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Cloud Computing for Small Business Owners

The idea of cloud computing for small business owners is a relatively new one, but one that most experts predict will catch on quickly. And, given the tremendous money-saving potential and flexibility provided by integrating cloud computing services into the workplace, how could it not?

Cloud Computing for Small Business Today
Based upon the results of a Techaisle survey conducted in 2010, a mere 37% of all small business owners know what cloud computing is. Even more astonishing is that, even among the estimated 29% of businesses that are currently using cloud technology, a sizable portion of them do not realize it.

Indeed, it seems as if cloud computing for small business is in a sort of Dark Ages where the majority of small companies are needlessly shelling out money each month to maintain outdated IT systems and software. This unnecessary cost not only adversely affects the bottom line, but also hamstrings small businesses as they attempt to keep pace with an increasingly internet-based world.

The Future of Cloud Computing for Small Business
There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, as most industry experts predict that the global market for cloud technology will increase from its current $8 billion, to approximately $14 billion by 2014. The engine for this growth as it relates to small businesses is expected to be something referred to in cloud parlance as SaaS – Software as a Service.

SaaS offers the opportunity to use the latest software for a relatively small monthly fee in place of traditional desktop software that requires a one-time purchase (usually at a hefty price tag) followed by additional periodic charges as updates become necessary. Software conflicts and poor system performance are also reduced by SaaS cloud computing solutions because most cloud computing companies that offer the service strip down their software for maximum effectiveness.

Best of all, cloud computing services like SaaS are available to business owners and their employees anywhere they can find an internet connection. Gone are the days of waiting until you’re back in the office to run certain applications. As cloud solutions become integrated into more work places, services like SaaS will increase productivity and efficiency in ways that we could only dream of in the past. The future of cloud computing for small business is a bright one indeed.

Private vs. Personal Cloud Computing Solutions

When discussing cloud computing solutions, you will often hear references made to private and public clouds, as well as arguments over the comparative merits of each. To the cloud technology novice, this whole private cloud vs. public cloud debate can sometimes sound like it’s being argued in a foreign language. In this article, we’ll look at both private and public cloud computing solutions, explain their differences, and attempt to translate this debate over which is better into laymen’s terms.

What is Private Cloud Computing?
Simply put, private cloud computing is a type of infrastructure that is set up for a single client (generally a large business). The client has control over all of its data, including where it is stored, how and when it is transferred, and the infrastructure services that manage it. It is this heighted level of customer control that makes private cloud technology attractive to clients who are particularly concerned with security.

Advantages of Private Cloud Technology

As one might guess, greater client control equates to fewer security concerns for private cloud users. By transitioning its existing IT infrastructure over to the cloud, the customer is still able to enjoy the benefits of scalability, flexibility and higher productivity, but is able to do so without sacrificing any of the accountability for data security that can sometimes be associated with public cloud computing solutions.

Disadvantages of Private Cloud Technology

Perhaps the greatest criticism of private cloud solutions is that they still require the client to purchase, configure and manage the infrastructure. Whereas the public cloud user is able to essentially buy a cheap, ready-made service that can be implemented immediately, the private user must shell out considerable capital up front to acquire a system that will often be hosted internally, and then continue to deal with its management going forward. This, unfortunately, is the trade-off that must be made for the superior security offered by the private solution.

What are Public Cloud Computing Solutions?
As opposed to the closed nature of the private cloud, public cloud computing solutions are usually open to the public. In other words, data storage, software used, and platform utilization are all shared on the same network of servers by all of the service’s clients. The management and security of all stored data and software applications is handled by the cloud computing provider.

Advantages of Public Cloud Technology

In terms of flexibility, scalability, convenience, and cost-effectiveness, public cloud computing beats private cloud solutions every day of the week. The ability to use all services, including infrastructure, on a “pay-per-usage” basis, and be free of the headaches associated with their daily management represents what most enterprise users point to as the greatest advantage of cloud technology.

Disadvantages of Public Cloud Technology

At this time, the big knock on public cloud computing is its lack of security. That is not to say that public services do not have security – many of them have excellent measures in place – but for clients who deal in large amounts of highly-sensitive personal data (e.g. financial firms), the idea of trusting this information to a third party is often unacceptable.

Which Is Better? Private or Public Cloud Computing Solutions?
The answer to this question obviously depends on the customer’s type of business. While public cloud services would seem to have public solutions beat on most fronts, the fact that they put the accountability for protecting client’s confidentiality in the hands of a third party is not only unnerving, but may even cause legal problems in certain areas.

