How can a Cloud vendor be more open?

It can feel very black and white in the Cloud. Either you opt for a deal with a Cloud provider who helps you decide exactly what kind of cloud technology you use – Cloud Server, Dedicated server, Virtual server etc – helps you work out how much it will cost and what kind of service you need. Or you go Open Source. You pick piecemeal programmes and software that still does the job but you’re not linked to a Cloud provider. Both sides have their benefits but what would be really great for consumers is for both to realise they’re actually more similar than you would at first think.

Why the perceived difference? It comes from range of attitudes to the internet, at heart. For some the internet is the ultimate in freedom. You can be as far from “the man” as you choose to be, defining the software you need as and when you need it. It’s the argument used by people who’ll sign up to Google Mail instead of Hosted Exchange, although they’re just replacing Microsoft with Google (and there’s a fairly hefty company behind both products).

The issue in terms of Cloud Computing stems from where it comes from. Having software on site, like a server and IT staff that need to keep it working and updated, can make you feel like you’re being held captive. When businesses, whatever their size, are hoping to become more streamlined, more flexible and offering a more bespoke service this kind of technology “solution” can feel like a weight weighing you down.

So there’s a choice to be made. The benefit of using a Cloud provider, particularly for an SME is the time issue. Chances are you’re busy, you’re not up to date in all the latest technology and developments and you simply want to pick and choose the software you can use and reduce the cost while still handing responsibility over to someone else. Clearly this makes it important for a relationship based on trust; the Cloud provider needs to have a secure, safe and reliable network that will protect the business data they’re entrusted with.

For SMEs this is increasingly the option they’re going for. It helps them cut costs while having a technology solution that meets their needs, allowing them to grow and experiment with a new, integrated way of doing business.

Yet, if we reduce the size of the business to a self-employed entrepreneur or freelance consultancy there is a tendency to think that even this arrangement is too expensive. Or is perceived to be too expensive. When you’re setting up your own business, like becoming a web designer, or you’re offering an added service on top of your existing job, the worry can be about committing to outgoings. You want the money you earn to go straight to you. You don’t want to commit to long deals and costly expenses, however much they might benefit you and your business.

So the tendency can be to opt for Open Source, to fit together piece by piece the software and apps you need to run your business.

In truth this can be a false economy. The money you save on picking and choosing Open Source Cloud Software is often outweighed by the time you spend maintaining and monitoring it. Signing up with a Cloud provider is not as expensive as many would think, with many deals starting at a few pounds a month, cheaper than registering a domain name, for example.

Who is the onus on, then? Should entrepreneurs be spending more time researching the options available to them? Or should cloud providers spend more time courting them. It’s probably a little of both. The “open” qualities of open source software can be used to describe the services and offer of many cloud providers; a community of users, a scalability and flexibility, a choice of apps, no need for an IT administrator.

Few cloud providers target their service directly to the smallest of the SMEs but in doing so they make it seem like the service isn’t available to them, that somehow a business needs to be of a certain size before it benefits. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Cloud computing creates a level playing field, allowing even the smallest operation to expand and grow their company and the services they offer, while relying on a cost-effective and secure service that meets their needs.