By Steve Ball, Managing Director, Cloud 9.

Cloud computing is one of the key technology trends of recent decades, and many are predicting that this year is set to be the year that it really goes mainstream. Analyst firm Gartner recently stated that cloud computing would be one of the top ten strategic technologies in 2011, with many people exploring how the ‘cloud’ can help businesses to be more efficient.

In simple terms, the ‘cloud’ refers to the internet, and ‘cloud computing’ is when businesses, organisations or individuals access resources, data or software via the internet as opposed to such resources being stored on PCs or servers based in the office.

Until recently, many small and medium enterprises have viewed cloud computing as something which isn’t relevant to them. Often without the time and resources to fully explore this new technology, many SMEs do not realise the benefits of cloud computing for them. How exactly then can cloud computing help revolutionise IT for the thousands of small and growing businesses in the UK?

One big benefit to SMEs is that cloud computing is cost effective — instead of buying a large server that you may never fully utilise, having a cloud solutions means you can rent just what you need. It’s a much greener way of managing IT, and efficient in terms of space allocation as businesses no longer need to store server systems in-house.

Affordability in terms of up-scaling your operation is also key. We are all well aware of the importance of growth in business, especially in the current times when business are under more pressure than ever before. Cloud computing is highly scalable and flexible as the business expands. Businesses whose IT is based on a cloud model will be able to quickly, easily and cheaply scale up their IT provision without the need for expensive new infrastructure. We call it ‘pay as you grow’!

As businesses focus on growth generally, we are also seeing a trend in mobile working, and as lone working figures increase, the cloud offers another benefit to businesses.

Designed to be used at a distance, cloud computing offers no barriers to remote working, meaning staff can just as easily access data at home or on the go as they can in the office. So if we are faced with another barrage of snow next winter, and staff cannot make it to the office, cloud computing can help reduce the cost to businesses.

Whether staff are in or out of the office, cloud computing is secure and reliable. Instead of saving data and programmes on a server in the office, working with a data centre means your valuable information is saved in the safest possible environment. Disaster recovery and back-up strategies are key to many businesses’ contingency plans, and embracing the cloud means you have a far more robust strategy in place to protect documents and important information.

The cloud is an exciting development, arguably one of the most significant technologies for businesses in recent years. But it’s not just for large companies, in fact quite the opposite — SMEs can benefit enormously; from affordability to easily up scaling, supporting mobile workers to securing your businesses’ vital data. These new developments can help SMEs to drive forward their IT strategies and embrace efficient new ways of working. Cloud computing offers an exciting opportunity for many organisations to improve not only their IT provisions, but also bring in improvements across the business as a whole.

About Cloud 9 IT

Cloud 9 is an Oxfordshire based provider of cloud computing services to SMEs. Cloud 9 runs the only commercially available data centre in Oxfordshire, and from here works with many organisations to help them take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.