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Access to Technology

For the purposes of this particular debate, start-up businesses generally fall into two categories; those that produce technology, and those that don’t, also known as “old-industry” businesses. What is important, however, is that both types require technology to manage their businesses in a manner that makes them more cost-efficient and operate more effectively against the competition.

Technology, in this case, does not merely refer to access to those amazing search engines available to us at the click of a button to reveal hitherto unheard of mountains of knowledge available to humankind. No, in this case, we are referring to technology that can easily be accessed from anywhere in the world with a link to the internet. Technology that is easy to integrate into your business processes, relatively cost-effective compared to the alternatives and provides an extremely professional foundation for your business to build on into the future. Cloud-based subscription solutions that provide the technology start-up with the ability to scale rapidly and globally, and provides the “old industry” start-up with the ability to apply world-class office automation solutions in managing their business processes.

Cloud Technology

What is it?

The term "cloud computing" is ubiquitous and often used quite loosely. In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programmes over the Internet instead of on your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. Instead of using your computer or mobile device to store your data, you use someone else’s computer/s. Quite a scary thought to the uninitiated and the very idea has provided stiff resistance, especially from the large corporate IT departments where the very thought of the company data being housed offsite was anathema.

What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive. When you store data on or run programmes from the hard drive, that's called local storage and computing. Of course, the problem with this is that if your computer is lost, stolen or you drop a cup of coffee on it, you lose all your customer data, financial statements, staff payroll and all the other functions required to manage a business properly. If the business is run on the cloud, your computer merely acts as the gateway to access that information on a cloud server farm housed somewhere in the world, probably with your data backed up in another two different locations in case of a fail of catastrophic proportions.

Cloud Applications

Some businesses choose to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. There's also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don't forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google provide a backbone that can be "rented out" by other companies. For example, Microsoft provides Azure as a platform for companies to host commerce websites.

The lines between local computing and cloud computing can sometimes get rather blurry. That's because the cloud is already part of almost everything on our computers these days. You can easily have a local piece of software, for instance, Microsoft’s Office 365 that utilises a form of cloud computing for storage, namely Microsoft OneDrive. That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web-based apps, Office Online, that are Internet-only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote accessed via your Web browser without installing anything. That makes them a version of cloud computing. The advantage of using Microsoft’s solutions is that they claim to develop their products for large enterprises, implying that if they are good enough for large corporate clients, they should be more than good enough for the small business owner.

There are some other obvious examples of cloud computing you may have used or are using such as Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, and Amazon’s Web Service. Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files online, but they also sync those files with local storage on your hard drive. Synchronisation is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally.

For the technology start-up that produces software of sorts to sell to clients, it should be clear that your solution needs to be hosted on the cloud, and certainly not on your in-house servers. While your product, namely your software, should be hosted in the cloud, the business itself should also be managed on the cloud. Likewise, for the many non-technology companies, the business itself should also be managed on the cloud, utilising a variety of cloud-based management solutions for your finances, administration and other work processes.

Arguments against the cloud

As always, with relatively new technologies, there certainly are arguments against the cloud. For a start, the ISPs (Internet Service Providers), telecommunications, and media companies control your access. Putting all your faith in the cloud means you're also putting all your faith in continued, unfettered access to your data. You might get this level of access, but it'll cost you. And it will continue to cost more and more as companies find ways to make you pay by doing things like metering your service so the more bandwidth you use, the more it costs. The counter-argument is of course, that as with Moore’s Law, the costs should decrease as bandwidth and space constraints are resolved. Already, we see drastic cost reductions in data storage as it has simply become a commodity and the cheapest provider will probably win the customers. Again, if those service providers do not provide good service, the competition will be more than willing to take up the slack.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak decried cloud computing in 2012, saying: "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years." In part, that comes from the potential for crashes. When there are problems at a company like Amazon, which provides cloud storage services to big name companies like Netflix and Pinterest, it can take out all those services (as happened in the summer of 2012). In 2014, outages afflicted Dropbox, Gmail, Basecamp, Adobe, Evernote, iCloud, and Microsoft; in 2015 the outages hit Apple, Verizon, Microsoft, AOL, Level 3, and Google. Microsoft had another this year. However, the problems typically last for just hours. Here is the rub, rather have someone else having to worry about these issues than you trying to run your own server farm. The large cloud service providers have had to establish failsafe redundancy features, so it is almost a safe bet that your data will be available on a computer somewhere on the Internet.

Wozniak was also concerned about the intellectual property issues. Who owns the data you store online? Is it you or the company storing it? Consider how many times there's been widespread controversy over the changing terms of service for companies like Facebook and Instagram, which are definitely cloud services, regarding what they get to do with your photos. There's also a difference between data you upload, and data you create in the cloud itself as a provider could have a strong claim on the latter. Ownership is a relevant factor to be concerned about, especially when it pertains to customer private data.

After all, there's no central body governing the use of the cloud for storage and services. In the US, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is trying. It created an IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative in 2011 to establish standards for use, especially for the business sector. The US Supreme Court ruling against Aereo could have told us a lot about copyright of files in the cloud but the court side-stepped the issue to keep cloud computing status quo.

Lastly

Cloud computing, like so much about the Internet, is a little bit like the Wild West, where the rules are made up as you go, and you hope for the best. And of course, cloud computing is big business. The market generated US$100 billion a year in 2012, which could be US$127 billion by 2017 and US$500 billion by 2020. Staggering numbers by any measure. There is no real alternative, get onboard or get left behind.

Sources

Griffith.E. What Is Cloud Computing? May 3, 2016. Accessed 27 September 2016 from:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372163,00.asp

Woodford.C. Cloud Computing. August 13, 2016. Accessed 27 September 2016 from: http://www.explainthatstuff.com/cloud-computing-introduction.html