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cloud computing.pngCloud computing is more than an IT buzzword. With the worldwide cloud computing market estimated at $10.7 billion (the U.S. accounts for approximately 40 percent of that total), cloud computing is quickly becoming the technology of the future.  In fact, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 70 percent of Microsoft employees are doing work that is related to cloud computing, and that figure is expected to continuously increase. 


So what is cloud computing?


Simply put, cloud computing is a model in which services and storage are delivered through the Internet instead of a desktop application. Sometimes referred to as ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), a true cloud-computing solution requires no software to purchase and install. Many cloud computing applications have become so commonplace that you probably don’t even realize you’re using them.  Internet-based email, document managers and anti-spam/virus programs that update and secure your desktop applications are just a few examples.  Along with smartphones, tablets and other technologies, cloud computing is redefining how we work.


Cloud Computing and Small Business - A Perfect Match Made?


With applications available for various business functions and technical needs, it is not surprising that small and mid-size businesses are significant consumers of cloud-based solutions. In fact, a recent report from AMI Partners  predicts a 25 percent increase on SaaS spending versus five percent growth for all other categories of on-premise software combined.


cloud computing benefits.pngThe two biggest benefits of cloud computing are convenience and cost. By releasing operations from data centers, file servers and packaged software, cloud computing offers small businesses a high level of flexibility and it allows business partners and employees to connect easily.  Another added benefit is that cloud applications are scalable and can grow alongside your business. Applications get updated and improved regularly without the cost and effort of downloading and configuring upgrades. Moreover, the solutions are inexpensive. Generally billed in relatively low monthly installments (which could be adjusted according to the number of users, transactions, etc.), cloud computing tends to be substantially more affordable than the initial investment required for physical data infrastructure and software. Some prominent SaaS vendors include: Omniture, Taleo, SuccessFactors, NetSuite Microsoft, IBM, Google, etc.


Similar to any other type of technology product, you should consider security, uptime (essentially a hosted application’s performance record) and privacy concerns when evaluating whether cloud computing is a good fit for your business.  Though SaaS applications may actually offer added protection against issues such as data loss, you should ask vendors for written documentation detailing their security measures and standards.  When evaluating uptime, the performance record should be in the range of 98-99.9 percent, (accounting for maintenance or unexpected problems).  You should also inquire how long it generally takes to resolve technical issues.


While cloud computing has many benefits, there is no “one-size-fits-all” recommendation. Determining whether cloud applications are right for your business –and to what degree– is a decision that will need to be based on your company needs. It may be worthwhile to kick the tires before committing. In fact, many cloud services will offer a trial prior to purchase.


If you choose to pursue a cloud computing solution, the following are some considerations you should keep in mind:

  • Ensure that the vendor offers good customer support and check to see if there is an added charge for support and maintenance.


  • Look for a flexible cloud computing vendor that will allow you to add and subtract users and scale other capabilities as your business needs change.


  • Determine whether your cloud computing solutions run on complementary interfaces. For example, it may be useful if accounting packages integrate with contact management applications.

Cyber Crime.pngSQL Injection Attacks. Scareware.  Password Crackers.  BOTs.  They sound like alien attacks from an episode of Star Trek – not real threats to your small business.


But, the threat is real. Cyber crime has reached new heights, and the criminals do not care if you’re a Fortune 500 company or a mom-and-pop shop.   In fact, as hackers look for the easiest way into a network, small businesses and their less sophisticated security measures are prime targets.  A 2010 Panda Security survey of 10,000 small and midsize businesses worldwide showed that 36 percent of respondents did not use any security tools besides free anti-virus protection.  And a study from Symantec found that 73 percent of respondents had been victims of a cyber attack during the last year.


A popular belief is that cyber crime is motivated by a desire to disrupt business and gain notoriety for advanced hacking skills. The more prevalent motivator, however, is money. Even if no money or records are stolen, a security breach can have financial repercussions in terms of damage to a company’s reputation and ability to partner with firms that have more sophisticated security in place.  More and more, companies are requiring that their vendors and partners have digital defenses in place.  There are also laws that require companies to notify customers if their personal information has been compromised and even offer them free credit protection and monitoring in some cases.


Tips for Protecting Your Business


Your business can be threatened in multiple ways:  the network, your applications and company data.  Many companies invest in security tools for one level, but neglect the rest. The key is to keep criminals from gaining entry in the first place, and to prevent them from causing deep levels of damage if they do.  Here are some precautions you can take:


  • Although most small businesses do not have them, firewalls are now considered essential, as they control who has access to your network.


  • Recognize the value of a strong password.  The best ones use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols, are eight- to 12 characters long, and do not include any personal references.


  • Know your application software vendors.  If your vendors offer regular updates and patches, make sure you use them.





  • Consider encryption software for your laptop and smart phone.  (Remember, they are computers too).


  • Remember to educate your staff.  You can buy the most sophisticated password encryption software, but it won’t help you if a staff member writes the password on a Post-it.


  • Finally, as ubiquitous and useful as social networking sites are, small businesses should be aware that they come with added security risks.  A 2010 study showed that the number of companies attacked through social media networks jumped 70 percent between 2008 and 2009, and that social networks spread malware at 10 times the rate of email networks.


None of this is meant to spread panic.  Computers, software, social media, mobile technologies and websites are integral parts of your small business.  And, you will most likely see an increase in automated communication between systems in the years to come.  If you include security tools in your arsenal, you will be able to keep cyber crime at bay while focusing on what’s really important:  Running your business.  It’s insurance you can no longer afford to do without. Have you ever encountered a cyber attack? Share your story and any tips you have with the SBOC community in the comments below.

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