These days, everyone is talking about “the cloud.” For the average consumer, it’s acceptable to still not be clear on what “the cloud” really is. But small businesses need to not only understand it, but learn ways to use it to save money and time.
As Oracle CEO Larry Ellison put it, “It’s not water vapor. All it is is a computer attached to a network.” Technically, “the cloud” is a server or group of servers a business uses to store data to be accessed by customers. Apple, for instance, would provide server space to you, its customer, to store your music, ringtones, videos, photos, and more. You would then login to your Apple account on any computer or mobile device to access that data.
For users, this means no longer having to carry jump drives or external hard drives around. For your business, this means being able to toss out your internal servers in favor of cloud-based solutions that can provide security and reliability.
“We saved over $4000 in up-front costs by moving to an entirely cloud-based solution,” Bottom-Line Consulting‘s Bob Everett told PC World. “We were also able to substantially reduce our power bill and the costs needed to maintain and upgrade hardware.”
Businesses and individuals have been operating through the cloud for a while. Hotmail, Gmail, and other free mail services are cloud-based, storing your e-mails on a server where they can always be accessed. Online data backup has been available for a while, as well, with services like Mozy and Dropbox advertising secure storage for users.
Microsoft’s Office Live allows users to store and share documents on Microsoft’s cloud, creating a virtual network accessible from home or the office. With its new Microsoft Office 365 service, Microsoft is offering cloud-based networking to businesses for a small monthly fee.
In addition to file storage, a variety of software solutions are now being replaced by cloud-based versions. Salesforce.com can automate your sales team, giving employees the tools they need to stay in touch with your customer base. Quickbooks Online allows your accounting team to view data from anywhere, as well as share data among team members. And for group audio and video conferencing, Skype is the preferred choice of many small businesses, utilizing the power and cost-saving abilities of Voice over IP (VoIP).
By switching some or all of your business’s operations to the cloud, you can save time and money by eliminating the need for special software and costly servers. Your staff will increase productivity by being able to access everything from home, as well as while traveling. Not only will your employees be able to access those items, those employees who work in teams will be able to access files from anywhere, keeping projects moving along even while employees are on the road or under the weather. Plus, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your data is being regularly backed up by a trusted corporation.
If you’d like to get on the cloud as your Small Business New Year’s Resolution, then check out this video from Business on Main.