accessibility and security is the key.

A well implemented virtual desktop protects business data while offering easy access. If the cloud servers are housed in a quality data centre, there will be security guards onsite. In addition, network operation staff will defend your data against cyber attacks.

If you choose an Australian provider for your virtual desktop, your data is further protected by the Australian law.

Grow with Your Business

With an uncertain economy, no business can be certain of their future growth. Business owners dread the thought of having to buy new servers and new software. Not only are they very expensive, they have to be upgraded every 3 to 4 years. More frequently, if business grows.

Virtual desktop is an on-demand service so you only pay for what you use today. And if tomorrow, your requirement changes, you only pay for what you use. You never have to buy Microsoft Office, anti-virus or spam filters. They are generally included in the ‘per person, per month’ subscription fee for virtual desktop.

Is Virtual Desktop Right for Your Business?

With virtual desktop, you can work securely from anywhere and on any device. You never have to deal with IT issues in your office or take a blow to the cash flow upgrading servers. The only requirement is a reliable internet connection.

Virtual desktop is an easy way to increase productivity, security and mobility for practically any business. Best of all, it reduces the cost of IT. It changes the way we work and the way we do business. Isn’t it time your business took to the sky?

Cybersphere provides Mobile Desktop, a virtual desktop solution for small businesses.