Thanks to Apple, lots of us buy and listen to music in the cloud. But this combination of data storage and programs housed on the internet – which is what the cloud is – has potential far beyond the music industry that it has revolutionised.
Businesses are also taking advantage of the processing and storage power provided by the cloud. Common programs used in business can now be found in the cloud, some of them exclusively. Instead of a cumbersome server taking up office space, you can now use the storage capabilities of massed banks of servers that you never see, but access online.
Cloud computing for your business office
Put simply, what used to be kept on your office computer’s hard drive can now be kept in the cloud. Businesses have been doing this for years with in-house servers, but the advent of high speed internet in the past decade has also made it possible for programs that had to be installed on your computer to be accessed remotely. So instead of installing Excel and Word on your computer, you have a ‘blank slate’ which accesses those programs online.
Cloud computing is big business and a shot in the arm to software and service providers as new markets for online products and services open up. According to research released by Market Research Media, the cloud computing market will be worth $270 billion by 2020. Adobe Creative and Microsoft Office now come in versions that are only utilised online. Apple’s iCloud is offering online versions of programs – Pages, Numbers and Keynote – that do what Microsoft’s established Office suite already does.
Cheaper, more secure and reliable business in the cloud
A Microsoft survey in 2010 found 49% of small/medium businesses were using the cloud to cut costs. There is also the added security of the cloud, which encrypts the data it stores, and the reliability factor – the cloud is regularly backed up so the latest version of your work is recoverable. Cindy Bates, Vice President of US SMB and Distribution at Microsoft, said companies that could not afford an IT professional on a regular basis benefited from the outsourcing of this task to the cloud’s maintenance teams. She added that as businesses grow, the cloud is scalable – businesses simply use a larger part of it, rather than having to buy their own servers and install additional programs for more staff.
The simplest things are better in the business cloud
Apart from the regular office programs that can be subscribed to online, there are other business functions that the cloud does well. One of these is phone answering and redirecting.
Once they are pre-programmed, cloud-based receptionist services are on-call 24/7 to redirect your calls to the best location depending on the time of day or day of the week. There’s also cloud-based faxing, which uses a virtual fax number assigned to your email client. This turns your PC into a fax machine, since when you send a fax via email, the attachments are converted into fax documents at the other end.
Because faxing is done in the cloud, there’s another advantage – you can send large files for free. To do this with eFax, you log into your fax account and hit open ‘Share Large File’. You then upload the files you want to share and email a link to recipients, who download the files. This same system also provides online file storage, where data is encrypted and backed up in the cloud.
As programs became bigger and file storage requirements spiral into terabyte territory, the humble office computer no longer had the capacity to keep up. Thanks to high-speed internet and the capacity of the cloud for data storage, a new wave of computing is sweeping through the business community.