There are numerous benefits of using cloud computing, including:
- Cost efficiency
- Technical currency
If you specialise in particular fields (e.g. the arts, recreation and education services) you will have access to a wider range of solutions for your particular needs, and much more flexibility compared with 'one-off' solutions based on physical devices in your office. This is important, as your needs may change as your organisation secures contracts and grows or diversifies.
Figure 2 –Benefits of Cloud Computing
(source: Department of Communications)
Small businesses and not-for-profit (NFP) organisations can particularly benefit from cloud computing. The common challenge you face is volatility in the volume of clients or members that you deal with, and variability in the services you are required to supply. If this challenge is met by fixed assets you've purchased and installed, or staff with career expectations, it is time consuming and costly to cover short bursts of activity or to reduce exposure during downturns. Cloud computing allows easy access to just the right level of computing resource for your needs, purchased and/or adjusted up and down via easy web-based interfaces.
Establishing and maintaining computer facilities, like almost everything else, benefits from economies of scale. This is largely due to the efficiencies that arise from skill specialisation in the increasingly complex and ever changing world of ICT. In a large-scale operation such as a cloud computing company, staff can specialise – and become highly expert – in one or more of the many separate disciplines required to produce an effective and efficient ICT service.
Skills required for system administration, design, development, testing, management, support, capacity planning, security, privacy and assurance are quite complex and distinct. They require high levels of training, usually at tertiary level, and need to be regularly refreshed and upgraded. In a large organisation, staff can specialise in one or more of these areas and have the time and interest to maintain technical currency, whereas small organisations can have difficulty keeping up. Similarly, ICT hardware and software needs to be regularly updated to provide the most efficient and cost-effective service.
In order to ensure that computer operations maintain the high levels of availability demanded by today's businesses and their customers, there is a need to provide extra staff to cover for illness, leave and 24×7 operations. To achieve this, more than one individual needs to know the specifics of each of the many technical areas involved. It is very difficult for a small organisation to cover all of these needs.
Achieving high levels of availability of services also involves maintaining high levels of redundancy (duplication) within the system used to provide the facilities. This is costly, and rarely affordable by a small business or organisation; they often just accept the risk of system breakdowns. This is not to say that there aren't significant risks in the use of cloud computing, but with careful planning for business continuity and the selection of reliable providers, these risks can be mitigated (see Part 3).
The topics of continuity and availability are covered in more detail in Part 3 of this Module.
Prior to the advent of cloud computing, small businesses and organisations often found it difficult to support the software versions, network protocols and browser products required to ensure compatibility with other users with whom they engaged.
The model of software available via an annual subscription has been adopted by firms like Adobe (the Creative Cloud package for digital imagery and publishing) and Microsoft (the web-accessible Office 365 suite).
There used to be a need to constrain staff in the choice of devices, operating systems and productivity tools they could use in order to ensure compatibility. This problem is substantially addressed by the web-based nature of cloud computing, as well as by the support it provides for a range of access methods and devices.
Cloud computing has the bonus of supporting the increasingly popular 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) model, where staff can use the hardware and operating system they prefer.