Thinking of migrating to the cloud in 2014? Many small-business owners are realizing the value of handling essential processes, such as storing data and maintaining the necessary hardware to do so, remotely. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) solutions may be just the ticket to help you ride the waves of change and growth.
What Are IaaS and SaaS?
IaaS refers to the infrastructure of an off-site data center: hard drives, servers, and networking components. An IaaS provider maintains the equipment, renting space and services out to multiple customers. This allows small businesses to share in the costs of maintaining a data center and avoid the hassles of securing real estate and hiring staff to keep it running.
SaaS operates on the same premise but refers to software applications hosted in the cloud and accessed via the internet. Again, the SaaS provider handles all the security, maintenance, and upkeep off-site, allowing multiple customers to share in the costs and reap the benefits of a high-end program, such as a customer relationship management app.
Why Should I Move to the Cloud?
Whether your small business needs a data center or you’re looking for better, more affordable software that can accommodate your company’s evolving needs, here are four compelling reasons to migrate to the cloud in 2014.
1. Avoid the growth plateau. Many small businesses eventually hit a growth plateau. It’s the uncomfortable place where you’re maxed out in your current capacity, yet you don’t quite have the resources to invest in the additional software, hardware, employees, or other assets you need to expand.
IaaS and SaaS solutions can be scaled up or down [PDF] at any time to accommodate changing demands, such as seasonal shifts or growth spurts. “With IaaS, small businesses are able to maintain lean operating costs, because they’re paying only for the resources they actually use,” says William Toll, vice president of marketing for ProfitBricks. “Newer IaaS providers operate on a flexible, pay-per-use pricing structure, so the costs and resources literally fluctuate in perfect tandem with demand and thus the company’s revenue.”
“Scaling up under the traditional model means finding a bigger facility, renting or leasing additional servers, and incurring the ongoing costs of maintaining that infrastructure, even if your demand will sink back to normal next month,” Toll explains. “For small businesses, IaaS just makes financial sense.”
2. Reduce on-site staffing requirements. Migrating to the cloud means all your data is stored on an off-site server that’s easily accessible via the internet. That means there’s no need to install software on local devices, secure your sensitive data, or maintain an in-house IT department to handle these tasks. Using the cloud doesn’t eliminate the need for your own security measures, but choosing a provider with sound security measures in place reduces the demand on your on-site staff.
Small businesses using SaaS are always running the most up-to-date version of the software. SaaS providers handle updates remotely, so changes are reflected systemwide instantly.
3. Access expensive resources at a fraction of the cost. “Small businesses are opting for cloud-based solutions not only for their flexibility and scalability, but [also] for the ability to access sophisticated solutions that, off the shelf, would be cost prohibitive,” says Robert Stanley, editor of ClickSoftware’s Mobile Fever blog. “From appointment booking and scheduling tools to project management applications, small businesses can operate practically every facet of their organizations in the cloud.”
The key is integration. “Small businesses should look for SaaS solutions that integrate with the other applications they’re already using or with other popular applications they may have a use for in the future,” Stanley advises. “This enables businesses to create a cohesive platform that’s perfectly configured to meet precise business requirements.”
IaaS is also more cost-effective than its alternative. Over the average, 10-year life span of a data center, a traditional model costs approximately $120,000 to configure and maintain. The same data center costs an average of $46,600 under the IaaS model.
4. Mobilize your workforce. “Never before have small businesses had the capacity to keep up with the major players in terms of technology,” Stanley says. “But SaaS evens the playing field, allowing small businesses to be just as connected and in the loop as major companies that have configured their own intranets, VPNs [virtual private networks], and the like.”
Because SaaS operates in the cloud, field workers can easily access essential data on the road. That means taking advantage of all the benefits of going mobile, including having instant access to the most up-to-date records and information, better cross-team collaboration, enhanced productivity, and other perks.
When you’re ready to make the move to the cloud, look for IaaS and SaaS providers with good security measures in place, guaranteed uptime of 99 percent or better, integration with other applications and/or a fully functional API, giving you more control over configurations, Stanley recommends.