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With announcements of Microsoft Azure’s plan to establish a Canadian presence and the build-out of network infrastructure by local companies to support more cloud computing, one thing is certain, cloud is here to stay.

 

And while there’s been a lot of chatter about cloud, I think there’s still a little confusion about what cloud computing is and why businesses, particularly SMBs, need to take note. Here’s why it gets confusing: software delivered over the internet is sometimes referred to as a cloud-based solution, and so is an offsite server infrastructure. Since both solutions are described as cloud services, it can be hard to understand what the cloud really is. Cloud can be a hardware solution (sometimes called hardware as a service), it can be a software solution (software as a service) or it can be a combination of the two.

 

Regardless of the format it takes, whether hardware, software or both, think of cloud as a flexible, agile resource for your business. It can easily expand to respond to a successful campaign, or contract during slower seasons.

 

Having that flexibility to rapidly respond, scale up to meet uncertain demand, and the agility to quickly and securely deploy new or expanded service offerings, could make the difference between business growth and an uncertain future.

 

Why is this kind of flexibility important, particularly now?  Once again we’re faced with recessionary indicators in the Canadian economy. The current rollercoaster in the stock market (fueled in part by China’ financial turmoil) has only added to global economic uncertainty.

 

If there’s one truth about hard or tumultuous economic times, it’s that they often drive change.  During a recession, sales drop and competition for customers increases. To respond, companies need to reassess their investments and strive for greater efficiencies – to do more with less and to do it better than their competition if they want to ultimately survive.  When times are lean, the status quo is not an option. Optimistically, a recession presents an opportunity for businesses to behave differently, change the way services are delivered or to do things better, faster, and smarter.

 

While other countries around the world were hit hard by the Great Recession and were forced to adapt to new market realities by becoming more efficient and effective, we could look at this latest recessionary trend as Canada’s chance to evolve. The timing could be right for Canadian companies to make a significant business transformation.

 

Cloud services present an inexpensive model from which to deploy a dynamic, responsive environment. Let’s say a company launches a marketing campaign to drive online sales and doesn’t really know how the new push will be received by its customers. The cloud provides scalability to respond quickly and securely whether the company gets a few hits or a deluge, allowing them to meet the incoming need at a reasonable cost, while testing and growing a new service option. In other words, cloud provides a lot of answers in situations where the workload required is uncertain.

 

Another benefit is that cloud computing is not a ‘one size fits all’ model. You can select a very, very basic service that provides online access to specific tools, like running payroll, or far more complex solution that also delivers built-in security and encryption. While you will pay more for the more sophisticated services, you are only paying for what you use but you’re getting the guarantees that your data is protected and encrypted to the level you need.

 

Here’s the stark truth about security: one data breach can put you out of business so it’s really not worth the risk of getting it wrong.  Selecting cloud service providers who have the experience to keep customer information secure lets businesses stick to their knitting and do what they do best – delivering excellent products and services.

 

With all these benefits, why aren’t Canadian businesses latching onto cloud services in droves?  I think one barrier may have been concerns over where data and your sensitive company documents reside, known in the industry as ‘data sovereignty’.

 

With a large majority of cloud service providers previously located outside of Canada, businesses might have been concerned about where their data was residing, where it could have been accessed and where workloads were being executed.  While many business don’t care where their data processing is happening, for others such as government, health care, and financial services, geography is critical. Without a clear solution for controlling where data resides, these industries were resistant to embrace cloud in all its forms.

 

News about the build-out of a 'made in Canada' cloud infrastructure has started to remove this barrier to adoption, but technology has also continued to evolve and create solutions to many of the barriers or concerns facing businesses which may have been preventing them from accessing the benefits of these solutions.  For example, to respond to data sovereignty concerns, Intel has partnered with organizations like HyTrust to build a hardware and software platform that allows businesses or governments to set criteria for where their data can actually be viewed and decrypted based on its geographical location. This presents an answer to businesses’ and governments’ anxiety around data sovereignty. Whatever your boundaries are, technology now can protect data and limit authorized access only within those boundaries.

 

Are the innovations, growing local infrastructure and mature cloud solution offerings enough to expand the Canadian cloud experience?

 

I truly believe that cloud is (or will be) at the centre of everything we are going to be doing. It has the capability to expand and contract on demand. And, as we see businesses start to increase investment in Internet of Things to drive smart buildings, track fleet data and cargo status, control and customize marketing and signage, as well as needing to be able to perform detailed analytics on all that incoming data to empower effective decision-making (but more on this at a future date), they will need a way to manage an unpredictable level of data coming at them.

 

So the biggest question remains: is Canada ready and are businesses ready to take the leap? Companies like Microsoft believe we are ready or they wouldn’t be making this major investment, and their entry into the Canadian marketplace is a real game changer.  I also think the timing is right. To continue to succeed in the uncertain times ahead, companies will need to make changes to adapt to new market realities driven by recessionary trends and withstand the onslaught from global competitors.  Cloud could be one of the most valuable tools businesses need to establish a foundation for the future.


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