03/05/2011

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Marcus Leach, Fresh Business Thinking: This is Marcus Leach reporting for Fresh Business Thinking. We are at Microsoft to talk to Tanya Shirlow about Cloud Computing and the benefits it has for small businesses.

What is Cloud Computing and how can it help small businesses?

Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead, Microsoft: There can be a lot of mystique around the word cloud. The way I like to think about it in essence, it's any kind of service, software or data provided to you over the internet, it's no more complicated than that. If you take a service that you might use at home today, internet banking is a very good example of a service that you use today that may well be described as being a cloud service and there can be lots of different benefits for business.

What are the differences between an on-site server and cloud services?

A product that maybe you have on premise is physically located within your building so take your email server for example. You'll have a box physically located within your office, you can see it, you can touch it, it is delivering you your emails. The only difference between that and a cloud, the service is the same but someone else is managing the software, someone else has the box and you are literally accessing it via the internet. So there's generally no real difference between the sorts of services that you access, you're just accessing them online rather than actually physically having that software and hardware located within your business.

What capabilities would be gained by using cloud services within a small business?

It could well be accessing capabilities that allow your employees to be productive from anywhere. Be that the ability to work from home, to be able to be out on the road and make phone calls back to the office via your PC. So for me the first layer is about the new capabilities that it can deliver you.

What advantages are there to a managed IT service?

When you are a small business owner/manager running your business, what you are great at is servicing your customers and delivering great products for those customers. It's not necessarily a skill to manage IT, therefore allowing someone else to have that management is a great benefit for the business.

Can the service be scaled as the business grows?

With the cloud computing offering, the way in which you're having it delivered is that it's a subscription service and the ability to pay for what you use is there so as business booms and you need to scale up the service you can but actually when times are maybe a little bit leaner you can scale back the service and scale back the cost. With a subscription service you can also turn your capital expenditure into operating expenditure, so actually there's a very different cost basis available to you. So I would say those are the three core benefits.

How reliable and secure are cloud services?

Reliability and security are absolutely key for all businesses and with cloud services it is an absolutely critical thing. One thing to remember however is for cloud service providers, they've got a vested interest in making sure that that service is reliable and that service is secure, otherwise customers won't keep coming back for it. One thing to think about in terms of security is, if you provision your data in that service from the cloud, the chances are it's going to much more secure than maybe that physical service that's located within your own business or that laptop where you're keeping sensitive company information. So security, reliability is absolutely key but obviously you need to make sure that actually what you're doing is looking at that service provider you're working with, what are their credentials? What are their service level agreements? And what are their layers of security? What are their security practices? Making sure that your data is well protected.

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