What Cloud Computing Can Mean For Your Business

The buzz in the tech world right now is all about “The Cloud.” But what is it, and what does it mean for small business?

Cloud computing is a catch-all term for using off-site (internet-based) farms of computers to handle processing and file storage. It’s been touted as the way forward for years, but only recently have serious options become available for small businesses. Today we’ll take a brief look at this storage solution, and show how it can help you expand your business while avoiding large IT costs.

The general idea of cloud storage is that a huge bank of computers sitting somewhere on the Internet handles the storage for all your files, just like an enormous hard drive or network drive. The big benefit to small business of storing your files in the cloud is that you don’t have to buy new computers, servers, or hard disks for your office, and you can grow your business without your storage needs requiring an IT department.

Amazon is the biggest player in cloud computing at this time, and offers a huge range of possibilities through Amazon Web Services. S3 stands for Simple Storage Service, which is Amazon’s ever-expanding data storage hub that allows you to use unlimited storage for a very reasonable cost. Up until now S3 has only been used by developers, but with the advent of new services such as CloudPointe you can very easily add unlimited data storage to your website or intranet, and forget all about the management. You just keep throwing files at it, and Amazon will keep expanding its network to handle it, providing you with a regular bill for the storage.

Cloud storage is potentially even more secure than running your own servers, as a service such as Amazon’s S3 comes with a service level agreement and a team of professionals to manage security and availability. If you use a service like CloudPointe, you can combine your existing file storage with SharePoint, S3, Google Docs, and more without having to go through a migration process — and once you’re set up, you have infinite storage space without the hassle.

S3 offers security through encrypted authentication, and provides higher availability guarantees than any small business would be able to match (99.999999999% durability and 99.99% availability). It also has safety features such as Raid and backup, along with versioning, so you can go back to previous revisions of files should you ever need to. If you have data that’s not quite as mission-critical, you can even choose a reduced redundancy option to lower your costs.

With businesses emerging and moving faster than ever, streamlining your business collaboration and data management so you don’t waste time on IT issues is invaluable. With standard pricing of $0.100 per gigabyte or less for reduced redundancy, and $0.150 for high availability, switching to cloud storage is a no-brainer.

In future blog posts we’ll take a look a number of Amazon’s other cloud computing services, and see some examples of how they can be used to upscale your business.

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  • XLCowBoy

    The problem with Amazon’s services is that only techs understand what they are getting. Amazon’s service does not speak in layman’s terms, making it inaccessible for most non-IT businesses, even though they could benefit from it on basic levels.

  • Anonymous

    “switching to cloud storage is a no-brainer”

    Yep, no way in hell! keep your cloud

    • reynish

      You should try it out.

      I have s3 and Jungle Disk setup on 3 machines, 1 mac 1 windows, 1 linux. All synced up with version history. It makes my work flow cross machine a hell of a lot easier and handles all my backups to remote storage. Honestly, it is a no-brainer

  • moretea

    We just moved several educational videos (as Flash-based courseware) to the Amazon cloud. Although it relieved the burden on our outbound bandwidth, we discovered that several end users (mostly in corporate network environments) were unable to view the cloud-based content, as their network administrators had blocked the Amazon cloud!

    • arts-multimedia

      Perhaps they want to prevent people to watch videos during working hours? I can imagine government departments doing that. Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. sealed networks like that can’t view much anyway. Unless they are your clients of course.
      But there is a way around that by using CNAME’s. If you create a subdomain on your oown server and you create a bucket like mysubdomain.myheaddomain.com and you redirect that to s3.aws.amazon.com, then don’t think they can block you off because the initial IP is that of your server, if I’m not mistaken.

  • Anonymous

    Does Amazon provide services for setting up the topology (ie high availability) and monitoring performance or do they simply provide the hardware and I’m responsible for the topology, scalability, and monitoring of performance?

    Thank you for any feedback!

    • arts-multimedia

      I do not understand what you mean by topology but you can have logs per bucket and it shows the time it takes to download files, how often, etc.. Is that what you mean?
      There are services that translate the logs into readable info but you have to pay a monthly fee for that. There are actually quite a few services around which are plug-and-play so to speak.
      There is no startup fee, so you could open an account and have a look around in the services section. Like on the web, some services are free, others are commercial.

      • Anonymous

        As a clarification – Would I have to define the network architecture – IE – routers, redundant servers, dbs, etc – to create a scalable, high availability system? Or is it just plug-and-play and all of that is setup for a five nines system?

