Cloud computing has been a buzzworthy topic for some time, as more and more enterprises move their computing infrastructure and software to cloud-based solutions. While the cloud continues to be a smart option for them, it's also arguably even more beneficial for small businesses, whose resources can be miniscule.
First of all, what exactly is cloud computing? To take a broad definition, Focus Research describes it as "the ability for organizations to share critical computing infrastructure (e.g. servers, storage, etc.) and related services over the internet." This can include IT infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or software (SaaS).
Needless to say, it's a huge deal. Gartner recently put cloud computing at the top of its list of top strategic technologies for 2011 and it's far from the only expert extolling the glory of the Web-hosted software and infrastructure.
For small businesses, the significance of this primarily comes down to cost. In many cases, using cloud-based infrastructure is cheaper than running and maintaining one's own physical servers. Likewise, the pay-as-you-go licensing model of software-as-a-service providers provides lower costs than traditional software, or at least distributes that cost across low monthly payments.
The cloud has perks beyond the cost savings. The more your business's applications are hosted online, the easier it will be to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce.
It also helps enable collaboration. By virtue of their very design, VoIP services like Skype are inherently more collaborative than old school telephony. The same is true of Google Apps, where colleagues can work on documents simultaneously. For project management, there's BaseCamp, Apollo and literally dozens more. And when business lives in the cloud, meeting with colleagues is no problem thanks to a range of virtual meeting services like GoToMeeting, Fuze and WebEx, all of which have mobile apps.
Unlike many of their legacy, desktop counterparts, cloud-based applications can usually integrate with one another easily. Thanks to robust APIs and integration tools, I can tie my Web forms on Wufoo directly to my email subscriber database in MailChimp. I can make my Salesforce CRM software talk to social media tools and connect billing services to bookkeeping software in a few clicks.
For seemingly every business function, there's an affordable, cloud-based solution available, and more are cropping up every week.
Do you use the cloud for your small business? Let us know about your experience in the comments.