Cloud computing for SMEs? Don't make me laugh...

Cloud computing for SMEs? Don't make me laugh...

Summary: Storage in the cloud. Has a nice cosy feel to it doesn't it?

TOPICS: Networking

Storage in the cloud. Has a nice cosy feel to it doesn't it? And it could save you money, they say. But is it real?

If you're a small business, it could just mean that you keep your backups on a simple storage service -- there's a number of them differentiated mainly on price.

Alternatively, you could think about going for a more managed service, such as the one that's launched: ThinkGrid. The pitch is that it's a "cloud storage service for organisations that need to retain ever-increasing amounts of data, but lack the capital to invest in high-cost, on-site storage", all paid for "on a pay-as-you-go basis".

ThinkGrid uses its own servers and MezeoCloud's software to provide the service. You can ship encrypted files, manage them, back them up and so on. It's being sold as a way of saving on file server hardware and management, as well as gaining you backup and disaster recovery services.

All well and good, and just what a small business often needs. In fact, you could argue that small to medium-sized businesses can garner greater benefit from the cloud than larger ones, although there are still other issues to take into account..

The problem is reaching the cloud. Most small business' connectivity uses the same technology as that of most homes and individuals. Yes, it's good old ADSL. For most folk, this means an upload speed of, at most, around 400kbit/s.

That's maybe in the morning before the US wakes up and the kiddies start downloading torrents of videos. By the end of the day, at a time when you might do your backups, you'll be lucky to see an upload speed of more than a quarter of the booked data rate. And while local loop unbundled connections can reach the giddy heights of 1.3Mbit/s or even more, but they're still rare.

What does it all mean? It means that, with a well-performing ADSL connection, you could upload a CD's worth of data in well under four hours, while a DVD would take over 24 hours -- assuming nothing else is using the connection during the transfer. With more than a couple of PCs to back up, those sorts of times will start to look forbidding.

Cloud is all the rage. But what helped to kill a similar industry movement, then dubbed ASP or application service provision, at the height of the dotcom boom almost ten years ago was a lack of bandwidth. The problem is, for the SME, that problem has yet to be addressed.

So is the cloud a working SME solution? Given the volumes of data even the smallest businesses now generate, I suggest that it's not yet there yet. Roll on universal fibre...

Topic: Networking

Manek Dubash

About Manek Dubash

Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger.

As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites.

I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceovers, event moderation, you name it...

Back story
An IT journalist for 25+ years, I worked for Ziff-Davis UK for almost 10 years on PC Magazine, reaching editor-in-chief. Before that, I worked for a number of other business & technology publications and was published in national and international titles.

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  • Cloud computing for SMEs? Don't make me laugh...

    Good observation - I wonder how many small businesses have been encouraged to use some of these web-based storage services (BT Vault as one example, that works out a bit more costly than others like Carbonite) but have yet to really put them to the test, and found the limitations of upload speed.

    I think 832 kbps is becoming more common, but it's still going to take quite a while to do some significant backup.

    What I've done for a few small clients (consultants working from home for example) is to suggest they use the cheap/ free services from firms like DriveHQ (which offers scheduled backup but also does folder monitoring, so it updates when a document is updated, or saved first time).

    So with a full backup and incremental backups after that, plus specific document folders being immediately copied away, they have two chances at having everything stored away.

    It works well and a quick check with an FTP application allows me to check the 'last modified' date on the online storage directories, independent of the clients, so I can gently nudge them to restart things if some config change means updates aren't taking place.

    They are happy as they don't have to manually copy off to CD/DVD (especially good if they are taking the odd few days at home and then off to run another course, for example, when manual procedures could fall by the wayside).