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Cloud based solutions

by Angus Jones

It is in the cloud, but what is the cloud and why is it useful to me?  There is so much confusion around exactly what cloud-based solutions is so in this guide we will break it down into simple terms and help you understand what it can do for your small business.

Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power, without direct active management by the user. The term is generally used to describe data centres available to many users over the Internet.
A cloud application, or cloud app, is a software program where cloud-based and local components work together. This model relies on remote servers for processing logic that is accessed through a web browser with a continual internet connection.
Wikipedia

WHY should I care there is a cloud?

The cloud has enabled computing power and applications to be accessible to small businesses that previously only large enterprises could afford to own. So what might have cost you upfront tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars before is now available for a low monthly subscription.

Not only can you get access to computing ability cheaply the other big development that has made this all so accessible is not cloud-specific, it is the improvements in the user interface.  Users no longer have to be super technical instead we have user-intuitive ways to take advantage of solutions that help us in our businesses and lives.  The best example here is thinking of using a smartphone now versus using a dumb phone more than 10 years ago.

WHAT is the cloud and a cloud application?

The cloud is a real thing and literally is a whole bunch of computers sitting in large purpose-built buildings that you can essentially hire usage.  For any computing solution to work, you need a computer that runs an operating system and then application software to run a solution.  A solution might be to share/store files, to act as a post office for email, to keep track of how much money customers have in their bank accounts, to bill customers for electricity, to manage inventory, or keep track of the finances.

Traditionally a business would own this computer know as a server and manage it in house – many still do. The cost of buying this, keeping it running, and securing it is expensive. These servers might be busy for certain times of the day and do almost doing nothing other times of the day.

What cloud computing does is enable servers to be shared amongst many users meaning that each server is better utilised thus reducing costs.  It also allows businesses to only pay for the time they use.  The internet provides a means to use this computer power sitting anywhere in the world.

A Cloud Application is the same concept but rather than just buying computer power and storage, you are renting the use of an application to do a job.  Similar to the computers, to create an application is expensive but if you can share that cost with many more users it will dramatically reduce the cost.  Thus business applications that traditionally could only be afforded by the biggest businesses are now via the internet made accessible to small businesses for low monthly fees.

HOW do I take advantage of Cloud-based solutions?

The following essential guides are available on this site for common business solutions including:

Depending on your industry there are many more cloud solutions which if used correctly could save you time and money allowing you to do more to improve your business.  An internet search will help you find them.

Other advantages that cloud computing provides other than the specific solution and cost savings include:
  • Fast integration of the solution.  No hardware setup or software loading required.
  • Access from anywhere you have internet.
  • Application software is always the latest version.
  • Backup solution normally provided.
  • Better reliability of the hardware. Cloud vendors will guarantee less downtime of solution.
  • Expandability of computing or storage as you need it
  • Enables easy collaboration with others, for example, accountant
Disadvantages can include:
  • Performance can vary by vendor
  • You have no control of technical issues (also an advantage)
  • Security of your data not being in-house (also an advantage)
  • No control of downtime
  • Relies on good internet connectivity
  • Increases your internet allowance usage
  • Support may not be to the level you need

HINTS

A consideration you should have is where is your data being stored.  Is it in Australia in the USA or maybe China?  If this is important to you, possibly from a security perspective, you should ask this question before committing.

Most cloud solutions offer a free trial period so you can test drive the solution.

Always make an extra backup copy of your cloud data in your home or office.

SUMMARY – affordable solutions to drive your business

Cloud-based solutions have allowed enterprise technology to be available to small businesses affordably.  By sharing resources to many customers, prices have fallen.  Competition has ensured vendors provide easy-to-use solutions that will benefit your business.

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