Welcome guest poster D. Salmons!
In today’s ecologically aware times a business needs to look at not only the fiscal bottom line, but also the green one. A business that strives to be greener will find that customers will respond to the effort, and soon good habits can be groomed in all aspects of keeping the business running.
One area that can easily be overlooked but has a potential large green dividend over the course of a year is in the area of information technology. In previous years, everything had to be kept onsite at the office, and this is the computing paradigm a lot of businesses still operate under. But today’s technology can move your IT center from the back room to the veritable cloud. And it has some definite advantages with keeping your business lean and green. But first let’s take a look at cloud computing.
What is Cloud Computing?
Simply put, cloud computing takes the IT process from the office server and puts it on the service provider’s servers. The storage of data is done on the server, usually under stringent conditions in world-class data centers that most small businesses simply could not afford to replicate. The connection between the office user and the service is usually done through an encrypted connection, making the entire process secure.
Typical applications for cloud computing vary from office suite type work to highly specialized apps that are designed for the company in question, yet run on the service’s system, often through the use of virtualization. With the push of cloud computing solutions from such common names as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, most computer users are at least a little familiar with the concept if not already a user.
In fact, a lot of the cloud computing presence today can be traced to Amazon building up its data system to be brokered as utility computing. With the release of Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006, the concept of cloud computing went from a great idea to an economical alternative for most businesses. In 2007, Google, IBM, universities, and a host of service providers were quick to follow up with their own offerings. In March 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had this to say about cloud computing,
“For the cloud, we’re all in” and “About 75 percent of our folks are doing entirely cloud based or entirely cloud inspired; a year from now that will be 90 percent.”
Obviously even traditional desktop software giant Microsoft is betting on the cloud being the future. But the question at hand is not if your business needs to be “on the cloud” to be competitive – instead it should be about what is best for your business practices. And if the cloud computing paradigm works for your business, there could be a bottom line reason to embrace it.
Machine Expense and Waste
One of the nice aspects of cloud computing is that, since the majority of the processes are actually running on the service provider’s system, the end user does not need to have the same level of hardware that would otherwise be the case. This allows the business to both buy more economic hardware as well as keeping the system in service for longer periods of time – the client machines are not as likely to suffer from being outdated and unable to be used.
The direct green advantage of this is that more machines are being used for longer service lifetimes instead of filling up our landfills with very non-earth friendly materials. Of course, the business bottom line is also impacted, and in a very positive way. But there are other savings as well.
A lot of businesses tend to follow desktop release cycles for updating their software. For example, many office suites, the core IT tool for many small businesses, are updated when Microsoft releases a new version. And each new version can cost several hundred dollars per user. Compare that with Google Office for Business, which charges only $50 per user per year, and the updates are included free with the subscription. The only additional need is a machine (or device) that can access the web.
But there is a green software cost advantage as well. That is, the publishing and distribution of those slick desktop product packages are completely avoided, saving resources and fuel consumption. Even the published media, often DVDs, are saved from becoming future waste.
More Flexible Business Operation
Just as the software is no longer actually running on the office desk, the need to work at the office desk is also removed. As long as the end user can access the web, they can perform needed work. This can save a lot of time and resources in the case of a need while traveling, but it goes well beyond that.
Imagine a business that can spread itself out over employee centers geographically situated to the best advantage of the user. The need to extend the business-computing network to the different locations is removed, saving money and resources. The users no longer have to commute to one central location, saving them money and conserving resources for everyone. In fact, the business structure itself could be very dynamic, streamlining operations as needed for differences in seasonal demand – just as cloud computing can scale or shrink as needed without the normal hardware and software cost.
Of course, there are exceptions to this otherwise cheerful cloud-computing outlook. If the business in question is very data intense, such as video creation and processing, then the cloud is not the best alternative at this time. While there are solutions for just such an application, the pipe bandwidth in place today could limit overall work effectiveness.
Another thing to consider is the security requirements of your data. Solutions are in place today that offer complete encryption from the front end to the back as it is processed and stored. But in the cases of National Security or trade secrets the best places to store data are not on a public service provider. Most cloud service providers offer data storage that is more secure than most businesses have in place today, but if the value of your data is in its security itself, then at this time the cloud is not the best solution.
Finally, consider what could happen in the case of a national emergency. Although the infrastructure has grown greatly since then, in 2001 the nation’s computing grid was rendered almost ineffective from sheer traffic alone. For this reason, if your business must operate during such an emergency, the reliance on an outside connection could be a very large liability.
As with any important decision, moving your business to the cloud should be carefully weighed before committing. If trends from industry leaders such as Microsoft are any indication, it might be more of a “when” than “if” you will incorporate the cloud into your business practices. At that time your business may realize both a fiscal as well as an ecological boost from doing so. But until the computing landscape changes from today, cloud computing is still only an option. And having options is always a good thing
The following is a guest post by D. Salmons, a freelance writer and social media consultant for several companies, ranging from individuals to Fortune 500. She is a bit of a geek and enjoys writing about computing and gadgets at TestFreaks, a website that aggregates large variety of goods ranging from desktop computer to best av receiver.
Editor’s Note, “What Cloud Computing Really Means” is a great article that walks you through the various cloud applications from software to private cloud solutions. As a sustainability consultant, I am still struggling with the “Cloud” due to security issues and just downloaded how Google handles this very issue. Should be quite interesting.
In addition, when people talk about the cloud, they say that businesses will reduce their energy consumption due to a smaller IT infrastructure. Read Rob Bernard’s Forbes article how switching to the cloud impacts the overall IT carbon footprint. See also a recent November 2010 announcement, “Government Closer to Universal Cloud-Computing Security Assessment and Authorization Program.” GSA led team releases FedRAMP requirements for public comment.
Thanks to D. Salmons for guest posting and starting the discussion about the Cloud.
Your Thoughts about the Cloud:
What are your thoughts with the Cloud?
- Yay or Nay and why?
- Have you made the transition and if so, how is the “cloud” treating your organization?
- Which applications are you using if you have transitioned to the cloud?
- Which industry would you advise not to use the cloud?
- Microsoft Enterprises vs Google Enterprise?