Cloud computing is frequently touted as the future of business technology. Among the biggest benefits it offers is the fact that it makes enterprise-quality technology affordable for small businesses and lets them compete at previously unattainable levels. In fact, it's now possible to run a small business completely in the cloud.
However, some skeptics of cloud computing have concerns about the reliability, security vulnerabilities, and increased maintenance costs associated with migrating to a fully cloud-based operation. With so many different opinions, it's important to consider all implications of cloud computing before deciding whether it's right for your small business.
Pro: Improved disaster recovery
Moving your business data to the cloud can make disaster recovery (DR)—retrieving data in the event of a hardware compromise or natural disaster—easier and less expensive. Over time, traditional backup methods usually require costly upgrades and time-intensive maintenance. With cloud computing, however, you don't need to maintain a physical disaster recovery site that can only be accessed in person. Instead, you can rest assured that you can access and restore your data from anywhere in the world using the minimum resources necessary.
You can even automate data backup to ensure you'll be able to recover the most up-to-date information in case of emergency. Automation for failure detection also means your cloud environment can launch the recovery process before you've even realized something has gone wrong.
Con: Reliance on the Internet
Running all or some of your business applications in the cloud is great, as long as you can maintain a consistent internet connection with enough bandwidth. If any one of your cloud-based service providers loses connectivity, or if your internet service provider (ISP) experiences an outage, your business operations are put on pause until that internet connection returns. Even the best servers go down occasionally, so if you decide to use this method, it's important to implement (and regularly reevaluate) your contingency plan.
Pro: Better collaboration and accessibility
For many businesses, moving to the cloud increases opportunities for collaboration between employees. Colleagues can sync and work on documents or share apps with ease, often simultaneously, receiving updates in real time.
Additionally, cloud computing allows each team member to work from anywhere. The cloud centralizes your data, which means that you, your employees, and even your clients can obtain relevant company data from any location with internet access. This accessibility is essential for the modern workforce, especially as bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies, remote work, and workforce mobility become more common in business operations.
Con: Misconfiguration risks
The configuration of a cloud environment presents the biggest risks for cloud security. In fact,
21% of data breaches in 2019 were caused by cloud misconfigurations, according to a report from Verizon Enterprise. These breaches have made global headlines, like this one from Capital One, so it's important to ensure your cloud environment is configured properly.
Some common misconfigurations include:
- Unenforced Identity and Access Management (IAM) policy
- Unmonitored security logs and maintenance alerts
- Unsecured port connections
- No regular configuration assessments/auditing
- Loose access permissions for authorized users
Pro: Reduced environmental impact
Environmental impact is becoming a more mainstream topic (especially in the business world), so it makes sense that the reduced physical footprint of cloud computing is a major attractor for businesses of all sizes. Cloud computing decreases a business's carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 percent.
For small companies specifically, the energy-saving benefits are more drastic. In fact, cloud computing can reduce energy consumption by more than 90 percent—a huge money saver. Operating from the cloud also usually means the real estate previously occupied by large servers can be repurposed for more eco-friendly initiatives.
Con: Higher maintenance costs
While cloud computing is relatively inexpensive upfront, an in-house solution may cost less in the long run depending on your needs. Buying an on-prem server and installing a network system is definitely a large, up-front capital investment, but the cost may balance itself over a long period of time.
With cloud computing, you pay the same amount each month to maintain your presence on the server and all of the data that comes with it. The choice you make may depend on whether you have a lot of startup capital to invest in a private network. Be sure to compare all the costs for supporting an on-premises server versus a cloud-based server to see which option works best for you.
Pro: More scalability and flexibility
One thing cloud computing can do that traditional infrastructure cannot: scale with your business quickly and efficiently. When planning long term goals for your business, it is crucial to consider how your current IT needs will be able to accommodate future demands.
Traditional infrastructure usually limits a business to two options when capacity is met: either sacrifice some operations for the sake of others or purchase/rent additional hardware to create more space. The former isn't usually a viable option for businesses that are already operating as efficiently as possible, and the second option can be cost-prohibitive. Additionally, traditional infrastructure offers few options to scale down operations if you overestimate how much space you actually need.
With cloud-based infrastructure, on the other hand, businesses can scale their capacity up or down with a simple phone call (or in some cases, by accessing a self-service portal). This means you're never paying for more than you need and you can feel confident that your future operations will be sustained by the systems you already have in place.
Cloud computing matches your business in size and budget
As a small business owner, you want to make sure your IT resources are supporting your business as efficiently and effectively as possible. Cloud computing is certainly paving the way of the future, but the weight of its pros and cons will ultimately help you decide whether it's right for you.