business technology

Small Business On The Cloud? Not There Yet!

Being a small business owner myself I often communicate latest and greatest of IT achievements to my fellow small business owners who aren’t as tech savvy. Since the latest hype seem to be the cloud, I am genuinely interested in feedback of people who are not on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, but who are small business owners none the less. With all the hyped up trends of running your business off your favorite Blackberry/iPhone/PDA we, the tech guys, tend to forget about other entrepreneurs.

So I went around my own clients as well as their friends – whoever happened to be a small business owner had a chance to respond. The question I was asking is simple – how would you be able to benefit from the cloud services in your current set of operations. Plain English version: we are not changing the infrastructure of the business, we’re just trying to see what cloud services would be helpful to the business as it is.

The responses I got were surprising – to say the least. None of the business owners would trust cloud or any other internet service with any kind of critical part of their operations. Why? Because their internet connectivity is NOT 100% reliable. Why? Because their operations are mostly based on offline interaction.Why? Because their internet connectivity is not 100% reliable. See the pattern?

It makes little sense for a small business to justify paying for SLA-backed lines like T1, T3 which are a lot more expensive while providing significantly lower speeds compared to general consumer-grade connections (like cable or FiOS). Yes, they do use internet for job-related tasks – like downloading forms and brochures, doing competition and marketing research, advertising and so on. However, none of them could justify purchasing a dedicated commercial-grade internet connection for what they are being offered. Which means – business cannot rely 100% on their stuff being available online. Therefore – no cloud services.

It just boils down to this – we are not connected enough to use cloud services. Yes, a few of us live off their smart phones. If pushed hard enough I guess I could do away with any of my smart phones – if I am on the go (although I do lug my X61s pretty much always these days). But for the rest of small business owners I had a chance to talk to – this is not an option. Contacts must be local. List of clients, leads, price lists, suppliers, data backups – everything must be local and available offline. The longest shot I’ve seen to a mobility so far – is a take-home laptop that is synchronizing everything daily.

So while I am happy to see new cloud services every day, I guess the more important question to ask – before asking which cloud service could benefit your business – is this: are you connection good enough to rely on cloud services? Chances are – you still must keep an actual copy locally. Just in case.

internet technology

They Choose Internet Over Sex – But Are They?

CNN has published a result of a survey, stating that any given day women will forgo sex for Internet in almost 50% of the chance. The argument is made that Americans rely on the Internet more and more each day. We’re hooked on ‘tubes.

My guess is that the survey was done online. It’s almost like the infamous online study by large Russian web-portal that clearly showed that 100% of respondents use Internet. Who knew? Given the state of the broadband in US, chances are – most people DO forgo Internet connectivity for other activities.

Those of us who live in well developed areas enjoy omnipresense of broadband. It is as if we almost bathe in it. In New York City I can enter almost any Starbucks and get online using either AT&T’s or T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi. In the college, where I take classes, I can hook up to their Wi-Fi network from almost every college building – even old once that college plans to vacate soon. And if that cafe on the corner, whose name escapes me, isn’t outfitted with own Wi-Fi by the owner, I can hook up my cell phone to my laptop via Bluetooth or USB cable and be online in less then 5 minutes. Or just check e-mail directly from my phone if needed.

Fast forward to rural areas, like my parents’ vacation home in upstate Pennsylvania, also known as upstate NY. Instead of 3G I usually see EDGE or even GPRS type of a signal. That means speeds around dial-up with the same kind of quality. Starbucks cafes are one per hundred square miles or at least one hour driving away. Pretty long shot for casual e-mail checking. Working from such a location is definitely out of the question. So I can hardly see that anyone from nearby population would forgo any kind of activity for questionable pleasure of waiting for contemporary web site to download. Various studies show the average size of a web page is anywhere between 150K to 300K. Add stuffers like banners, banner and statistics scripts, flash elements… just forget about it.

So while Google battles to get their content closer to subscribers by setting up caching servers on ISP’s own networks, maybe it’ll be a better idea to at least give those “forgotten” markets a chance to experience this content. They may still think Internet is a secret army project gone wild…


Conference Center Wireless Trickery

Wireless connectivity at hotels - Small business, marketing and web design blogThis Saturday is hard. Not only I had to get up at 7am – pretty early for me on any given day, let alone Saturday. I had to drive all the way to Long Island. As I am blogging this, I am sitting in the lobby on Long Island Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. This is March 2008 and it’s almost 30 miles from New York City. The cell phone even shows 3G network. Which I am comfortably using.

Guess what? The wireless internet connection that is redundant and free less then 30 miles from here costs $2.95 for 25 minutes, with $.25 each additional minute. Or you can pay $19.95 per 24 hours of wireless internet. It’s a same scam that other hotels running.

Imagine a hotel charging you additional money for using a water fountain. Or a restroom. Or timing you sitting in those supposedly comfortable chairs in the lobby. Two dollars per 30 minutes of sitting, after your time expires some hotel worker comes to your chair and throws you out unless you pay more money. Personally, I don’t see any reason why hotels wouldn’t do that.

One might argue that the infrastructure costs money. Sure it does, but I’d be delighted if someone would provide any real-world numbers as to how much hotels make off of the paid internet connectivity. And how much they loose. Being a small business owner myself, I am very conscious when it comes to additional and hidden charges. So if I would come up with the idea of having a seminar here or there, the fact that anyone coming to my conference (say it’ll last for 4 hours) would have to cough up anywhere between 12 and 20 bucks just to check their e-mail, take their notes online or blog about the event would be embarrassing.

Of course, it’s capitalism out there and people wouldn’t stop having meetings and conferences and seminars at hotels just because of outrageous prices for internet connectivity. Bus someone must bring hotel management up to speed with the outside world. Next time some doctor decides to have a meeting at a hotel’s conference center this Marriott may just be out of luck. Just because people use internet more then for 25 minutes at a time.