"Cloud computing will allow the smallest companies to compete against the largest," writes Rich On in a blog published on CloudTweaks. Given the many inherent disadvantages faced by fledgling small businesses or mid-sized businesses, the ability to tap into virtually limitless computational resources without having to commit a single dime of capital expenditure does carry a strong appeal indeed. In his brief piece, On observed how the advent of cloud computing means that an SMB is now able to afford the same infrastructure as a large enterprise.
Of course, the picture is somewhat muddied by the intense hype revolving around any new - or should I say "less unfamiliar" - technology in general, and the vagaries of defining specifically what cloud computing really is. Indeed, it seems that everyone is jumping onto the cloud bandwagon these days; traditional hosting providers are now offering cloud offerings, even as virtualization companies tout the cloud computing capabilities of their solutions.
When I spoke to a Microsoft executive about the company's Office 365 and cloud computing in Singapore recently, one observation that the executive highlighted was the sheer amount of buzz, or conversation generated by both technology companies and developers around the cloud. Well, this intense interest and brainstorming can only translate into new products as cloud computing gains even more traction in the days and months ahead.
Cutting away the gobbledygook, below are a couple of reasons why I think the cloud can help small and mid-sized business compete.
Deploy without buying hardware
I think Microsoft's launch of its Office 365 at the end of June offered one of the most compelling glimpses of what cloud computing can offer to SMBs. Instead of having to spend days or weeks acquiring server hardware, Internet connectivity and software licenses prior to installing, testing and actually deploying an email server, organizations can now get a full-fledged Exchange environment up and running in as little as 10 minutes. For SMBs, such efficiency translates to an outright competitive advantage as IT personnel spend the time saved to improve other aspects of the business.
When Amazon's North Virginia data center was hit by an outage earlier this year, online services such as Reddit, Foursquare and Quora were some online services that were affected. While this incident could be construed as a negative endorsement for cloud computing in general, the fact is that Amazon does offer the technical framework for customers to attain redundancy by deploying instances across different geographical regions. What the outage underscored though, was how even popular services have found the scalability of cloud computing sufficiently enticing to base at least part of their services on it. Quora probably put it the most succinctly when it put up an error page that read: "We'd point fingers, but we wouldn't be where we are today without EC2."
Ultimately, cloud computing is really about the practical benefits that SMBs can derive from it. For just the same reason nobody tries to explain what the "Internet" or "information superhighway" is anymore, I think that the time is fast approaching when businesses will be less interested in defining "cloud computing," but more focused on deploying the pertinent components as part of their computing architecture.