30/06/2011

By Adrian Booth, Communications Consultant at AB Communications

In the future kids wondering about the “olden days”, many want to know how we stored all our data and software on desktop PCs and clunky servers; about the days when the cloud was still just a dream.

Based on the number of hits for articles about the cloud that we’ve run on the pages of Fresh Business Thinking, we know beyond a shadow that the new computer frontier known as cloud computing is on everyone’s mind right now. And rightly so. We all want to know more about how it works, what it can do for our businesses, what it is going to cost and much more.

With this in mind, this is the first in a new series of cloud computing articles appearing on the technology pages of Fresh Business Thinking in the coming weeks. We plan to look at why businesses decide to enter the cloud, at issues of security, cost, the products, cloud-driven efficiency and productivity benefits and more. You’ll spot these items easily; they’ll all have the word cloud somewhere in the title.

To begin at the beginning, let’s remind ourselves about the basic concept of cloud based computing.

For the cloud, think internet, because that’s where computing in the cloud sits. Rather than having your own software and data stored on a machine, it is out there somewhere in cyberland. So from the start, when we hook up with the cloud, our precious data is safe from theft, flood or fire, which can destroy out livelihoods if we don’t have things backed-up somewhere outside the building. Cloud computing offers a contract between a business and a service provider which keeps data safe and sound, usually for a monthly fee.

Cloud computing also offers remote working, so with the right software tools, colleagues can look at files from anywhere in the world and make real-time amendments, as long as they have internet connections. This is the age of mobile working and the cloud powers it, particularly now we can access the cloud from any number of on-the-move devices, including the humble phone!

In the cloud, it isn’t so much a case of owning software as renting it. In this way, if we choose the right company to enter the cloud with, we’ll always have access to latest modifications and upgrades designed to make our businesses more efficient and flexible.

Although it is a good idea to maintain access to local technical support, using a cloud based solution means we might not need those big server boxes hanging around, so it massively simplifies and reduces in-house IT requirements too. What’s more, power consumption drops as well. So as we sit here, many of us are thinking about our business expenditure over the next five years, against a backdrop of leaner pickings in many cases with the economy still in the doldrums. As ever we have a very strong need to conserve our resources and forecast our expenditure as accurately as possible.

In the cloud, we can manage costs on a regular basis within a monthly operational budget. We know exactly where we are.
Many businesses struggle with their IT and take a very long time to make the leap to the next stage because of the outlay. Well moving cloudwise hands us the latest software and a completely new collaborative file sharing secure communication system without massive expenditure. That has to be one of the principal forces driving the exponential interest in moving into the cloud right now.

Just like mobile phone tariffs, where we choose the number of texts and minutes we need, we can cut our cloud cloth to suit with a tailor-made contract that fits our company’s needs. It is a pricing system based on a per user basis, and it all depends on the plan we choose.

I for one was frankly amazed to learn I can start getting access to the wonderful features of communication and collaboration I’ve mentioned here through Microsoft’s Office 365 offering for as little as £4 per desk per month, and the minimum number of users is just one! Beam me up Scotty. I want to enter the cloud!

Watch the video of Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead at Microsoft UK, who discusses the advantages of cloud services.

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