5 top cloud based services

Cloud services offer a range of great solutions for small businesses looking to increase productivity and efficiency.

Cloud based technologies are springing up everywhere, and the chances are you are already making use of some without even knowing about it.

This article highlights some of the the advantages that cloud based tools offer as well as the most innovative ways to use 'em.

Advantages of the cloud

Cloud based services have a number of built-in advantages over traditional applications, software and online services. In particular:

  • Cost: Cloud applications are generally cheaper than standalone applications because they re-use and share resources
  • Scalability: A single server may run out of resources, but cloud systems can handle huge changes in load
  • Reliability: Multiple redundancy in cloud systems means that they are far more reliable than standalone systems
  • Performance: Cloud services are constantly monitored and improved for performance that tracks the state of the art
  • Security: While there are concerns about storing sensitive data off-site, cloud systems generally have better security than their standalone counterparts (precisely because they have to address market concerns about this issue)

Utilizing cloud solutions is a great way to help reduce the technology burden on a small organizations and free up precious resources to focus on core competencies. Companies that switch to the cloud have a great advantage over companies that don't because their technology related activities are far more streamlined.

Greater control over technology resources and expenditure is also a by-product of using cloud based apps because they offer resources on demand. Cloud services generally offer tiered packages to suit everyone - upgrading and downgrading are, by default, quick and easy operations.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the best services the cloud has to offer...

Best ways to use the cloud

Cloud based services excel at providing information based services. Any company activity that requires storage, transmission, and access to data is a good candidate for cloud based apps. In some cases, cloud tech has completely superseded existing technologies - as is the case with office based communications (see the section entitled Communications (Virtual PBX) below).

Before we begin, it is important you take one disadvantage of cloud computing into account - if the Internet goes down, your data is inaccessible. Not lost. But not available until access to the Web is restored.

1. Productivity tools

There are a huge number of productivity tools that are shifting over to the cloud. In particular:

  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  • Office applications: Notes, spreadsheets, Word processors
  • Remote desktop: Control a PC from anywhere
  • Online collaboration: Collaborate on projects from anywhere
  • Accounting, tax & payroll

If you're interested in looking at what cloud based productivity tools are available then check out:

  • GoToMeeting: offers HD online conferencing & meetings
  • FreshBooks: lightweight, online cloud accounting system - used by over 5 million people
  • Quickbooks Online: the world's most popular accounting software available online. A range of packages available.

2. Communications (Virtual PBX)

A cloud based telephony system is one of the best examples of how new technology can reduce costs, simplify, and improve on existing systems. Before cloud based communications, offices had to buy and install expensive and complicated PBX hardware.

Now telephony solutions are far more flexible, scalable and reliable, and can be set up over the Internet in a matter of minutes.

Gone are the days where enterprise level PBX systems took lots of expensive hardware and experienced personnel. A single home based entrepreneur can have exactly the same functionality at a fraction of the price.

Any technology that can make "technology" simple, inexpensive and easy to use offers great competitive advantages to the companies that adopt them early. If your business needs cost-effective, modern telecommunications then check out these services:

  • RingCentral: offers complete cloud based fax and phone services for entrepreneurs and large enterprises
  • Grasshopper: offers a complete, cloud based virtual phone system

3. File sharing & storage

I regularly provide fairly complex software, development and other services to clients all around the world so it is important to be able to rapidly share files, media and data. Cloud based storage systems make instantly sharing files as simple as dragging and dropping them into a shared folder (that synchronizes instantly with a secure, shared folder online).

Storing software development milestones and off-site backups are a cinch with cloud based file sharing. If your business could benefit from the convenience of storing and sharing data, with access from anywhere in the world, then check out these great file sharing services:

  • MyPC Backup: offers complete PC backup and storage facilities
  • SugarSync: offers secure online backup facilities
  • Just Cloud: provides automatic storage, file syncing and file sharing

4. Printing

Consider the advantages of being able to communicate with a cloud based printer at a client's office where you are expected to give a presentation. It's super quick and easy to print out presentation documents at the client's offices and have them waiting for you when you arrive.

How about sending a request to your Hong Kong office for documents that can be printed in your own office as soon as they are ready? Cloud printing opens up printers to be shared and used by anyone, anytime, anywhere, by any device (especially useful for people on the move).

5. Web hosting

One of my favorite uses for the cloud is Web hosting and CDNs (Content Delivery Networks). Cloud based Web hosting is a far more elegant solution than traditional methods because it is built to scale rapidly, can be monitored efficiently and upgraded seamlessly.

The Internet is an especially volatile medium - especially given the rise of social media. Traffic can jump by hundreds, thousands, and even millions of hits overnight, and having the power of the cloud behind you can help manage these wildly varying traffic loads far better than static servers.

Not only that but cloud hosting offers more control over how you pay for what you use. Instead of buying the largest server possible to cater for potential spikes in traffic, it is possible to purchase packages that will cater for spikes temporarily, but require an upgrade if high traffic persists.

There are a lot of great cloud based web hosting services around. GoDaddy offers a range of affordable Web hosting solutions alongside their VPS and dedicated plans, so you might want to check them out first.

How do you utilize cloud applications? Has shifting to the cloud reduced costs and streamlined processes? Alternatively, have you had problems with cloud based services?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.