      • arts-multimedia

        You do not need to mess with the servers(routers, network architecture,…), but you will have to use the ECM2 service if you want to run websites, and you need to install the server software. You can make it easier on yourself by renting services, like “Simple database” and so on, but that adds up to the bill rather quickly. It all depends on your projects, really.
        Now, I’m not acquainted with ECM2 as I have no desire to reinvent the wheel, I actually rather combine a regular hosting package with S3 CloudFront, which makes life easier, but you have folks setting up all sorts of wonderful stuff on there. However, it is not plug and play. The only thing plug and play has to do with storage and in that sense it goes very, very far.

  • arts-multimedia

    I agree that the help files on Amazon are confusing. However, there are numerous tutorials available on the web. Just google s3 amazon and you find loads of them. There are also useful applications around that take away the technical aspects. In fact, with an application like CloudBerry S3 Explorer(Win) or CrossFTP (Mac), uploading and downloading files is a piece of cake.
    Another example: with S3Media Stream, an extension from http://www.joomla21.century.com, you can play streaming video with expiring URLs on Joomla 1.5x. That means that you do not need streaming server software, you can stream directly from your S3 account without additional costs. You can even protect video and audio with expiring URLs and actually any file type.
    S3 has a lot of power and it get better and better. I have numerous videos on S3 and only pay a few dollars each month, so it is really worth looking into.
    But as I said before, the documentation is bad, I do not understand half of it myself, so I ask questions in the forum which is quite lively. There is always somebody friendly enough to respond.
    Thanks for this article Toby!

    • XLCowBoy

      If I would place myself in my client’s shoes, I think the first question I would ask is: how is Amazon’s service / support? (I don’t know myself) In the real world, hell would freeze over first before a non-tech savvy client would take the time to become a member of a forum in order to find answers for a service he/she is paying for.

  • Q.E.D.

    My site currently handles 750GB of images (and growing quickly) and my boss recently asked about switching to the cloud. Everybody and their monkey is boasting “unlimited” storage these days. So why not take up your host’s offer and hold them to it rather than spending $0.10/GB per month (or more). That would be an extra $75/month when my host has already agreed to store it for $85/year? I’d rather spend my days downloading and backing up files locally than pay $900 extra each year! It seems like an ok idea for small amounts of data, but when the GBs turn into TBs the costs really stack up.

    One word of caution here: Some web hosts redefine “unlimited” to fit their estimated average user’s needs. I just had to dump one host who said that using more than 25GB exceeded their “unlimited” storage policy.

    • http://www.altimawebsystems.com altima

      Totally agree with you.
      We had considered the use of Amazon S3 for files storage and even back-ups several times, but anytime simple calculation showed that it is much more expensive than add another even double (in RAID) hard drives.
      So I thinjk that so far that service is for lazy people :)

  • http://www.dorianjepsen.com theGWS

    The timing of this blog post is impeccable. Just yesterday I was looking into S3 cloud service and how it could help me, but the documentation requires a PhD so I gave up trying to understanding it.

  • jim6917

    Good idea for the elite and not for small biz.

    How can this be a good thing in the long run for a small biz? Why trust your content storage with a 3rd party big business? I would think you would want total control of your biz? Not some oligarch controller.

    This smells of the One Eye Power Grabber. =)

    • http://m2i3.com myrdhrin

      Unless you have your own servers in house on your own backbone to the internet you always end up replying on a 3rd party at some point or another. And unless you have the knowledge to ensure your content is on an infrastructure that can survive hardware failure you’re better up relying on someone who does.

      The problem with “Cloud Computing” right now is that it’s a buzz word like “Virtualization” or “Sofware as a Service”.

      If you look at specific services and look at it from the perspective of a Small Biz; well they are the one who can benefits the most from the cloud as it allows them to rely on someones else in depth expertize on that bit of technology they need. Just imaging how much it would cost a small business to implement and maintain the level of resilience and functionality that Amazon is touting on their website.

      Then again, if it’s not for you, nobody’s putting a gun on your head to use it…

  • arts-multimedia

    If I may make a suggestion to those who find the documentation too difficult, if you are interested placing video or audio on S3, here is a whole range of tutorials on S3 Amazon: http://www.miracletutorials.com . Just type s3 in the search box on that site and you’ll find the articles.

    @Q.E.D, I agree with TB’s you pay seriously on S3, BUT, the performance is high, and to get the same power elsewhere, you end up paying more, although more and more hosting companies offer a hybrid model these days, where you can connect your S3 account with your webspace.

  • leesheppard

    Cloud computing only makes sense to me if the server is based in the country that you’re servicing. Otherwise there is still a speed issue with the transfer of images compared to local hosted.