Businesses, especially small businesses, are being sold the idea of using cloud-based computer setups rather than site-based setups for their computer needs very frequently.
The selling points used for these cloud-based systems include reduced hardware costs to run the system; capital expenditure being deferred to operational expenditure; scalability and flexibility; as well as increased security, resilience and uptime for the computer system. They are being pitched as being more suitable for small businesses due to the business not needing an IT team always on hand.
In some cases, the cloud technology is used as a way of offering the small business some of that “big-business” IT functionality including up-to-date line-of-business computerisation. I had learnt about this through a Skype interview that I had with Matthew Hare when I was talking about the FTTP fibre-optic next-generation broadband setup in Hambledon in the UK. He was referring to the businesses in that area, especially hotels, being tempted to use cloud-based IT solutions to provide the “big-business” services they want to provide.
But there are some caveats that one has to be careful of.
The cloud-based computer setup has a lot of the processing and storage performed on backend computers held at one or more remote datacenters located on the Internet.
Here, you have to make sure that you have a business-grade Internet service if you are relying on cloud technology. This is more so if the cloud-based technology is driving your line-of-business IT needs such as point-of-sale or hotel property management.
This situation happened with a hotel who was experiencing trouble with a half-performing POS/property-management system. I was aware of this with transactions taking exceedingly long times to process and some terminals not performing some business-essential transactions like some food/beverage cash sales completely. What I had found out later was that the communications link was down and certain online components couldn’t work properly. They had the communications equipment fixed the next morning and the system was working normally.
There also has to be some form of fault tolerance where essential parts of the system can be used if the connection or the backend goes down. This factor is important if cloud technology is to drive a transaction-driven line-of-business setup; and it should be feasible to perform the essential transactions in a “data-capture” manner without the need to be online as a continuity measure.
One of the possible indicators for a cloud-based system’s level of fault-tolerance is whether a mobile or tablet-based implementation runs a platform-native app rather than operation that is totally Web-based. The platform-native app, if designed properly, would have the opportunity to capture transaction data to the device’s storage if the device was offline.
The cloud-based setup also has to provide for secure data transfer and you have to raise the issue of what happens if the service provider goes bust or changes hands. Here, you have to protect the proprietary and integrity of your data as well as the continuity of your service.
It is more so if cloud-based services follow the same path as Internet-based services in the late 90s and early 2000s with the dot-com bubble. This is where the bubble would “burst” and companies either collapse or get taken over by other companies; and these kind of situations could easily sort the wheat from the chaff.
Similarly, your needs may change and you may come across another cloud-based or site-based solution provider who suits your newer requirements. This may encompass situations like the establishment of a branch or increased business traffic.
Here, I would make sure that the business data that describes your operation is able to be exported and imported or exchanged to other cloud or on-site software using data formats and conventions that are accepted by the business’s industry type. Then a part of the on-site backup routine should include exporting your data to the industry-standard format so you can handle these changes better.
What to look for when planning cloud services for your business
- A guaranteed minimum standard of service quality, reliability and security from the cloud service provider
- A guaranteed level of service availability and throughput from your Internet service provider
- A level of fault-tolerance that allows for essential business continuity if a cloud-based system fails.
- The ability for the business owner or manager to troubleshoot or or make good communications equipment that has failed
- The ability to export and import the data to industry-specific standards to facilitate movement between site-based or cloud-based systems or use as a snapshot backup.
A well-thought-out cloud-based business computing solution that provides a level of resilience can allow a business to save money and, especially, allow a small business to be able to “think big”.
Update: 1 April 2018
Indicator of fault tolerance in a cloud-based transaction system.