By Adrian Booth

There’s nothing nebulous about Cloud Computing.

It is a technological leap for the business world, and ready to be the next big thing.

Cloud is simply a metaphor for the internet.

With Cloud Computing, companies sign-up to a hosting service offering internet-based resources that make a client’s software and shared data available on demand, whatever the location. This typically takes the form of email and web-based tools or applications that users can access through a browser, as if they were installed locally on their own computers. For example, rather than having to pay for an accounting solution upfront you can access it for a monthly fee and still have all your data secure. Software is automatically upgraded as new versions are released.

Already the giants of IT are carving-up this new horizon. Enter “Cloud Computing” into a search engine and you’ll find a number of technology companies offering cloud services including Microsoft, HP, Amazon, Yahoo, Rackspace and Salesforce.com.

The theory is that Cloud Computing helps companies avoid capital expenditure by renting hosting services from these third party providers. So you won’t need all those techie people to get your IT running for you; and you won’t need those dedicated servers which are so prone to overheating to store your data either. Power consumption obviously drops too.

The biggest benefit for most companies will be the fact that you can control cash flow with regular monthly payments. Those that have already turned to Cloud Computing report that spacing regular payments throughout the year helps with clear accounting.

Also, when someone new joins it is very easy to get them up and running with email, access to IT very quickly. Importantly, you also gain increased protection against loss of data through system failures, power cuts, fires or god forbid, acts of terrorism which includes viruses.

With all the modern emphasis on mobile working through phones and laptops, Cloud Computing seems the perfect partner. Who knows, Cloud Computing could even redefine the idea of where your office is. As long as you have an internet connection, you can get access to your information.

So it is easy to see why the Cloud Computing concept is becoming increasingly attractive to big and little brands alike. A recent announcement from the Mayor of New York underlines this. The city has signed a deal with Microsoft to move its employees to cloud based solutions, which is predicted to save $50 million over the next five years.

With financial pressure in the UK currently affecting virtually every sector, we are sure to hear a lot more about Cloud Computing in the months ahead.
If you reach the conclusion that you want to move your computing services into the cloud with a bespoke application like a financial package from an accounting software supplier, for instance, look to see if they offer a hosted version. And when considering what supplier to go with, think about the brand and choose a company that is serious about technology. In an uncertain world, it pays to think about how robust your chosen supplier is too.

Here are five top themes to consider when selecting a Cloud provider:

1. Do you trust the provider with your data? Are you confident with their security features? Do you think they’re going to be around for the long-term? Can you try it out before signing-up and make sure it simple to learn, and works with existing hardware?

2. Does it seem to offer good service levels and support? Is it clear where to go if things go wrong?

3. Is this good financially for your business? Is it going to transform your productivity? Will it enable greater collaboration in your company and with other businesses?

4. Is there room for growth? Can you get started with the service and then take advantage of more features and functions over time as your business expands or you get more comfortable with the service?

5. Does it work seamlessly with the programs I know and use most, including Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint?

If you want to know more, take a look at www.microsoft.com/uk/online/integrated-trial/

Watch the video below featuring Gill Le Fevre, IW Online Services Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft UK, explaining how Office 365 addresses the challenges that small businesses face.

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