Cloud vs desktop computing: an SME overview

Many now point to the advantages of cloud computing but others still swear by desktop. What is the difference and which is best for smaller businesses?

Cloud-based services have grown exponentially among SMEs in recent years, cutting costs and saving time for many. For some the need for expensive hardware has been eliminated, substituting traditional desktops for notebooks and tablets.

According to research by the Cloud Industry Forum, which promotes the use of cloud, its adoption in the UK has grown by 75% over the past five years. It also found that of 250 senior business professionals in both the public and private sector, 78% were using two or more cloud-based services and half intended to move their IT operations entirely to the cloud in the future.

For many small businesses finding efficiencies can be the difference between success and failure. But the rush to cloud services can conceal real risks.

Disadvantages of cloud computing

Apart from the need for sufficient bandwidth, there are concerns over data security, its limited technical support and an insufficient legal framework that could leave SMEs vulnerable depending on which geographical region their cloud package is located.

As it stands, data protection laws restrict the removal of data to unauthorised countries outside of the European Economic Area.

Many providers of cloud-services have responded by offering packages which guarantee to keep information within the approved region. But this does not address the threat of state surveillance, which may force companies (particularly those with a US presence) to hand over information to authorities, regardless of where it is held.

Advantages of cloud computing

Nevertheless, the industry is booming and Xero – which has been providing online accounting software and payroll to SMEs for almost a decade – has gained 36,000 new UK customers over the past year alone.

Emma Lomax is one such customer. She owns a small textile design company that after only two-and-a-half years has made its way into some of London’s most prestigious stores, including Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols.

SewLomax began at Emma’s kitchen table but now the young entrepreneur has her sights set on expansion into the US. She admits to being initially daunted by cloud accounting but after encouragement from her accountant, she took to the app quickly.

“There was a bit of a learning curve with it, but there are some good tutorials and lots of other people that use it who leave feedback on YouTube,” she says. “My accountant can log in, I can log in, colleagues can log in and you can get an idea of what you’re spending and what on in a really simple way. So, that is the benefit for us.”

More cautious

But not everyone takes to the cloud so easily. One company which is slightly more cautious, and still favours desktop for its IT infrastructure, is adult toy start-up MysteryVibe. The firm is still at crowdfunding stage and will launch fully in November this year.

It uses some cloud services –­ Slack for messaging and Google Apps for office management – however its design operations remain locally based and are done using specialist software, Solidworks.

Speed and security are the main advantages, explains Soumyadip Rakell founder and CEO: “Our Solidworks is very heavy software which is used for 3D CAD design. These are big files. If you did it on the cloud it would have a lag, whereas on your computer it’s quick and all of the designs are protected. Also there is the slight risk that it could be compromised, but it’s a very low risk because clouds are very secure. The main reason is speed.”

Cloud vs desktop?

Ivan Mckeever, CEO of SwitchMyBusiness.com added: “The cloud offers a bright future to the SME community by making business processes more efficient. We expect to see much wider adoption once data security concerns are addressed and businesses feel confident the cloud is superior to desktop.”

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