Up In The Air

By Lori Johnston January 31, 2012

Up In The Air: Cloud ComputingClouds are moving across Southwest Florida, and they’re no longer just signaling changes in weather. Companies—mostly small and medium-size—are using cloud computing to provide mobile access for employees, control spam and remove the need for expensive physical servers used to store data onsite.

But cloud computing remains a hazy concept for many businesspeople. Simply put, it refers to moving data onto the Internet. If you use Google mail, Google docs, Dropbox, Amazon or bank online, you’re already using Internet-based—or cloud—computing.

Some experts liken it to a utility, such as electricity, where the service is provided offsite for a monthly fee and the consumer doesn’t have to worry about upkeep or how the infrastructure works.

“I tell people the cloud is your data on someone else’s equipment,” says Kevin Baylor, managing partner of Suncoast Business Technologies in Sarasota. “The price is driven by the number of users, number of servers and the amount of disk space you need. A small business with five employees and average disk space will probably pay $500 a month or less. And generally there is a quick ROI. But you can’t just say, ‘I’m going to move my system to the cloud.’ You need to look at your business applications and ask if they can run in that environment. 3D applications, architectural programs and photo editing on large photos may not work well.”

Most of the region’s companies use a hybrid of cloud computing and “old school” ways, says Paul Hoffman, president of SouthTech Solutions, an IT services company based in Sarasota. They’re choosing cloud computing for some functions but not fully committing to the model because of security and concerns about who controls their data in the cloud. Larger companies with huge IT staffs and investments in hardware have been slower to take the plunge. Some companies, seeking to maintain control of their data or sensitive information, are paying more for their own private cloud storage.

But cloud computing does provide a more mobile way to do business. Employees can access data and traditional programs such as Microsoft Word and QuickBooks as well as browsers and apps like GoogleChrome, no matter where they are. As long as they have an Internet connection, the type of device doesn’t matter, either. Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones work in the cloud.

“The biggest benefit is the flexibility of being able to work anywhere, any time, any place,” SouthTech’s Hoffman says.

Others may find cloud computing doesn’t make sense and is not cost effective if the workforce is in one office and doesn’t need mobile access. There are other cons as well, including if your cloud-computing provider has an outage, like the disruption Amazon Web Services users faced last year.

“Business analysis is very important in this situation,” says Baylor. “Moving to the cloud is like a large legal or financial decision where you talk to an attorney or financial planner for expert advice. In this case you need to talk to IT experts who can help you make the decision.”



The cloud-computing concept doesn’t always immediately register with people, particularly among the non-techies. Websites like Google are cloud connections that people can understand, but when it comes to routing, functionality and benefits (or not), there can be a disconnect.

Illustration by Keltie Cochrane

Caption copy by Jake Spanberger of Entech Computer Services.

The Layout: Traditional Web Hosting vs. Cloud Computing


The conventional office setup connects PCs, Macs and mobile devices to onsite servers for their data, email and applications. Most often, those same servers, along with a router and/or a firewall, link those devices to the Internet.


Local servers provide various functions for the users, including electronic file storage and retrieval, email and applications that are accessed via the office computers. Backup of those servers is traditionally performed onsite through a tape and carried offsite by one of the users in case of a disaster.


In a cloud environment, various parts of the office’s infrastructure are stored offsite in the cloud (aka the Internet). Desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices must connect to the Internet to access their information. Instead of connecting to servers located in the office, some or all of their information (data, email, applications) is stored elsewhere.


The Internet serves as the connection to an array of cloud computing services and products.


At this end of the cloud-computing spectrum, the magic happens. Items like email, Google apps and various types of servers are at the beck and call of the user from anywhere. So long as you have an Internet connection, you have access to your data.


When to Cloud ComputeWHEN TO DO IT

If you’re considering investing in computers and servers…

— Figure out if there will be cost savings moving to the cloud. Instead of spending $5,000 upfront on an email server plus $2,000-$3,000 on software and maintenance, you might pay $100 to $500 a month for cloud computing, for example.

If you’re decentralizing your operations…

— Cloud computing could cut the cost of supporting several small offices since you won’t have to buy hardware, software licenses and other infrastructure at each office.


— Equip your employees with less expensive and more mobile tablets and laptops.


If your staff size has decreased…

— Consolidate servers not being used to their fullest capacity.

— Pay only for the slices of a virtual server you’re using.


If you have seasonal peaks and valleys…

— Gain access to more server space needed during busy sales periods.

— Save on the costs of buying a server that will only be fully needed for a few months.



1.     Pay as you go and only for what you use.

2.     Move your office manager or IT staff’s focus off servers and onto clients and business development.

3.     Avoid sudden and often costly technology expenses by paying a predictable monthly fee.

4.     Realize potential tax benefits by shifting from a capital cost to expense cost structure.

5.     Access software, data and programs from anywhere.


1.     A poor Internet connection will slow you down, or halt business.

2.     Security concerns exist.

3.     Bulky and demanding programs may not work.

4.     Cloud versions of applications may not be as comprehensive.

5.     Your data may belong to the cloud provider.

Filed under
Show Comments