Whether you’re into technology or not you may have heard the phrase “cloud computing” knocked about… and probably ignored it.
Very sensible. The internet is awash with terms like “web 2.0” and “social networking”… and you don’t really need to know what they mean. But you do need to know how they can affect your business.
See, cloud computing has nothing but benefits for your business. And it’s something which is going to put plenty of opportunities in front of you in the years to come.
We’ve put together the Bytestart guide to cloud computing in business – with a jargon-free guarantee!
What is cloud computing?
At its simplest cloud computing describes services that you use on the internet without needing to download any software. The simplest example is a web-based email account such as Yahoo!, Gmail or Hotmail. With these accounts you can log onto your email from any computer anywhere in the world. The information exists in a central place rather than on a specific computer. So there’s no need to download any software or use any special equipment.
Cloud computing isn’t just about software though. It can also mean physical computers as well. If your business has a website, chances are that you don’t own the server (a type of computer) on which the website “sits”. You probably pay a company a few quid a month to host your website for you. This is also cloud computing as it is done centrally.
How will it help my business?
The real beauty of cloud computing is that is allows you to do things at a very low cost, and operations are easily scaled up. Take the website hosting example. If you were to buy and maintain your own website server, you might pay several hundred pounds a year. And you might only be using a quarter of a per cent of its capability. Whereas the company that you pay for hosting puts thousands of websites onto each server, allowing it to make a profit.
The risk of buying and maintaining the expensive infrastructure sits with the company offering the cloud computing service. In fact, many of these companies themselves use cloud computing to provide their infrastructure.
What services use cloud computing?
These days, you practically name it and someone will offer it. You can manage your tasks online, maintain records on customers, and track what you are spending time on. These services are all cloud computing. So any data you enter sits online and can be accessed by you on any computer. Oh, and they’re all free.
There must be a downside:
Of course. First of all you need an internet connection. And secondly there are security considerations. Because data can be accessed from any computer anywhere, you need to put a good password in place. But cloud computing providers are aware of these limitations and are doing what they can to overcome them. Gmail, for example, now offers an “offline” mode for those moments when you need to access your email but don’t have a web connection.
There’s no way I will use cloud computing…
But you probably already are in some way. If you have a web-based email account such as Yahoo!, Gmail or Hotmail then you are using services that exist only on the internet, and you haven’t had to download any software.
How can I use it to save time and money for my business?
Look at the services offered by cloud computing providers, and ask if they can replace software you are already using. Do you really need to pay for a full priced version of Word? If you only type the odd document now and again, maybe you could use Google Docs for free online?
Start by exploring some of the services mentioned above. Very often you can use the basic service for free, with the provider betting that a small percentage of customers will pay a premium for a version with added features.
Other helpful and low cost cloud computing services include:
- Google Apps: A collection of free tools from Google, including email, documents, calendar and websites (perfect for a small intranet). You can even move your domain name to Google, so you can use Gmail for your company email
- Signals: This innovative company offers a number of different online services allowing you to collaborate with colleagues, and store helpful information
- Zoho: A very wide range of web-based business applications
- Dropbox: Store important files online
- MailBigFile: And send them simply, even when they are too big to email