Not All Clouds Have a Silver Lining
CLOUD-BASED SYSTEMS ARE ATTRACTIVE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, BUT THEY CAN BE THE WRONG CHOICE...
I am not an IT person. I am, however, an experienced small-businessman and consultant, with considerable experience in purchasing, implementing, and using computer systems for business operations and management.
My experience with what we used to call micro-computers dates right back to the Apple II Plus, which boasted 64KB RAM and 10MB onboard data storage. Yes, that's correct, Virginia, 64 kilobytes, not 64 gigabytes. And yes, Virginia, it sounds absolutely ludicrous by today's computing standards, not to mention given its cost in real dollars was ten times what I would have to pay today for a laptop with a million times more storage memory.
So, as you can understand, I've been using computer programs in business for a long time, and have been through a large number of system implementations. Yet, I've always seen both hardware and software only as as tools, not as religious icons. And. therefore, have no ingrained loyalty to any particular piece of hardware or software.
What I am about to suggest to you is based on real-world experience in several instances where I was consulting for small-businesses in their operations and fiscal management...
Cloud-based means different things to different people. However, one common definition runs as follows:
"Cloud computing, also known as on-the-line computing, is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand ... It allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of on infrastructure ... and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand ..." 
Lower initial cost, quicker implementation, and on-the-run access to software and data make cloud-based computing very attractive to small businesses, especially those which are in their start-up phase...
Initially, I believed that cloud-based computing was a terrific development. I travel often and work away from my office, and for decades chased smaller, lighter, more portable hardware. So when cloud-based computing was introduced, I immediately thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be great to have access to full powered programs and massive file storage, without having to carry around even a laptop."
With cloud-based computing, I could carry a small, thin tablet, or perhaps, even just a larger-screened smartphone, yet still have the convenience of still being able to accomplish serious work on the road.
Yes, Virginia, at first blush, cloud computing appeared to be the answer to a Road Warrior's wet dream...
More recently, however, I began to run up against the brick wall of reality. In one case, I showed up on site for a consulting gig to find that the client firm was utilizing cloud-based computing for critical systems such as accounting, costing and bidding, billing. and customer relations management.
The problem began with the fact that the client was based in a very old part of a major city, where they was a lack of new infrastructure for land-based lines to support its LAN. Instead, the firm was resorting to a data transmission system that involved dedicated cell towers ― which, unfortunately, were going dark for significant periods of time, about every other day.
The result was an inability about 40% of the time to run critical software or access critical stored data...
Understand, that the computing systems being utilized by this particular client were about as radically cloud-based as you can get. It wasn't that the client's computers were smart terminals, which synced real time, or even periodically with the "cloud". Everything ― and I mean everything ― software and all working and archival data files resided in the cloud servers. And the firm's desktops and laptops were really dumb terminals, about as dumb as you can get. With the result that, when you couldn't reach the cloud, you couldn't work. Which was a huge waste of idling resources.
To be sure, one of the potential fixes that I looked at for this problem was to provide a 4G-LTE cellphone, with a personal hot spot feature, to each employee who regularly relied on the critical computer systems at issue. But the initial capital costs for that equipment, and the monthly data plan costs pushed the ongoing costs well beyond anything that made fiscal sense.
It also over time became evident to me that there were several serious deficiencies in my personal/business cloud-computing arrangements. I had kept cloud-based back-ups of my data files for some time before any reference was to "the cloud" was ever made.
Using cloud-based online software doesn't work well, when you can't complete an online connection or the connection you have fails...
But when I started using software that was actually cloud-based and resident there to conserve resources on my smart phone or small tablet, I found there were times I was simply shut down by lack of a decent internet connection. Even when I arranged to have critical software resident on my phone or tablet (or lap top), I had to be sure to download critical files and keep them resident on my mobile device, or I would be without access to those files whenever I did not have access to the Internet ― which was whenever I was on a plane and at many other times, on average more than 50% of the time.
I reiterate that I am not talking about having mirrored data files stored in the cloud and synced periodically with those resident on my computer or mobile device...
I am talking about using programs that actually reside on a cloud-based server and accessing data files that also and exclusively reside in the cloud. In my experience, the best choice, especially in a small-business context, is to assure that a measure of critical computing power and a selection of core software remains on whatever office or mobile device(s) you regularly work and travel with ― and that copies of your critical data files also stay resident on those devices.
Cloud data storage works well as "shadow" or "mirrored" data files, particularly when synced regularly with your local files. But in my experience, it is far better not to get fully into bed with cloud computing... or you might find yourself screwed.
Author's notes: If you found this article of value, you may want to take a look at some of my other writing about small business operations, management, and marketing:
And if you would like to discuss marketing or other issues you face in your small business, email or message me to arrange for a free, no-obligation 1/2-hour initial consult.
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional to read) pitch: At one of my endeavors, www.learn2engage.org, we help you improve your reasoning skills and thinking abilities, and as a matter of course, thereby help you improve the quality of your writing. Instruction is handled directly by yours truly, both over the internet and in person, both one-on-one and in small supportive groups.
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Text Copyright 2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images: GoogleImages.com, and The Port Royal Group
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