Ahead in the clouds:
cloud computing explained, briefly

Do you use the cloud? Just what is it, anyway? Nebulous as it sounds, there’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s simply any internet-based service found on a provider’s server. Saving something in the cloud means your file is saved on a vast internet server, not your computer. Cloud services can simply provide file storage and the ability to share documents for individuals or small businesses, or supply more comprehensive capabilities requiring IT expertise.

While you may think you don’t use the cloud, you do when you send or receive email or when you keep up with family and friends on social media like Facebook. Trump uses it when he fires people with a tweet.

With access to the internet and a cloud subscription service, you can share and edit files – documents, photos, presentations, and spreadsheets, for example – with others who may be across the room or on the other side of the world.

Three important benefits of using the cloud

  • Storage. If you want to store your files in the cloud, you can open an account with one of the many cloud-based storage services. Numerous companies offer everything from free access to pay-to-play services. Two upsides in choosing to pay for a service rather than using free services: you will most likely get more storage space and access to support if something goes wrong.
  • Back-up services. At some point in your computing journey, you may choose to enlist cloud-based backup services. Here again you’ll find free as well as paid packages, with the paid versions offering features such as automatic backup, disaster recovery, and bulk uploads.
  • Web-based apps or applications. These operate from the cloud and are not installed on your computer. Google Docs is one such app. It provides a document processor, spreadsheet module, and presentation maker. Not only is the software itself stored in the cloud, so are the files, making it easier to share them. They can be used by one person, shared across the room, or anywhere on the globe so long as the recipient has internet access.

The all-important security issue

Should you choose to take advantage of these cloud features, you will no doubt be concerned with security. With public cloud-based services there is always a chance of having your files hacked. Best practices to prevent this are:

  • Protecting your files with strong passwords
  • Implementing two-factor verification (like using a password plus having a code sent to your cell phone)
  • Signing out of a document or service when not in use
  • Setting up your cloud service’s privacy settings to maximum advantage
  • Choosing a cloud computing service with adequate security procedures in place
  • Using your organization’s private cloud If you have a dedicated IT department

Using the cloud for all it’s worth is especially valuable to startups, not only for the free or inexpensive apps, storage, and file sharing but also because you can cut down on having your server living within your organization. Firms just getting started may not have the money for expensive server systems or the staff to run them. And with free or cheap features like data storage, online subscription-based software, and automatic backups, a lot of money can be saved.

Getting started with the cloud

If you decide to use cloud-based services, a simplified first step should be to assess your needs. This will help you choose a cloud service appropriate to your situation. For instance, you might want to consider:

  • Current computer system set-up: How does your firm work with and store files; how much storage space will you need; and how many of your staff will access the cloud?
  • Security: Can your business safely put data on a public server? The world of cloud computing offers three models: the public cloud, which anyone can subscribe to, the private cloud, which lives within one organization, and the hybrid model, which combines features of both the public and private clouds. If you deal with highly sensitive data, it might make sense to set up your own private cloud.
  • Software needs: Do you already own all the software you need to run your business? There’s plenty available on a subscription basis. SaaS, or Software as a Service, offers the benefit of having the software reside in the cloud so you don’t need as much physical storage space. Some cloud providers offer SaaS with their packaged plans. And SaaS updates are normally handled by the provider.
  • Funding: How much money can you allocate for cloud-based services? Dummies.com has an in-depth article with advice on getting ready for the cloud. It goes into the subject much more deeply than I have here. Before you choose a system, you may want to read “How to Figure Out Where to Start with Cloud Computing.”

Where to go for simple cloud solutions

Here are just a few cloud providers. You'll want to do your own shopping around – there are lots of plans available!

  1. Dropbox is a paid service that provides cloud storage space, file sharing capabilities, computer backup, and anywhere access. Plans include those for individuals, families, and businesses.
  2. Google Workspace (previously known as G Suite) gives you storage space; file collaboration, custom business email; a calendar; Docs, Sheets, and Slides, which are comparable to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; and the ability to use and share Microsoft Office files. Their plans begin with the Business Starter package and move upward depending upon features offered.
  3. Microsoft OneDrive for Business includes several packages: OneDrive for Business Plan 1 which is a basic plan for file sharing and storage, two intermediate plans, and the Microsoft 365 Business Standard which includes email, Office apps, and OneDrive storage. Individual and family plans are also available.

There’s a lot to decide when choosing to work in the cloud, so get serious and make a plan. And then get your head out of the clouds and get to work!

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