A Walk In The Cloud(s)…

Cloud technology has been around for some time, it’s uses and application have made dramatic improvements over the years and it’s importance to individuals and businesses alike has been growing faster still. It’s fairly daunting to those of us who are not all that technologically equipped, but chances are you’ve had extensive experience using the cloud already so there’s really nothing to worry about. I don’t know how to build a car either but I manage to somehow drive quite well, at least I think I do anyway.

If you’ve ever used web-based email, you’ve used the cloud. All of the emails in your inbox are stored on servers and the cloud based part means that you can log into those emails from any device connected to the internet. This is because you don’t manage the email server yourself, the Cloud does, the same principle applies to many other services available remotely.

Data storage services from the likes of  Dropbox and Google Drive make it super easy to store your files and data where your whole team can collaborate on them. Whilst initially free, these services have a limit on the amount of data that can be stored, but for the hoarders amongst us you can easily and cheaply upgrade to more storage if you need it.

File backup services such as Mozy backup all your data to the cloud automatically, ensuring that when things go wrong you can recover all your data easily.

Remote and collaborative file editing apps like Google Docs allow for groups of people to collaborate on single or multiple documents from anywhere in the world. Updates happen in real-time and there is even a chat feature so you can discuss things in more depth.

Project management apps like Basecamp make tracking a team’s tasks much easier, allowing for updates and comments on stages of projects in real-time, especially useful if remote teams/projects/clients are involved. Smarter emailing tools like Rapportive or Yesware etc pull all the available information on whoever you’re emailing giving you helpful insight into whomever you are speaking with. Other business function apps like take all the hard work and risk involved with creating, tracking, paying and storing purchase order information, there is even a try before you buy option so you’ll be sure you love it before you commit to using it.

There are basically 3 main types of cloud based services, Software as a service (Saas), Platform as a service (Paas) and Infrastructure as a service (Iaas). Software as a service (SaaS) allows you access to applications and databases. The service provider manages the underlying infrastructure, so there’s nothing for you to install or run, e.g. and Google Apps.

Platform as a service (PaaS) manages the underlying software for apps you run or develop. Eg Heroku, Google App Engine, and Red Hat’s OpenShift. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provides the equipment and services needed to support business operation, including hardware, virtual machines and server space. The user decides and configures which elements of the service they want and are billed accordingly. Eg Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco Metapod, Microsoft Azure.

So what are the benefits of cloud services? Many cloud services are free or available as a free trial, so they’re easy to experiment with before risking a full investment, but even for those that aren’t free have the benefit of cloud computing reducing up-front costs, making it easy to justify the expenditure in the first place. The savings comes from using the cloud providers expensive storage equipment as opposed to using your own hardware, so there are also huge savings on future maintenance and upgrades.

According to most, the cloud increases flexibility too. Your service provider does all the work, so if your bandwidth or storage requirements suddenly change, or if anything unexpectedly goes wrong, your provider has the tech experts on hand to sort it out for you right away, often before the issue is even noticed.

Cloud storage makes sense for the majority of  businesses and not solely due to the visible savings on the cheap price tag. Shockingly there are over 800,000 memory devices being lost or stolen each and every year, so cloud based services are also the more secure option. Cloud-based data can still be accessed when devices go missing or go irreparably wrong, this is because the data isn’t stored on the device that is missing or no longer capable of any function plus any account’s associated with stolen devices can be quickly and easily disconnected from your cloud.

Efficiency can certainly also be improved using the cloud due to the fact that certain features cut out some of the most tedious tasks from a variety of mundane day-to-day office tasks and activities. Cloud-based apps will update automatically usually in real-time, and files (no matter how frequently they are edited) remain available as one single version of the document, so no more hours spent down the rabbit hole trawling through old emails trying desperately to find the most up-to-date version of a document.

It is worth mentioning the down side, it’s not a constant but more of a possibility, and that is the security risks. When you use a cloud service you are entrusting your data to someone else, this can be a little unnerving to say the least. Be sure to thoroughly research all your options, look closely at how providers manage your data, with the right provider you data is actually safer than if it was stored locally on your own servers.

Pay close attention to privacy terms and conditions, also be aware that laws about data protection etc. are different around the world and if a server is stored somewhere else the laws you know are not necessarily mandate. This could lead to issues, not to mention that it could put your business as non-compliant to the laws that do affect you.

Secure and unique passwords are a must and we touched on that in a previous blog article; just know that a staggering 90% of passwords can be hacked in under a minute!! Don’t use birthday or anniversary dates or anything like that, if security questions include things like mother’s maiden name then provide an incorrect answer when you set that up, just be sure to remember it, that way when someone finds out your mother’s maiden name the information is still useless.

The best way to create a strong password, in my opinion anyway, is to create a memorable sentence, something longish and odd so you don’t forget it, like “I like champagne and caviar on my cornflakes” then take the first part of each word to become ILCACOMC and to up the security that little  bit more change some of the letters to numbers, best is I to 1, E to 3, O to 0 etc, leaving you with something like 1LCAC0MC, lets see someone figure that hack out!!!

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