Topic overview

Cloud computing

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a catch-all term for software, storage and services delivered through the internet. If you're not already using cloud software and solutions, they could simplify IT management and reduce costs for your business.

Instead of having to pay for, download and install software, you can access it online. You pay a subscription fee (either monthly or annually) and use a login to access the software on any suitable connected device. Cloud computing enables you to seamlessly share information and work flexibly, freeing you from the office.

Cloud computing is a broad term that's also sometimes called application hosting, hosted services, or software as a service.

As a business owner, you benefit by taking advantage of computing power that's outside your business using it to cut costs, increase flexibility and control.   

This has two main benefits:

  • Lower capital expenditure. There are no expensive, up-front costs for hardware or software. You just pay a monthly or annual fee to your cloud computing provider.
  • Reduced complexity. Management and support are the service provider's responsibility. If something goes wrong, you just call them. You’ll still need to provide the hardware and manage that.

You need a suitable device (desktop, laptop, tablet or phone) and a reliable internet connection to access the cloud.

Cloud computing services

There are cloud computing solutions for all types of businesses. You can access traditional productivity packages, such as email, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, alongside a whole host of specialist software including design, accountancy, collaboration, and data storage.

  • Email. Cloud-based email such as Microsoft's Exchange Online use an online server to manage your business email, instead of passing through a dedicated business server.
  • Customer relationship management. Setting up an in-house CRM system can be complex. Cloud computing solutions, such as Salesforce and HubSpot, can speed up and simplify implementation.
  • Collaboration tools. There are a whole host of collaboration tools designed to make managing workflow easier and more efficient. You can communicate with your team, collaborate on documents, and manage data – all virtually. Examples include Basecamp, Trello and Microsoft Hosted SharePoint.
  • Office software. You can log in to a website that functions like a word processor - and save documents online too. Microsoft offers Office 365, an online version of its powerful Office software available at an affordable monthly cost.
  • Accounting software. There are several online accounting services which let you manage your finances online. These include Sage, QuickBooks, and Xero.

You’ll normally need a stable internet connection to use all cloud software. However, some pieces of software, such as Microsoft Office 365 packages, can be used offline.

Cloud computing solutions are ideal for software that will be used by more than one person in your company (like your CRM system or a collaboration tool). Some resource intensive programmes, such as design packages, may be more effective if installed on a computer. photo and video editing software may work more efficiently when downloaded to a computer.

Why cloud computing?

Cloud computing has four main advantages over running software within your business:

  1. Simple management. Cloud software and services are managed by their suppliers - so you don't have that headache in-house. You should always be using the latest, fastest, and safest version of the software – without ever having to manually update it.
  2. Affordability. Cloud computing – hosted services – are generally available on a subscription basis. You pay by the month, based on what you use. You can often access greater savings if you pay for a full year upfront.
  3. Scalability. Cloud computing gives you access to extra computer power or capacity without you having to buy extra equipment. In most cases, you just add additional monthly subscriptions for additional users when you need to. Cloud computing are an intelligent choice for growing businesses, as the software can grow with you.
  4. Flexibility. Because you access cloud services over the internet, they're ideal for working on the move or from multiple locations. You just log in to access your data - from anywhere. Many cloud software packages have mobile and tablet software too, enabling you to access data on the move. It’s a 24/7 solution.

As we've mentioned previously, you’ll need a reliable internet connection to use most cloud services. If that fails, you may find it impossible to access critical data or perform business functions.

Additionally, although cloud computing providers go to great lengths to protect data, there are still risks. What happens if the company behind the hosted services goes bust or is attacked by hackers? Do you know where your data is stored?

While there are risks, they are no greater than those of managing your IT infrastructure in-house. In fact, often the risks are lower than those involved in managing services yourself. You should still evaluate them carefully.

When investing in cloud software, we recommend sticking with familiar names. You can be confident in the quality, safety, and security of their cloud solutions.

Cloud software is likely to become the standard way to purchase and use software. For many of us, it already is. In the future, providers are likely to phase out standalone pieces of software, and instead encourage us all to subscribe to online services. The benefits for business are clear, and with few downsides there's no better time to start moving to the cloud.

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