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The Complete Guide to the Cloud

Written by on May 09, 2016

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No no, these are not some random things — they are all computer jargon. You probably guessed that yourself in a second, didn’t you?

By now, we’re so familiar with these terms, we probably don’t even question their origins, or why we like naming computer stuff after everyday objects.

I grew up hearing these terms and really, I never questioned them myself.

However, I still remember when I first heard the word “cloud”: in my head I kept imagining an actual cloud above a computer, this cloud was slightly electrified, and full of information from all the computers around the world (ok, ok, I was pretty young back then).

But don’t laugh — this is how someone was actually explaining it to me — it’s the cloud and it holds all the information. 

Of course, now I don’t need to imagine a cloud over my computer whenever I come across this term. Again, I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s the cloud and that’s that.

icloud is a solution for mac computers regarding storage
Once you start using the cloud, you won’t believe you once managed to live without it

But for so many of people, this term is still a mystery, even something unworthy of their trust.

And it’s no surprise: the cloud has only recently become a buzz word (although we’ve been using the cloud for decades), and despite its wide usage (nearly 38 percent of all small businesses in the U.S. are now using cloud computing), there are still many companies who chose to throw away their time and money creating off-line software.

So my task today is not only to explain this concept and its advantages, but also to introduce you to the main cloud service providers, and give some advice on how to get started in the cloud.

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What is cloud computing?

So what is cloud computing? I know you could open a Wikipedia and check yourself, but to be honest, I intend to explain it in human language 🙂

Let’s start by breaking it down a bit.

First of all — what is the cloud?

Imagine this: you come back home and find out that a meteorite crashed into your house. Even worse, the meteorite completely destroyed your most precious thing — your computer!

You’re horrified, but while blaming the universe for destroying your life-worth of files, you realise something: you lost the machine itself, but all of the files within it… Well, you might actually still have them!
Cloud is for backup in case of a disaster

Think about it: you probably have tons of pictures on Facebook, you listen to your music on Spotify, you already shared your documents with colleagues on Google Drive. So, really, you didn’t lose that much.

How? Because instead of storing it only on your computer, you were using the cloud. Even if you computer is destroyed, you can still access your music on your smart phone app, right?

And that is exactly what the cloud is.

Cloud means that you don’t have to store everything on your computer or burn CDs or anything like that anymore. You can back-up your files on different websites, apps, platforms, access it from anywhere, anytime, and even if one (or all…) of your devices get destroyed, you will still be able to recover your files.

Ok, so we got that down. What about the computing part?

So you know how when you own a company or do freelancing, you need to do some paperwork? Um, yeah, you probably know 🙂

Here, you basically have 3 choices:

  1. You can prepare all of your paperwork by yourself, one by one, each time you need it.
  2. You can create or buy an on-premises accounting software yourself, or ask a programmer to create you one.
  3. You can use the cloud.

Just as you might have guessed, all three options have pros and cons.

Doing your paperwork manually might be the cheapest option, but it’s also a lot of hard work. If we follow the ‘time is money’ rule, this will actually become the most expensive option. There is always an option to use templates, but it can easily become messy and tiresome, too.

The second option (obtaining an on-premises software) might save you time in the long term, but it’s expensive to get started, and, most importantly, expensive to be maintained.

Creating your own software is inefficient and expensive
Creating your own on-premises software can be both inefficient and expensive

Think about it: once you have the software, you will need to get an IT person who will be in charge of fixing all kinds of bugs, making software updates, and dealing with all sorts of software failures.

Finally, as you will be creating lots of content with this software, you may eventually run out of space and processing power, therefore you will need to buy extra storage units (hard-drives and CDs), processors and servers, which is both expensive, and risky: what if you accidentally lose all your data?

The final option — the cloud — gives you a solution to all of the above. Not only you won’t have to acquire a software or to do everything manually, you will also be able to back-up and secure your data at the same time.

Read the most important social media strategies every small business owner needs: How to Boost  Your Small Business Social Media Presence.

Advantages of cloud computing

Better Resource Management

First of all, you will save time and resources.

