Today the cloud is one of the hottest fields in information technology and business, but what does it mean for your company? Plenty of websites claim to utilize the cloud but how does it benefit your business? For purposes of this article – cloud applications are simply services where the software is hosted and constantly updated on servers by the vendor as opposed to having the customer load the software on their computers and manage everything themselves. One of the key benefits of this arrangement is that small businesses are now able to utilize enterprise grade technologies for a fraction of the price, since cloud software is often sold in monthly subscriptions rather than a single lump sum license.
Although cloud technology sounds great, today the internet is filled with thousands of companies shilling cloud applications with varying degrees of quality. The biggest caveat of the cloud is that since users are storing data on remote servers they lose control of the security and integrity of the data. Fortunately, to help small businesses with this dilemma, Staples has recently created a marketplace of cloud applications, which have been vetted to ensure quality.
The marketplace by Staples is a free service to all small business owners and provides users with a centralized administrative panel and streamlined billing, which allows companies to mix and match providers while not having to worry about handling individual bills from a variety of providers. Despite the usefulness of the concept, the marketplace currently suffers from a lack of choice in many categories, however as time goes on, more providers will likely be added to the marketplace.
For companies that have more extensive needs, The Small Business Web offers an application marketplace, which has a variety of applications for companies in a wide array of industries. Additionally, the Small Business Web boasts an “Open Web”; meaning the apps featured in their application marketplace utilize open coding standards. This allows users to port their data from application to application with minimal effort, as many cloud vendors rely on proprietary formats to compensate for lack of contract pricing. Although billing for a service might be done on a monthly basis, customers usually are forced into sticking with a service because the provider makes it difficult to export the data into other applications.
With either marketplace, it is important to make sure that the services purchased are a good fit for your company. Just because an application is flashy or popular does not mean it is necessary or a good fit for your business. Ultimately, the great thing about cloud technology is that it allows companies to have services mixed and matched for their needs rather than dealing with expensive software with features only used by a few.
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