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Top 10 ways to use the cloud

Thursday, 9 June 2011 | By Patrick Stafford
No doubt there were countless entrepreneurs glued to their computer screens this week when Apple chief executive Steve Jobs took to the stage to announce new software for the iPhone, iPad and Mac platforms.

 

By far the biggest announcement this week was the new iCloud service, which will allow businesses to back-up and share content across a number of devices, including documents and media.

 

The announcement underlines just how popular cloud computing is becoming – both Google and Amazon have released their own cloud music services in the past few months, and the latter runs its own dedicated cloud computing division.

 

There’s a reason for this – cloud computing is cheaper, more efficient and can save businesses a lot of hassle when developing IT systems. As IDC analyst Vanessa Thompson said earlier this week on SmartCompany, “Mid-market enterprises have some form of public cloud applications now, and we think that percentage is going to grow."

 

If you haven’t been considering cloud computing, then you should be. It’s cheap, and the

innovation in tech over the past few years means cloud is more powerful than ever before.

 

Here’s 10 ways you should be using the cloud:

File sharing – never send attachments again


Sharing attachments back and forth can be a real pain, especially if your office team members need to collaborate on the same file multiple times a day, or week. Cloud-based file sharing systems can solve that for you.

 

The default system here is DropBox. This software allows you to drop-in files, which then sync across other users’ DropBox folders as well. You can collaborate and edit files, and there won’t be multiple copies of anything flying around.


Of course, the service only comes with a 2GB limit, but you can pay to expand that. It’s worth the cost if you want to save on expensive server infrastructure.

 

Software


Anyone who’s ever tried setting up a new office IT system would know it’s not an easy task. Not only are their seemingly endless infrastructure battles but the price of software alone can be crippling – Windows Office is hardly cheap.

 

This is where cloud computing comes in. There are plenty of alternatives now that allow businesses to manage everyday tasks like creating text documents, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations and other types of media as well.

 

One of the best methods here is Google Apps, which essentially does everything Microsoft Office can do at a basic level, and also allows you to create custom apps of your own. There are other systems as well, such as Huddle and Zoho, but Google Apps will probably give you the most comprehensive solution.

 

Email

 

You probably aren’t aware of just how much space your email system can take up. Particularly if you’re using an archived system, every message you send, receive or draft will be saved somewhere.

 

This may not be a problem for you now, but if you want to save on space then you definitely need to put your messages in the cloud.

 

Gmail is your best bet. It’s a professional service with plenty of space, and works well with third-party clients like Thunderbird. Of course, there are other alternatives, such as VMWare, Panterra, Cisco and Yahoo, which all provide a decent service as well.

Put your voice in the cloud

 

Phone systems can be incredibly expensive, especially when you’re a start-up and are making all those calls to prospective customers and clients. It adds up quickly.

 

Putting all of your voice systems in the cloud is one of the better ways to go about setting up telephone networks. If you’re opening a new office, there’s no reason why you can’t use a scheme like Skype Enterprise to power your phones.

 

You’ll have to use an internet plan with plenty of bandwidth, but with the cost-per-gigabyte of connections coming down seemingly every month, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

 

Host your website

 

This one is pretty obvious – after all, who wants to go through the hassle of buying infrastructure to host their own web page in their office. But you’d be surprised.

 

There are some start-ups who think they need to manage it all, that leaving a website to a hosting company will just mean more hassle – don’t make this mistake. Find a reputable hosting company, and get a website up and running. Depending on the size of your business, it will cost you barely anything.

Backup your data

 

This step is critical and it is criminal how many businesses forget it. You’re most likely handling a lot of data including client lists, customer names, credit card information, and so on, and you need a place to store it.

 

If you have all of this precious data in one area, and the unthinkable happens and it’s lost, then you’re stuck. Backing up in the cloud is one answer to this

 

There are a number of backup solutions you can use, including Carbonite, SugarSync and CrashPlan. These are fairly cheap and definitely worth the effort – you’ll thank yourself when a server catches on fire.

 

Of course, when backing up your data you should always follow the 3-2-1 rule: keep three copies of data, on two separate media, and keep one off-site.

 

Cloud-based CRM


There are plenty of CRM-based solutions out on the web, but the biggest trend over the past 10 years has been moving that process into the cloud.

 

With companies like SalesForce providing applications and services for CRM, which are tailored to the size of your business, there really isn’t a good reason to do it all yourself as you likely won’t do as good a job.

 

Of course, SalesForce isn’t the only option and offerings from Zoho, SugarCRM and Merlin are all available. You should do some investigation and figure out which will be the best for your individual business.

 

Instant messaging


Although you can definitely set up your email in the cloud, many businesses are finding they don’t even need to use the technology anymore. Instead, they use instant messaging services.

 

Why bother sending an email when you can have a conversation in real time? Services such as Gmail and Skype already have instant messaging features, so if you’re using one then there isn’t really any point in having an email conversation – compared to IMs, they’re just too slow.

 

Track your business statistics


Ever wanted to see how many sales you do between 5pm and 7pm? Or want to know when any of your staff have logged on to a particular system, or if someone’s changed a setting in the infrastructure of your website?

 

Cloud computing can track all these statistics and plenty more. Services like SalesForce allow you to find statistics for anything you can imagine, allowing you to make accurate forecasts and pinpoint where there are problems in your business.

 

Virtualise your computers


Computer infrastructure is expensive – so why bother buying it? Virtual computing is one way you can get the power of top-end machines without having to shell out your entire IT budget.

 

Virtual desktops allow you to access computer systems through the cloud without actually installing them on your machine. You’ll save on software and infrastructure costs, and because there are a heap of companies like VMWare and 2X that provide virtualisation services you’ll have plenty of support.

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