You won’t need to do the paperwork manually one-by-one, because the cloud software will have everything prepared in advance.

You won’t need to hire an IT guy, because the software will already have an IT team taking care of all the problems.

And you won’t need to buy extra storage units or servers: the people behind the cloud software have already taken care of that.

Better resource management once you start using the cloud
Cloud computing is great for improving resource management

Cloud technology enables business owners to focus on their business since the servers are located off-site and the management aspect is in the hands of an experienced and qualified provider.

That’s because all the resources are centrally located in the cloud and can easily be accessed at all times, the time it takes to get these services up and running takes minutes, rather than days.

For any small business that wants to be more competitive and stretch their resources, migrating to the cloud is essential.

Secure Data Backup

Secondly, you will protect your data. In case of a disaster (literally and figuratively), you will be able to recover your data and files anywhere, anytime.

Many businesses simply don’t have the time or resources to effectively apply a backup strategy. With the cloud, employers can ensure that their most important data is backed-up so they can always access the latest versions of their work-related data in the event of a system failure or a natural disaster, including a flood or fire.

Cloud computing services can automatically or frequently back up key data to an off-site location online where it’s kept safe and sound.

Therefore, if anything unfortunate happens, the organisation can get up and running in just a matter of minutes as if nothing ever happened.

Some cloud service providers offer what’s called geo-redundant backup, which means data is safely stored in multiple facilities across a number of locations in order to further enhance security.

Cloud ensures secure recovery and backup in case of a disaster

Enhanced Flexibility

That leads to the third advantage: the flexibility of the cloud. Usually, if you use an off-line software (or do things manually), you can only do it on one device — your computer.

That becomes troublesome if new team members join in, or if you want to work remotely. By using the cloud, you enable yourself to access and edit your content from any device and anytime, as long as there is Internet.

The days when work files and data were solely kept on just one single computer or server are over. Mobile is the wave of the future.

Also, the ability to access important work materials away from work is vital to all employees and team members. Today’s workplace is now accommodating increased flexible working arrangements for remote workers more than ever before.

Cloud computing makes it incredibly easy for the employees to work beyond the perimeters of the office and allows small business owners to effectively manage their business from virtually anywhere at any time of the day or night.

Furthermore, increased flexibility and mobility in cloud technology can result in more cost savings as well. For example, small businesses can choose to incorporate the ‘bring your own device’ (or BYOD).

This enables employees to comfortably work on a device they’re already familiar with and own, such as laptops, smartphones, or tablets.

The cloud allows you to acces your files from any device, anywhere, anytime
The cloud allows you to acces your files from any device, anywhere, anytime

Easier Collaboration

Benefit number four — enhanced collaboration.

Even if you and your colleagues have the same software or use the same templates, in order to share content, you will have to send files by e-mail or use some secondary storage units.

That’s exhausting, time-consuming, and inefficient.

In the cloud, collaboration is easy. The ability for users to save and access a number of files via the cloud allows employees to work off the same central document.

Helpful cloud collaboration tools enable users to edit, upload, or comment on work documents, making collaboration much easier.

Also, employers can choose to restrict what their employees can and cannot access as well.

Decreased Costs

And finally, benefit number 5 — cost savings. To begin with, cloud computing technology takes full advantage of hardware.

The concept of virtualisation enhances the value and benefit of physical hardware, which means less is more in terms of doing business.

But not only you will be able to save your time and resources (therefore, money), you will also not need to hire anyone to create and maintain a software for you.

Therefore, small business owners can experience a significant decrease in IT requirements, power usage, and rack space.

Hands holding money
Hands holding money

That means decreased costs regarding installation, upgrades, hardware, maintenance, and support.

These savings are especially helpful for small businesses that are just getting started.

The best thing is, if you’re a freelancer or own a small company, you can definitely find some online accounting software that are free to use.

Of course, almost all of them require some monthly payment, but a few cloud software will offer a free subscription plan as well.

Cloud computing technology is literally redefining the way small business owners are running and managing their businesses today. So go on and start exploring the vast possibilities in the cloud.

