Using Internet-based software and storage is among the newest trends in workplace efficiency and a key component of many companies' flexible work arrangements.
Cloud computing can mean different things to different people. You may hear it called SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) or another acronym. In its most basic sense, however, cloud computing is Internet-based technology, such as software or file storage, that was once traditionally tied to a desktop or local server. The online word processor and spreadsheet provided by Google Docs at http://docs.google.com is a small example, while 37signals.com provides a suite of services that is designed to replace much of an organization's IT infrastructure.
There are a number of potential benefits of cloud computing, including:
Because you are buying a service rather than software or hardware, your capital outlay and financial risk may be greatly reduced. As a result, you may be able to afford services for sales tracking, real-time communication, file-sharing - and more - that would be unattainable if your organization had to manage the infrastructure. An online connection, computers, tablets or smart phones, and in some cases, a service license, are all you need to get started.
You pay only for services you need, and you can upgrade or downgrade easily. Software upgrades are a thing of the past - whenever the service itself is upgraded, enhancements are immediately available to all users.
Cloud-based services are available whenever and wherever you can connect to the Internet. Most importantly, they are usually available however you connect, whether by desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone.
Many cloud services are designed to allow real-time collaboration. Centralized data is available to everyone, yet managers can set security access so that users see and work only with the information they need.
The biggest risk related to cloud computing is, as you may have guessed, data security. Data control lies with the provider, so satisfy yourself that your vendor has adequate security, robust data protection and redundancy. Also, ensure that the vendor will return your data to you in the format you require should you ever part ways.
To get started, enlist the aid of your IT chief or a consultant with experience in enterprise-wide cloud computing. You'll need to investigate the various public and private options available to you, evaluate which of your functions can operate best in the cloud, discuss security protocols and backup plans, and determine your budget.
For a quick look at some of the rising stars in the field and the services they offer -
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