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In our technologically-driven world, it’s essential that when launching a new business that those involved can quickly share and access files between one another. There are a wide range of cloud computing services that can be crucial tools for businesses in the midst of growing rapidly, but also need to remain conscious about spending.
To get some insights on what business owners should know when choosing cloud-based tools, we turned to tech coach Peter Bell, Senior Vice President of Engineering at General Assembly, an organisation specializing in education in business and entrepreneurship.
Below is a slightly-edited transcript of our conversation:
What is the most important thing most business owners should know about cloud computing?
Cloud computing is becoming the default option for companies large and small. It’s usually quicker, cheaper, more secure and allows you to focus on building your business — not installing and configuring servers and software. For a long time people were concerned about the security of cloud computing platforms, but most of them are actually now much more secure than anything you’re likely to be able to set up on your own.
What are some examples of cloud computing services that business owners should consider?
Start with Google. If you want to set up an email account for your company, Google apps for business is an inexpensive offering that allows you to set up email, calendaring, and document sharing for your team. The email is easy to set up and use, the calendaring is simple, but workable, and you can easily share documents both within the company and with external consultants and vendors.
As your company grows to between 50 and 100 employees you’ll start to run into some of the limitations of the system in terms of administrative and security capabilities, but it’s a great way to get started.
You probably also want to check out Dropbox for sharing files. Their “team” version is perfect for growing businesses.
Most of the other offerings depend on what you need to do.
SalesForce.com is probably the best CRM for most small-to-medium sized businesses, but if you’re smaller or have simpler needs you should also check out Highrise from 37 signals. There are also passable online accounting offerings like Quickbooks Online or Freshbooks if you have simpler requirements and mainly care about invoicing.
What if your company decides to write your own software?
Even if you have developers and are writing custom software, instead of renting servers, you should consider cloud based hosting. Amazon S3 — for storing and serving static files — and EC2 — for computing power — are the industry standards, but if you can, check out providers like Heroku that make it even easier for your developers to set up a robust staging and production environment for your applications.
What are some of the limitations of cloud computing?
The main limitation is that because someone else is controlling the software and the hardware, there are limits to how much control you have over configuration. With Software-as-a-Service offerings like Google apps for business, if you don’t like the way the administrative setting work, you have to move your entire company to a new email hosting provider — you can’t just get the code changed to meet your exact needs.
And even with cloud hosting of your own software, there are some optimizations you won’t be able to perform with some of the cloud hosting providers that you could with your own server.
The other common limitation is that depending on the provider, the quality of customer support is not always great. If you call up SalesForce with a problem they’ll take care of you, but if you have an issue with Google apps, you’re pretty well stuck with checking the internet for similar issues.
However, generally the limitations of cloud computing are a small price to pay for the huge savings in cost, complexity and time to market. It’s OK to outgrow a system once in a while. That’s a quality problem to have.
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