Try searching ‘cloud computing’ and you will see a long list of services and write ups about the benefits of outsourcing your computer software or service needs to an external party via a cloud set up. The idea is to use a specialist service for the need you have, pay a fee, or fee in kind (such consume advertising), rather than set up a local solution in your office or on your PC to do the same function.
The idea is gathering more momentum, with big players offering many solutions to entice people in. In our business we have two Cloud solutions that we use of note. Both examples of Cloud we use relinquish control over the running of the service to either save money in ongoing maintenance, start-up cost, or both.
The first is Drop Box, a free online storage solution for storing files, images, movies and more. We use Drop Box all the time. It is especially good for storing files that the entire team need to access and amend while they are out of the office. You can log in to your Drop Box account via iPhone, PC, iPad, Android smart phone and many more devices. It is free, it works and it has meant we have not had to invest around $15,000 in a custom-built system that did more than we needed, but also required ongoing support and maintenance costs.
As a business owner I love not having to spend the money, and getting a service that is secure, easy to use and just works.
The other and more recent cloud solution we use is ‘Online Exchange’. Many of you would use Outlook in the office for your mail, calendar and contacts. That software client is connected to a central exchange server, usually in the office or in the office network. Historically, for a small business, you would contract a local IT support company to come and manage your exchange server on your behalf, paying by the hour to keep it up and running.
We used an in-office solution for the last two years. Last year, in the calendar of 2011, we spent almost $5,000 on maintenance costs. We only have eight accounts, so that was around $600 per account over the year, which is way too high.
So in 2012 we looked at a new solution. We still wanted exchange because it is easy to use for the employee and its well supported by the industry as there are plenty of MS certified technicians around the traps. We decided to try a hosted exchange solution. So this is Exchange, but Cloud hosted by an external company who ran the service offsite and our PC and smart phones logged in via the internet. The benefit is we pay a monthly hosting fee, which is done via our IT support company and complete support. We don’t pay for equipment or service management; this is all provided in the monthly fee. The good is that we have less expense and a better service experience (Exchange runs faster this way). The bad is that we are reliant on the service delivery company to keep the service running 24/7.
Last Thursday night the service company ran a patch update. Our exchange server went down for all of Friday. The good was there was no expense to us in bringing the service back online. The bad was that we had less control.
In getting the good, you have to cop some of the bad, and this is where choosing the right Cloud solution and solution provider is key. Do it right and you will get stress free, cost effective IT solutions. Do it wrong and the sky is the limit to the pain you will experience.