Before businesses make the switch to cloud computing, it’s important that they understand what the cloud can and can’t do for them.

The promise of greater computing power at reduced costs is fueling a steady movement of businesses toward the cloud. Earlier this year Gartner Inc., an IT analyst, projected that the worldwide public cloud services market will grow 17.5 percent in 2019 to $214.3 billion. However, if businesses move to cloud computing with the expectation that they will immediately save money and eliminate all computing concerns, they may be disappointed.

What follows are examples of what cloud computing is and what it is not.

What it is:

An alternative to running your own system

Cloud computing appeals to many businesses because it eliminates the demanding job of maintaining their own computer infrastructure, said Steve Phillpott, president of the San Diego chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM). Instead of buying computer equipment and hiring personnel to maintain it, they simply pay for what they use. This can represent savings on hardware, utilities and other expenses. Businesses no longer have the task of keeping their system up to date and fully operational.

A tool for creating more elasticity

Cloud-based services work well with companies that experience an ebb and flow of business. They can add computing capabilities whenever the need arises, allowing companies to take advantage of new and unexpected opportunities. If there is a need to reduce operations, businesses can scale back consumption quickly. They pay only for the services they use, noted Dave Henderson, information officer for San Diego-based Millennium Health.

A tool for improving mobility

When a business uses the cloud, staff members gain the ability to work from anywhere, said Phillpott. This is helpful when people need to work in more than one location. They are able to do their jobs using tablets, smartphones and laptops.

Having a mobile workforce is a big advantage, he stressed. “People are able to do their jobs anyplace, anytime, on any devices.”

What it is not:

Difficult to use

If you pay for a cloud computing service, you’ll get IT support. There typically isn’t an overwhelming learning curve to get started.

“It all comes down to how much you know or who is helping you along the way,” Brian Wood, director of cloud marketing at Teradata. “If you are learning as you go, that is high risk. If you have a trusted partner and they adhere to best practices, then it’s pretty straightforward. The most important thing for the company to do is plan the move.”

Completely secure

Most data breaches are with physical infrastructure, Wood asserted. And cloud providers often have the means to provide greater security than individual businesses that maintain in-house systems. Even so, no computer system is completely secure, noted Chris Simpson, academic program director of cybersecurity at National University. Businesses should carefully review the protections that cloud services offer.

“Some people assume a big vendor will take care of everything,” he said. “They still have to do their due diligence.”

A guaranteed money saver

It’s important to consider the cost of doing business when weighing a decision to move to cloud computing. Cloud computing generally saves businesses money while providing them with greater resources. However, there are exceptions. If companies end up buying more service than they truly need, the cloud can become costly, warned Chris Kennedy, chief information security officer for AttackIQ, a cybersecurity software specialist in San Diego. Depending on their specific needs, some businesses may be better off maintaining their own computer systems.