Of all the different benefits that cloud computing brings to the IT market, perhaps the most important one from the perspective of small and medium businesses is the leveling of the playing field. Before the rise of cloud computing providers, any company that wanted access to large amounts of computing resources (be they storage space, processing power, or anything else) needed to make huge upfront investments in multiple areas, from server to system administrators.
This need for investment meant that only well established companies with the necessary spending power could actually get their hands on large scale resources. The cloud, however, has removed the need for this initial investment, effectively enabling access to unlimited resources (at least in theory) to all companies. Even better, costs are roughly the same regardless of company size, eliminating another great distortion from the IT market.
This level playing field is a great opportunity for many reasons. First, it enables entrepreneurs to develop ideas much bigger in scope than ever before, at a much lower initial cost. Not only that, but some ideas that were simply impossible to put into practice a few years ago are now fully within the realm of possibility.
A revolution-enabler: Big Data and beyond
The equality of access to resources brought about by the cloud enables (and will continue to enable in the future) many “IT Revolutions”. Big Data is today the clearest example of this. For all the potential benefits and value that can be extracted from Big Data for companies, the truth is that no one would be nearly as excited about it if only very large corporations were able to process these amounts of information.
In fact, Big Data has, in one way or another, been around for years. Many companies have been doing the kind of data processing implied by Big Data for a long time. So what has changed? Today, even a small startup can leverage the cloud to store, process and do anything else that is necessary with Big Data, with little or no initial investment. Anyone can have a big idea related to Big Data, but the cloud lets them put their idea to practice, where before they would be limited by their access to resources.
As cloud computing evolves and as providers bring more and higher-level services to the market, computing resources stop being so much of a constraint to the development of systems and applications, and become simply building blocks that we can employ. Less constraints means more opportunities, especially for small and medium companies who are more agile and quicker to react to market trends than their bigger competitors.
A double-edged sword
Like most things, however, this easy access comes with a drawback. In a way, cloud computing makes it so easy to have access to almost unlimited resources that companies may become victims of poor planning or badly designed systems. The ability to quickly add processing power, either in the form of more servers or more powerful servers, can be a tempting way to solve problems that instead leads to larger issues.
Constrained resources force us to take more care when building applications and systems; virtually unlimited resources can make people believe that these kinds of worries aren’t warranted anymore. This, in turn, can lead to excessive spend which, if left unchecked can later surprise companies. It can be a huge headache to see your costs jump from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars simply because you had to launch extra servers to handle the load of a poorly designed application.
In spite of this drawback, the cloud is still one of the greatest opportunities that has come along for small businesses in past years. It is enabling small companies not only to compete with large enterprises on several dimensions, but also making it possible for these same small companies to compete in markets which would simply be inaccessible to them a few years ago. For this reason, more than anything else, every small business should be looking to the cloud.