Cloud computing and the small startup

David Fearon 2

I'll be covering some of the ins and outs of practical cloud deployments in later posts, but for this first one I wanted to make some points from my latest experiences starting up a small business project.

From those experiences I can tell you it's entirely possible to run an independent venture on a very small budget, with people on every corner of the globe, at very little cost and with astonishing utility when it comes to everyday communications. In fact with the limited budget we've had in our start-up, cloud-based applications and storage have made the impossible not only feasible but incredibly cost-effective to boot.

We're basing all business-related file storage and communications infrastructure in the cloud. That means cloud-based email and collaboration tools, and not a single exclusively local copy of anything on our respective laptops and desktops. Pretty much the only exception to this is the occasions one of us is working on something they feel reticent about showing to the rest of the team before it's a fully fleshed-out concept.

Backup is a special exception which I'll cover in a later post, but the thrust of it is the whole business lives in the cloud, and we all have access to everything that the business as an entity produces. It makes for a workflow with the absolute minimum of interruptions.

It goes without saying that in many quarters this is considered heresy and far from The Way That Things Should Be. But small ventures are about getting things done, and getting them done fast, clean and well. When you have nobody but yourself to blame for failure, the path of best efficiency is often the one that you simply have to take. Trust plays a big part here. The broader point is that, as an IT person, you need to be aware of the risks of everything you do and the best way to do it within the parameters of acceptable practice.

Our start-up is one based primarily on IP (that's the intellectual-property type of IP, not the internet protocol variety) and exploiting the application of specialist skillsets from a small but diverse team. This defines our modus operandi: extreme flexibility and the ability to get things done without delay come first. We're dealing with what many small businesses must perforce deal with: the need to squeeze the very last drop of efficiency out of everything.

The point to bear in mind is that we're not idiotic cavaliers; we're aware of all risks, insofar as anyone can be aware of everything that could possibly go wrong. If the main thrust of the business were, for instance, manufacturing, retail or anything involving customer data that the law required us to protect, things would be structured differently.

Would I expect this frontiersman approach to be barrelling along unaltered in three years' time? Absolutely not. If and when the venture in question flourishes, things will become more formalised as the team grows and the company becomes responsible for more than just itself.

The aspect of the business that I would expect to remain unchanged is its fundamental approach to basing all operations in the cloud wherever possible. It's just insanely cost-efficient in so many areas. I'm increasingly of the viewpoint that when you're at the sharp end, the old mindset of keeping everything local because of some ingrained sense of propriety is one that will bite you hard unless you have a clear, well-defined need to go that way.

In other words, local compute power and storage should become the exception for your business, not the rule.

If you want to be able to walk into your very own server room, run your hands along the machine racks and get a fuzzy feeling from the ceaseless dance of activity lights blinking in the darkness, please go ahead. If, however, you want to make maximum use of available revenue and resources, you might have to forgo that understandably human pleasure.

Go for a stroll in the sunshine instead, and bask in the reassurance that the racks, their power provision, cooling, disaster recovery and maintenance are someone else's problem.