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The cloud is all the rage, or at least that’s what the IT industry wants us to believe.  For certain, the cloud is making a difference, but just how that will impact small and medium businesses over the long term remains to be seen.

We’ve been here before.  Remember Application Service Providers (ASP’s) back in the late ‘90’s early 2000’s?  How about Software as a Service (SaaS)?  It’s all cloud, though cloud is now the moniker of choice.
I’ve been talking with a lot of people about cloud computing lately.  What remains most interesting to me is that the majority of questions are coming from within the industry, not from our clients. That’s not to say that clients are not aware of or interested in cloud computing, they are. The primary question is whether or not it will provide value for the client.

Like any technology, the key factor should be whether the cloud provides an opportunity for the client to improve their efficiency and reduce their costs, operational, sales or IT.  If it does, then the cloud makes sense, if not, it will not.  It’s really that simple.

Most SMB clients ask about the cloud because of their familiarity with cloud based services they use at home, like Yahoo mail or Google docs. Those services seem robust to most home users, so it’s only natural they would consider extending that application to their work. That seems to be the main driver behind SMB interest today, though over time, that will surely change. As any IT consultant will tell you, you don’t run your business on free web-based applications, but the viability of the same is improving all the time and commercial versions of the free services continue to be rolled out by various vendors.

Factors like reliable and sufficient bandwidth are obviously critical to the use of cloud computing solutions. Depending on what data we are talking about, the cloud may or may not be a good solution. While mainstream applications like e-mail and mobile device synchronization are seeing increasing adoption across organizations of all sizes, more complex applications like financial systems are not. This may be driven by the underlying technology, the sensitivity of the data or both. Many companies are also trying to get comfortable with the idea of their precious data being somewhere other than right there in their office, where they are used to it being. This may be more of a mental hurdle than a practical one, but IT providers need to be sensitive to their clients’ tolerance for these solutions, given this context.

Personally, I see a hybrid model as the most likely result of the current push around cloud computing. What do I mean by a hybrid model? It’s one of two things. I envision models where some clients maintain their on-premise IT infrastructure at some level and couple that with specific cloud solutions that address specific areas. I also envision a model where some companies may, in effect, build a private cloud by leveraging data centers to host their own cloud for their organization. This is really not much different from how data centers have traditionally been used, but instead of only housing the public facing company web site, the data center may now become the company’s defacto server room.

There is still a lot of shaking out to take place around cloud computing. Whether you are a provider or consumer of IT services, you are likely reading and thinking about the cloud. As you do, keep an open mind, think outside the box and consider how you can best leverage the wide universe of technologies that are available to help provide services to your clients or help run your business.  Considered from that perspective, you will make smart decisions that will benefit your organization over the long term.