Having your head in the clouds used to mean that you weren’t paying much attention, or that your ideas were a bit fanciful. Not these days. The cloud is now a powerful tool that is transforming technology and industry. It can change your business too, making you more efficient, agile, and saving you money in the process. Let’s take a look at what it means and how you could benefit.
What is the cloud?
The Cloud refers to software and services that run over the internet, rather than being stored on your computer. Streaming services like Spotify or Netflix are good examples. Previously you would have an album or film saved on your computer, or on a disc like a CD or DVD. Now they’re saved elsewhere, and you summon them to appear on your computer whenever you want.
The place where they’re saved is called ‘The Cloud’. It’s a sort of digital metaphor – accessing films and music is like pulling them out of the sky.
Of course the technology behind it is very much routed on the ground. Whenever you use Netflix, the film you’re watching will stream over the internet from their servers (or network of servers). Accessing remote storage in this way is known as ‘Cloud Computing’.
What can the cloud be used for?
Streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify are two of the most widespread uses of the cloud. However, it’s impact spans a huge number of services.
Dropbox let’s you store your files on the cloud, so you can access them anywhere. On Google Drive you can create word docs or spreadsheets directly in the cloud, so you never need to save a file again. Phones save your photos, notes, passwords and more in the cloud, so you can access them from other devices whenever you want.
Pretty much anything you used to store on your computer, can now be stored on the cloud. The storage and database possibilities this creates opens up a world of opportunity.
What are the benefits for my business?
Manage your business from anywhere
With the cloud, the world is your oyster. By removing the need to carry everything on your in-house system or computer, you can complete more and more business tasks from wherever you are, on whatever device. As long as you have an internet connection, you can access the cloud. So, if your business data is in the cloud, you can access and update it from anywhere.
No more manual back-ups
Everyone has experienced that sinking feeling when you go back to a document you spent hours working on, only to find you forgot to hit save. It’s devastating. Fortunately, the cloud can make this a thing of the past. By saving documents automatically in the cloud, you skip the need for the manual save.
Of course you still need an internet connection to access the cloud. However, many programmes allow ‘offline editing’, where it will save your work on your computer, then automatically save it to the cloud when you’re back online.
Back-ups can save all manner of data in the cloud for you automatically, giving you a simple and quick way to recover key information should anything happen to your internal computers or systems.
Access to large amounts of storage
We don’t know how big your hard drive is, but chances are there’s more storage space on the cloud. Instead of buying more expensive computers or external drives, you can now access all the file space you could ever need online. Typically you’ll pay for it depending on how much space you need or the number of users, and the pricing goes up in tiers.
Quick and easy to collaborate
Have team members in multiple locations? With the cloud they can still work on something simultaneously. Services such as Google docs allow you to share your word document with an online link. Other users can then jump on and edit or comment themselves. It’s much simpler than saving a file and sending it to someone, plus everyone knows they’re working from the correct document.
Google have options for spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and more. They don’t have all the bells and whistles of their non-cloud competitors, but if you want to collaborate it can save you a heap of time.
Lower maintenance and hardware costs
With the cloud’s external servers doing much of the heavy lifting, you can use cheaper computers to get your work done. The service provider will be responsible for the system maintenance and upgrades too, saving you a lot of time and hassle.
Other things to consider
Beware of losing connection
You need an internet connection to access the cloud. Without one, or if the providers servers go down, you can be locked out of your data or systems. Weigh up the risk of any outages for your business, then decide what can go in the cloud and what needs to be kept locally.
How much data do you need?
If you’re sending big files back and forth across the internet, you’ll need a decent data allowance. Check with your broadband and mobile providers what you have included, particularly if you use a lot of data on the move.
Always consider data security
Any provider worth its salt will take data security and encryption very seriously. However, hacks and data breaches do occur, so consider what your obligations are and where is the best place to keep your data secure.
Can you depend on your providers?
Keep everything in house, and you’re the master of your destiny. Run into technical issues on the cloud however, and you’ll need your service provider to help fix it. Many have dedicated support teams for precisely this reason, but make sure they offer support that meets your needs before signing up.