small business growth in the cloud I’ve spent the better part of twenty years owning and running small business in New Zealand and, while I’d never consider myself an “IT person”, I still had to have significant involvement in maintaining all the varied IT systems that small businesses need. From telephone systems to software, from servers to data backup, the range of activities that a small business has to deal with is just as broad as those of a large Enterprise – only a small business doesn’t have the resources to have well trained staff on hand to deal with it full-time. This is where the Cloud may be able to help.

So what is cloud computing, and why is it so applicable to startups and SMBs? The easiest way to understand cloud computing is to think of it as a utility model. The same way we obtain our electricity on tap, not thinking about where it comes from or having to invest in the infrastructure to receive it, so too do we go about using the Cloud – be it software or the underlying infrastructure, as a utility resource.

One way that makes cloud computing more readily understood is to use the acronym OSSM. Cloud computing is technology that is;

● On-demand: the server or software is already setup and ready to be deployed
● Self-service: the customer chooses what they want, when they want it
● Scalable: customers can choose how much they want and ramp up if necessary
● Measurable: there’s metering/reporting so you know you are getting what you pay for
So how does this apply to startups and small businesses, and what specific benefits can these organizations obtain by a move to the cloud? I boil it down to a few impacts;

● Removes the need for CapEx Let’s face it, most startups have a lot of things, but one thing they lack is capital. Avoiding making them have to spend their limited cash on hardware is a real win
● The ultimate in flexibility. In this day and age business changes fast, startups need the ability to “turn on a dime” and Cloud Computing, with it’s lack of lock in and ongoing contracts, helps this
● Scalability. The reality is that we all want our little startup to hit the jackpot and grow through the roof. The great thing about Cloud Computing is that it removes all the hardware and software constraints to growth out of the equation

If one accepts the contention that cloud computing offers significant benefits to startups and small businesses, that returns us to the problem that there is very little vendor-neutral resource available with which non-technical or mildly technical people can learn about the opportunities and challenges that cloud computing raises.

With this realization, I decided to do something about the gap, and launched CloudU, a comprehensive educational series aimed at increasing cloud awareness among small businesses. It’s my belief that the lessons we’re giving to business owners are eminently applicable to anyone who has to use technology in their daily lives as well. The CloudU content is vendor neutral, aimed at building knowledge rather than selling any product per se.

With my experience running cloud computing conferences and community events around the world, I was all too aware of the value of building knowledge in a “by the people, for the people” way. I’ve developed CloudU to take this approach, and deliver material in different formats including reports, seminars, a certification program, online communities. By taking this approach, we believe we’re able to really make an impact on the cloud awareness amongst the general population.

I’d invite startups and anyone thinking about embarking on one to have a look at the content we developed, and I’d be more than happy to talk with anyone about moving to the cloud.

Ben Kepes is the curator of the CloudU Education program. He is an analyst, an entrepreneur and a business adviser. His business interests include a diverse range of industries from manufacturing to property to technology. As a commentator he has a broad presence both in the traditional media and extensively online. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users. Ben can be contacts at ben@diversity.net.nz and his CloudU education series can be seen at http://bit.ly/CloudU

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