If you’re an Android user with a small business, you need these apps: The 59 Best Android Apps for Small Business Owners to help you succeed.

How to get started on the cloud?

How to choose from the vast number of cloud services
There are almost as many cloud services as there are clouds in the sky

So you’ve decided you’re interested in using the cloud services. The next step is to choose the right one from so many of them.

Decisions are hard, therefore I suggest starting from the very basic cloud storage services: it is important both to backup and share your files with your colleagues, therefore these cloud services are always in demand.

Below I list the top 5 cloud storage services for small business, including their main characteristics and prices. Check them out, maybe you’ll find what matches your company’s requirements!

1. Dropbox for Businesses

Dropbox for Business cloud storage service

You are most likely already using Dropbox’s free basic cloud service to sync and share files between devices. If so, you already know how simple and easy-to-use Dropbox is.

Unleash the full capacity of this cloud service by using it’s business version, which can support multiple members and provides up to 1 TB of storage per user.

Additionally, you will me able to centrally administer and monitor user activity, choose from a number of security settings, as well as to easily track and recover previous file versions.

Price: 14-day free trial; or $12.50 / user per month (starting with up to 5 users); or 1 TB of storage / user.

2. Box

Box cloud storage service

Unlike the other services on this list, Box’s main purpose is not only to sync files, but mainly to centralise business data in the cloud for easier collaboration.

Other useful features include the ability to easily share screenshots and screencasts, search for files by their content (not only file name), and integrating Box with other third-party services.

Price: 14-day free trial; or $15 per user per month (min three users) with unlimited storage.

3. Google Drive

Google Drive cloud storage service

Although the company is indeed creating a self-driving car, Google Drive is an entirely different project. Drive is Google’s cloud-based file storage and sharing service.

In addition, Google Drive is paired with the former Google Docs (the SaaS-based productivity suite), which means you not only can upload files, you can also create and edit your documents via the browser.

Another Google Drive’s feature that wins against the other services in this list, is that it displays files even if you don’t have the supporting program on your computer, for example Photoshop files. And, of course, Google Drive is tied to the other Google products (that you’re most likely already using) such as Google+, Chrome, and Gmail.

Price: Individual accounts: 15 GB for free; or 100 GB for $1.99 /month; or 1 TB for $9.99 /month; or 10 TB for $99.99 /month; or 20 TB for $199.99 /month; or 30 TB for $299.99 /month.

4. SugarSync fo Business

SugarSync for business cloud storage service

Maybe a little less-known, but definitely one of the best, SugarSync for business allows you to sync and share files from any PC, Mac, iOS, Android or BlackBerry device.

SugarSync also has the feature to email links to large files instead of sending the attached files themselves, called an Outlook plugin (pretty handy considering the size limitations for email attachments).

Price: 30-day free trial; or $55 /month or $550 /year (up to 3 users; 1 TB of storage; $125 for each additional user).

5. Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft Onedrive cloud storage service

Last but not the least, Microsoft OneDrive offers plenty of free space to store your files, as well as smooth integration and synchronisation with Windows operating systems.

But it’s not only for Windows users — OnDrive works well with Mac, iOS, and Android, too. With OneDrive, you will enjoy enhanced collaboration with multiple users, as well as edit documents in real-time from any device.

You can also upload photos or videos from a phone or tablet. Windows users will also enjoy a particularly clever feature, called “Fetch”, which allows to download files from an online PC even if they were not previously uploaded to OneDrive.

Price: 15 GB free with sign up; or 100 GB for $1.99 /month; or 200 GB for $3.99 /month; or 1 TB with Office 365 Personal for $6.99 /month

So there you go.

I hope you now understand cloud a little bit better. It’s really not that complicated, and once you start, everything will become even clearer. In fact, after you use the cloud for a while, you won’t believe you once managed to live without it!

Be sure to do your research when choosing the right cloud service for you, and I promise you won’t regret.

And feel free to share your experience or give any comments bellow — sharing is caring, and isn’t it what cloud is all about? 🙂

Cheers!

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