Among the messages from purveyors of cloud solutions is the notion that hosted software on rented hardware can save organizations money in terms of utility costs, rack servers, and IT staff. They point to large organizations with multiple massive server rooms and say the savings will be in the millions.

But what if you’re a small or mid-sized business? The savings from your own small server room to a hosted solution is not all that much in terms of what the larger companies can save. So what’s the value for a smaller business?

It’s simply this: The cloud gives small companies access to resources it otherwise would not be able to afford at all. And that’s where real value comes in.

I was having this discussion with Siamak Farah, founder and CEO of InfoStreet, a Tarzana, Calif.-based company that makes cloud application management software, and he explained that he is aiming his company squarely at smaller businesses.

“It is my belief that small businesses actually need cloud substantially more than large businesses,” he said. “The reason for that is, if large businesses make a mistake, they have several resources to overcome it, where a small business…any mistake could be potentially fatal to them or very crippling and actually keep them quite a bit behind.

“Secondly,” he continued, “access to resources isn’t as available for small businesses, meaning that if you have a team of star IT people, that’s easy to attract for a larger corporation, especially if you’re in one of the major metropolitan centers. But if you’re a small business in Cheyenne, Wyo. or whatnot, you’re not going to have access to a slew of people, and if you do, you may not be able to afford them. So the cloud provides not only software for them, but also built-in IT services for them, things that they couldn’t afford otherwise, and in a major way levels the playing field for them.”

To put it another way, Farah said, “If you can’t afford a Rolls-Royce, the next bet instead of owning one is to be able to pay a certain amount a month and be driven in it, so that’s just as good as an experience.”
InfoStreet is soft-launching SkyDesktop and SkyAppMarket. He sees this, as others have, as the beginning of the end of the operating system as we know it. But he has a long view of the subject.

“Back in 1994, when the Web was in its infancy and there was no JavaScript and there weren’t any ways of doing applications for the Web, I set out to build a company to provide cloud solution Software-as-a-Service before any of those were coined to the masses. And the criteria would be that all you need is a browser, whether it’s your laptop or iPad or desktop, it doesn’t matter. You’re always using the same services.”

SkyDesktop, he explained, is a single point of entry to your applications in the cloud. “Nowadays, people go to the cloud, but they go to one site to access their CRM, another site to do their online accounting, another site to do their e-mail and whatnot. And it’s becoming somewhat of a learning curve for new employees because when you hire somebody new you have to say, ‘Hey, for e-mail, go to www, for CRM go to www…’ and you go to all these different sites, and they have to take notes, they have to remember, and it’s difficult. So what we have done is we’ve created SkyDesktop, which is a desktop that is for all the cloud applications, meaning that all the cloud apps that you either buy from us or have bought already, and you can create shortcuts on this desktop, and it resembles a Mac desktop or a Windows desktop.

“This is really going full circle to coming up with an operating system in the sky that people can go ahead and just use it,” he said. “So they log in, they see their icons, they click on it. Anything they bought from us has single sign-on, some other ones through OpenID or SAML have single sign-ons through them, so they come in and it’s just like using a local desktop.

“The difference is it’s in the cloud. You don’t get viruses, you can use it from anywhere, and most importantly for small businesses—and this is something that is lost upon a lot of people—is that nowadays with the way technology works, everybody has to replenish their hardware every about two to three years, because they just become slow or virus-prone or whatnot. But when you are using cloud-based solutions, any old hardware will do because all you’re doing is using a browser to display it, and the computing is happening at the data center.

“So people could have 4-year-old technology to just watch and interact with the software, and if that machine dies or gets viruses—(though) chances are much lower because they’re using cloud software—they just leave it alone and go sit at the next computer, and two minutes later they’re back working as opposed to trying to restore a machine and having a day or two lost. That productivity loss is very, very big for small business, and small businesses are most vulnerable to productivity loss because they have no cushion.”

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.