We have been busy this month moving our office. After spending lots of time reading and watching numerous videos, we decided we were ready to pack our office files and move to the Clouds. For some time now, we have worked with Google email and Google Docs. Working with Google Docs was one of the main reasons we decided to make the switch. Having documents, images, spreadsheets and other files online and available to everyone, anywhere and on any computer creates infinite possibilities for a business. We have already found so many things that have totally amazed us. We didn't even realize some of these features would be available to a small business. In fact, I am presenting a FREE seminar on Cloud Computing at the IWCE Vision10 show in Atlanta in May.
Take a little time to read this entire ezine and watch the video to get an understanding of how Cloud Computing works. At Minutes Matter, we upgraded to Google Apps. Google Apps is the business side of Google and costs $50 per user per year. Another compelling reason for us to move was the Google Apps Marketplace, which is similar to apps that you would add to your phone. Keep an eye out for future articles from Minutes Matter on Cloud Computing.
What exactly is Cloud Computing? The Cloud is a platform - the Internet platform. Traditionally, we would buy hardware (like a desktop PC or laptop, for example) and install some software on it. With Cloud Computing, however, the software runs on the Internet. To put it simply, the cloud is the Internet, so we can say that any software or hardware running on the Internet is Cloud Computing. In other words, instead of using your own personal computer to carry out your work, you use the software on machines 'in the cloud'. This is what we mean when we talk about Cloud Computing. Most of you are probably already using Cloud Computing without realizing it. Instead of installing an email software program on your local machine, you might be using a service like Gmail or Hotmail. The cloud is like one huge collective 'computer' (the internet) and everyone connects to it in order to get their work done.
But what's the point of using Cloud Computing and what are its advantages over the traditional way of installing software on your own computer and using that? Read on and I know you'll get excited about Cloud Computing!
There's no need to install any software on your own computer. All the software is installed on a remote machine somewhere on the Internet and you use it. There's no need to install hardware or software. This means that you don't have to worry about different versions of the software, compatibility (since everything runs from your browser), maintenance, etc.
How long did it take you to get your Gmail account and send your first email? Now apply that concept to other software models. You can start creating todo lists, send messages, upload files, chat, and a whole lot more in a mere minute.
Instead of paying a crazy amount of money to buy a piece of software (not to mention the hardware required to run it), with Cloud Computing you often only pay a small subscription fee. Sometimes there are also free-for-life versions of the software, so you only pay for what you (and sometimes that means you pay nothing). Instead of investing in a software program that does everything in the hope that one day you will need all the features, you can start off with the lowest plan and then upgrade when the need arises. Low investment means low risk. Imagine buying an expensive software program only to realize that you hate using it after a few days!
A comparison you will often find of Cloud Computing is that it is like plugging into an electricity grid. A century ago, companies stopped having to produce their own electricity and they could plug into the national grid. In the same way, individuals and organizations can now just connect to the Internet to use lots of applications without having to install their own software or hardware.
The low investment also applies to the computers that you use to connect to the Internet. Previously, you would need expensive PCs to be able to get your computation done. With Cloud Computing, since the bulk of the computation is done by the servers in the Cloud, you can get away with machines with lower specs. In fact, you can often use your laptop, netbook, or even mobile phone to connect to the software in the Cloud.
Software that runs in the Cloud is updated by the vendors - that means that you won't need to download and install every few months. When's the last time you 'updated' your Gmail software? You just log in as before and see all the new and improved features automatically.
The same goes for hardware. What happens when the hard drive fails on your machine? You'd have to buy another drive, install the software all over again and then try to restore your data from your backups (you did backup, right?) With the Cloud, it is the vendor's responsibility to backup your data. If something fails, they have to sort it out.
No IT Specialist Required
Since all the maintenance and updates, etc, are handled by the vendor, all you need is to be able to get online and use a browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Chrome. Then, you hop over to the vendor's site and away you go. Did you need an 'IT guy' to 'install Gmail' for you? OK, maybe some of you did! But did he have to continue 'maintaining' Gmail for you once you started using it? Or did you find you could use Gmail anywhere from any computer that is connected to the Internet without him having to install software or hardware?
Since the Cloud is 'everywhere', so is the software that runs in the Cloud. Just as you can access Gmail anywhere you have access to the Internet, most software in the Cloud is the same.
This means that you can work from the office yet have access to the same data and software when you're at home.
Scaling on demand
One of the biggest reasons for companies to move to the Cloud is for scalability. Say your inbox reaches 50gb (OK, unlikely I know - but let's say you're Bill Gates and everyone wants to send you large zip files called 'Click here to view my photo.zip')? Then what? What if your hard drive is only 55gb? Uh oh, need to buy a new hard drive! And then all the hassle of installing it and making sure your email client uses the new hard drive and and and....
With Cloud Computing, the underlying hardware is not your problem - that's the vendor's problem. If you need more space, just upgrade for a small increase in the monthly fee. No upgrading, no restore.
What if the server goes down?
This is an age-old argument against Cloud Computing. Seriously, what's more likely to go down, a server that is being maintained by the professionals or your own personal computer? Ever got a virus and had to reinstall? Ever had a hard drive failure or your mother board went kaput? Internet servers are, more often than not, much more secure than your personal computers. The data on them is usually backed up and there are often redundancy checks and failure mechanisms in place (e.g., if one server goes down, another takes over).
Is it safe?
It is known that employees often store company data on their private computers. Laptops may get stolen and data is often lost or can get in the hands of others. With Cloud Computing, as I said earlier, data is backed up. This also means that you can always delete data from your own machines (although it's always good practice to have your own backups as well). What happens when one employee leaves? With Cloud Computing, her data would be online in one place so another employee can take off from where the first left.