The buzz about cloud computing turned into a loud roar in 2011. But despite the hype, the cloud remains a mystery to many small business owners who are busy with the day-to-day operations of their company, and not scouring the web for the latest technology news.
Put simply, the “cloud” is merely off-site storage of your data – and in some cases your applications – which allows you easy access from your desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile devices, etc., and which allows you to share that data and those applications with co-workers, colleagues, clients and customers.
Many of us use the cloud every day without realizing it. We store our photos online using Flickr and we use LinkedIn to maintain our lists of contacts. You might use Constant Contact to send email blasts, or Survey Monkey to conduct online surveys. Each of these are examples of Cloud computing. (Online applications are sometimes called “Software as a Service” or “Saas.”)
When used correctly, small businesses can benefit immensely from the cloud. Cloud computing has the capacity to cut technology costs, allow employees to work remotely, and deliver affordable data storage and document collaboration.
It is a tried-and-true technology being used by some of the largest corporations in the nation, and a way for companies to enter the 21st Century without being buried in IT expenses and server price tags.
Here are four cloud-computing services that might be a good fit for small businesses looking to move to the cloud:
• Google Docs
Google Docs allows you to easily store and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations and much more online. The first gigabyte of storage is free, and you can buy additional storage capacity starting at just $5 a year for 20 gigabytes. I like the Google Docs’ feature that allows multiple users to view and edit a file simultaneously in a collaborative manner.
Dropbox’s incredible popularity is based on its simplicity. The service is so intuitive, you will not waste any time trying to get up to speed. Items in a Dropbox folder are automatically updated and easily shared. This service is perfect for a business owner that wants simple and reliable file sharing and synching. There are no bells and whistles to complicate things, and you can use the service free if you stay under 2 gigabytes of storage. Go over the storage limit though, and things can get pricey by cloud computing standards; 100 gigabytes of storage will cost you $240 a year. Still, Dropbox is worth the cost for many businesses that know they need to share files with numerous clients and employees with varying levels of technological awareness.
• Your Office Anywhere
Your Office Anywhere is an affordable comprehensive cloud computing service that is mobile and versatile enough to absorb most small business’s technology needs. Priced at $10 a month, the service is perfect for small business owners who do not want to deal with the headache of complex technology, but still want the data storage, mobility and collaboration of the cloud. There is nothing to download, and your entire workspace can be pulled up from any digital device with a simple online login. The service also allows you to invite clients into the cloud, and work on projects collaboratively, without the clients having to sign up to the service. The addition of video conferencing and chat allows communication in the cloud. And, at 100 gigabytes, the service’s storage is large enough for even data-intensive small businesses.
SugarSync offers ironclad document backup and synching and multiple pricing levels for small businesses looking to enter the cloud. SugarSync’s flexibility and laundry list of services made it Gizmodo’s top cloud computing pick for 2011, beating up cloud heavyweights like Google and Dropbox. You can have up to 30 gigabytes of storage for as little as $4.99 per month, or choose 100 gigabytes for $14.99 per month. It is slightly more complex than Dropbox and Your Office Anywhere, but once you are familiar with the platform, SugarSync allows you to choose which files you want to sync and stream music from your desktop to mobile devices. If you are willing to spend even more money, SugarSync for Business is a beefed up version of the cloud that runs $29.99 per month but has live tech support and an administrative dashboard.