Control Costs by Raising Your Sights

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You've heard the hype. Now here's a practical perspective for small business leaders.

What "the Cloud" Is

Cloud computing has four essential characteristics:

  • Data processing and memory are outsourced to resources on the Internet that are provided on demand, through a web browser.
  • Users do not control the specific computing resource, nor do they know where it's located.
  • The cloud service provider (SP) offers its resources—networks, servers, storage, or applications—as a shared pool for all authorized users.
  • Users log in to their cloud account from any device that has an Internet connection—such as a PC or smartphone.

Clouds can be public, private, or hybrid; this Cisco blog outlines the differences.

Why Go Up There: The Business Proposition

Cloud computing can help your company:

  • Reduce costs. The cloud offers pay-per-use pricing. It can cut your expenses for equipment and applications, plus the costs to power, cool, house, and install them.
  • Become more agile. The cloud expands access to world-class capabilities, enabling innovation. You can implement applications faster, and add capacity on demand.
  • Raise productivity. The cloud simplifies applications access, and reduces mundane IT tasks. You can focus on managing the business, not the technology infrastructure.

However, risks include:

  • Service outages or delays; the cloud SP or your Internet SP (ISP) may not offer or fulfill the service-level agreement (SLA) that your business requires.
  • Changing a service from one cloud SP to another can be challenging.
  • Access could be controlled by the country where cloud computers are located.
  • The responsibility for information security is shared.

What to Do in the Cloud

For small businesses, the offerings include:

  • Applications such as CRM, accounting, email, and voice over IP
  • Application suites such as Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Office 365
  • Website hosting such as Amazon Web Service
  • Data storage and backup such as Mozy, an EMC-owned service

An investment strategy before swiping your credit card: Identify the IT areas where your company is challenged by cost or performance. Then evaluate which of those areas would be better done in the cloud.

For example, learn why a 14-employee business decided to move to an SP's Cisco Hosted Small Business (HSB) Communications.

Getting Started: Network Requirements

Connecting to the cloud depends on having the right network at your business.

Bandwidth: Your cloud computing traffic cannot move faster than your ISP's service or the network within your business can.

  • Check your ISP connections. They typically provide a maximum bandwidth of 50 Mbps over cable Internet. Over DSL, maximum upstream is 1.5 Mbps.
  • A small business's own network typically enables much faster connections—a maximum of 100 Mbps or 1000 Mbps if wired, or 150 Mbps if wireless.

Your network equipment must provide fast connections that are also reliable and secure. Integrated products improve both performance and security; Cisco offers an extensive portfolio of network products designed to work together.

  • Essential equipment: Wireless access, switches, and your gateway to the cloud—the router.
  • Product features especially important for cloud computing include support for IPv6, Wireless-n, VLANs, and quality of service (QoS), as well as security features.
  • The guide Simplifying Technology: Ways to Connect Your Business will teach you the basics in 10 minutes.

Resiliency: Having redundancy in your network will help your business sustain operations if there is a system or connection failure. For example, a dual-WAN router allows connection to a second ISP.

Getting Started: Security Issues

Protect against privacy pitfalls, lost data, and service downtime by addressing security concerns and determining who is responsible before your business begins a cloud service.

Key security differences of the cloud model that you'll need to address include:

  • Your company's data travels over the Internet.
  • Access is often through wireless networks and mobile devices.
  • Your data is used by the cloud SP's systems, stored in its servers, and administered by its personnel.

A business cloud customer is responsible for maintaining multiple layers of security in its own network, and for continually testing and updating its security.

Multilayer security technologies in Cisco network products include data encryption, identity management, firewall, VPN, access control, VLAN, antivirus, and intrusion prevention. In less than 10 minutes, you can learn the basics of security by reading Simplifying Technology: How to Secure Your Business.

When evaluating a cloud service agreement on security issues, also consider data recovery. For example, you may want to make your own backups of data that is stored by the SP, encrypting it and storing a copy physically or with another cloud SP.

Getting Started: Management and Support

Cloud computing simplifies technology tasks for a small business. But it's far from a no-brainer.

Does your techie staff have expertise in security and network technologies? Do they have the skills needed to manage SPs, or migrate your applications and data storage? You may want to ask a Cisco partner to help you save money and maintain security in the cloud.

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