Ahead in the cloud

The new technology of cloud computing could be the answer SMEs are looking for. DAVID MARKUS

David Markus Combo

By David Markus

If your business has grown over time, you have no doubt bought expensive software that fitted well for a while but failed to grow with you. Upgrades are time consuming and can be complex and costly, and custom development is out of the question due to huge ongoing costs – the choices have to date been limited.

The new technology of cloud computing could be the answer SMEs are looking for.

To illustrate the possibilities offered by cloud computing, I like to use the analogy of the office. As a fast growing business I have been forced to relocate a few times and seriously struggle with a three year lease as being too constrictive. In six years we have had three offices, and are just about ready for the fourth.

So what would a ”cloud” office offer? The cloud office may start as one of those serviced offices where you basically have a street address and occasionally hire a meeting room to conduct business. You then add some staff and take a managed office in the facility.

You make use of a shared receptionist and appear to be a large company to anyone that visits. You expand interstate and use the same managed office company to start your new office, the networks are in place, and it works well.

But then you have success with your business and need to relocate to your own building, set up your own systems at great expense, probably just as you are investing heavily in new staff and additional sales and marketing effort. Ouch…

Cloud computing offers truly scalable services that let you select your level of engagement and upgrade seamlessly at any future point. Today there are many examples of cloud computing that we all use, such as Google to index the web, Amazon.com to find the book we want, Facebook.com for social networking.

In terms of business applications, one of the most prevalent examples of this is Salesforce.com, which is a web-based database product with its roots in sales process automation and CRM. This product offers an entry level service for a single license and seamlessly expands from there. At the large end of the scale there are businesses working globally on this platform with tens of thousands of licenses for a single entity.

If you just want a server platform without having to buy hardware you can use the “in the cloud” services of a company such as Amazon.com, which now offers virtual servers that let you do your own thing. Need another server? Just turn on another one and pay the fee. By the end of 2008, Amazon is also planning to release Microsoft servers as a service.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft will shortly offer the Office suite as a cloud service – you no longer need to buy and install office products, you can subscribe and log in and use them as you need them. There will be cut down versions accessible from your mobile phone so you can really work on the run.

If this model of use was applied to office space, you would move into the ground floor of an empty skyscraper, pay $99 in rent for the first office space and slowly take over the entire building without any conflict with other tenants.

If you would like to know more about cloud computing drop me a line at [email protected]


David Markus is the founder of Melbourne’s IT services company Combo. His focus is on big picture thinking to create value in IT systems for the SME sector.

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