What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than using a local server or personal computer. The idea of storing data in the cloud actually dates back to the 1960s, but only became widespread in the 2000s.
You’re probably familiar with Amazon Web Services, Adobe Creative Cloud, Alibaba Cloud and Microsoft Azure. These are all very popular examples of cloud computing companies.
Some companies choose to specialise in specific areas of cloud computing, like storage. Dropbox and pCloud are both popular examples of this, although they face fierce competition from the giants with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud.
Another popular business model is cloud-based software, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS). We’ll talk about this in more detail in a moment, but web-based email services like Gmail and Outlook are a form of SaaS.
How can cloud computing help my business?
Cloud computing is arguably one of the biggest technological developments in years, and it can be a great boon to businesses. It allows users to work remotely, outsource storage and collaborate in real time. All of the data is online, so you’re always working with the most up-to-date version.
There are three types of cloud: public, private and hybrid. In this article we’ll be talking about the public cloud – software and services on servers that are shared with other people.
Save money and space with SaaS
Many companies use the cloud to offer software as a service (SaaS), rather than as a product to install. This is great news for the consumer: it means that the software is automatically updated, takes up little to no space on your computer, can be accessed with multiple devices from different locations and backs up your work automatically.
SaaS providers typically charge a monthly fee to access their service and are clear about how many users and devices are allowed on your plan. There’s no need to keep track of installation discs and license keys, either.
Some of the other advantages of SaaS include:
- Cloud-based software is plug and play. There’s no need to spend time installing and setting it up.
- You can work on the same document from different devices. Need to make an adjustment on a document, but you only have your phone? That’s fine; your changes will sync across the two different devices.
- There’s a lower upfront cost. You don’t need to pay hundreds of pounds per product in one go any more; most products cost less than £30 per month.
- You can test run services before committing. Most companies offer a free trial period that includes all of the features of the software, including tech support.
- Save space on your devices. Cloud-based software can save valuable storage space in both files and memory-intensive programs like Adobe Premiere Pro.
For examples of cloud software, we’ve compiled helpful guides to software as a service for different aspects of your business:
- CRM Software for Small Businesses
- Accounting Software Suites for Small Businesses
- Payroll Software Services for UK Businesses
- Human Resources Software Services
- Recruitment Software Packages for Businesses
- Employee Benefits Schemes for UK Businesses
Store your data in the cloud
Regularly backing up data is an important process, but it’s resource-intensive and easy to fall behind schedule – especially if you follow Peter Krough’s popular 3-2-1 Rule (making three backups using two or more different mediums, keeping one copy off-site).
Cloud-based storage solutions like Dropbox are a simple way to automate this process: they sync as soon as you make changes. Established cloud providers have a network of thousands of servers, so your data is safer than using a single hard drive or optical disc.
Security aside, cloud storage tends to work out cheaper than using hardware or maintaining your own private server. Companies like Dropbox and Flickr offer a set amount of storage for free and then charge for additional space and features.
It’s a good idea to still back up to multiple formats in case something should happen to your data. Remember to set strong passwords, regularly check for unknown devices accessing your account and enable two-factor authentication where possible.
Use the cloud for collaborative working
The cloud is a great way to collaborate on documents in real time: you’ve probably already tried this through Google Docs. Before cloud computing, sending documents back and forth via email was time consuming and often unclear.
Services like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 allow you to make immediate changes, track activity and see what colleagues are doing in real time. You can invite people to work on a document, keep track of who has access and revoke access if necessary.
Seamless integration is another advantage of cloud-based software; it’s quick and easy to import data from one service to another. If you’re a Trello fan, for example, you can set up tasks with deadlines and push them to your colleagues’ calendar apps. It also integrates with Slack, so you can set up tasks as soon as they’re brought up in chat.
The cloud grows with your business
Cloud services are inherently scalable; you can add extra users or purchase more space as and when you need it. This is especially helpful for newer businesses as it takes the guesswork out of setting up; your services grow with your business. If you hit a sudden spike in activity, you can upgrade immediately. Conversely, you can scale down if you find that your plan covers more than you need.
Work remotely via the cloud
Because it’s Internet-based, the cloud allows you to work from anywhere. You can access your files and your apps from any location, with any device. This means that you and your employees can work on the go or from the comfort of your own home.
This can be especially helpful if you plan to expand your team: you can employ staff from anywhere in the world without being restricted by geography. You can even lead a whole team without an office, saving substantially on overhead costs.