So, to sum up the private vs. public cloud debate, if your company is one that does not have extremely high security requirements, public cloud services will allow you to enjoy all of the advantages offered by the technology. Should your firm deal in sensitive client data, however, private cloud computing solutions can still reward you with tremendously improved flexibility, scalability and convenience, but you will wind up paying a little more in order to maintain greater security.

Who are the Cloud Computing Leaders?

With the Cloud Revolution in full swing, several cloud computing leaders have rushed to the forefront to establish themselves as the industry’s vanguard. Several of these companies are already household names thanks to their success in other commercial fields, but a few of them may be new to cloud novices. In this article we’ll take a look at five companies who we believe, through a combination of innovation and customer service, have emerged as the undisputed leaders in cloud computing technology.

Top Five Cloud Computing Leaders for 2011
Amazon

Already a major player in the pc-based cloud market thanks to its popular Amazon Web Services (AWS), the online retailer appears poised to make a game-changing play for the mobile device cloud market as well. Speculation is rampant that the 2011 release of the Silk web browser for the Amazon Kindle is just a prelude to the company modifying its EC2 server toward cornering the market in that rapidly-expanding niche.

Salesforce

One of the early cloud computing leaders in the Software as a Service (SaaS) market, Salesforce.com continued its reign this year as the leader in contact management software. Its top-notch solutions combine flexibility, a comprehensive menu of features, and excellent security to easily outdistance CRM alternatives offered by other cloud computing companies.

Google

The Google App Engine was already one of the more highly-regarded cloud computing solutions in the personal cloud market, but when the Big G added a bevy of new features in early 2011 to target it toward enterprise users, the ground shook throughout the industry. The search engine behemoth is also well on its way to becoming one of the top cloud storage providers in the world today, thanks to its increasingly popular Google Cloud Storage service.

Rackspace

By aggressively pushing innovation in the Platform as a Service niche, Rackspace is hoping to stay on its lofty perch as the second-biggest cloud revenue generator in the industry behind Amazon. Considered by many to be one of the “founding fathers” of cloud technology, the company has traditionally been unrivaled in customer experience and continued that claim in 2011.

Microsoft

The continued ascension of the Windows Azure Platform has transformed relative cloud newcomer Microsoft into a force to be reckoned with in the Platform as a Service niche. Of course, the software giant’s Microsoft Online Services (providing Software as a Service) has also contributed to the company’s rising cloud profile.

Who are the Next Cloud Computing Leaders?
The next generation of leaders in cloud computing is probably already here, although they’ll have a hard time unseating the current bunch. Companies like GoGrid and Verizon have already unveiled impressive, innovative new contributions to the cloud market and appear to be just getting started. Of course, as long as equally-creative companies like Google, Amazon, etc. remain in the cloud game (and there’s no reason to doubt that they will), it figures to be easier to earn a spot among the cloud computing leaders than it will be to stay there.

What is the Cloud?

Because the term can refer to so many different things, it’s no wonder that so many people ask “What is the Cloud?” If you’re someone who is wondering this yourself, you’ll be pleased to find out that the answer is not as confusing as you might think.

So, What is the Cloud?
The Cloud, or cloud based computing as it is also commonly called, simply refers to a technology that allows customers to store data and access software or platforms through a third party-managed network. Its greatest advantage is that it allows businesses to scale their IT infrastructure to meet changing needs without making capital investments in new applications and hardware (or spending money to maintain resources that are being underutilized).

Cloud computing vendors make this possible by charging customers on a per-use basis, and managing all hardware maintenance and software upgrades for the client. Not only does this approach pass on tremendous flexibility and cost savings to the end user, but it also frees the customer of worrying about IT management. Quite simply, it turns business computing into a service that can be used for a fee.

Who Uses Cloud Based Computing?
In the early days of cloud technology, cloud based computing was primarily aimed at enterprise users (i.e. businesses). While this is still the technology’s primary application, the recent explosion of consumer mobile devices has led many cloud computing companies to start catering their services towards personal use.

Personal Cloud Users

The personal cloud computing user is typically looking for data storage that will be accessible from a mobile device. Cloud storage providers like SugarSync and FlipDrive have tailored their services to this specific market by incorporating features that allow photo, music and video file sharing and streaming among users. Many companies attract new personal users by offering free cloud storage in small quantities so that potential customers can sample their service.

Enterprise Cloud Users

As mentioned, the majority of cloud service customers still reside in the massive enterprise market. Enterprise customers range from small businesses to large corporations, but all of them usually implement cloud services to some degree for data storage and Software as a Service (SaaS). A growing number of businesses have also begun to incorporate Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in order to either replace or augment their current hardware.

What is the Cloud? – The Future of Computing
It has become en vogue to talk about cloud technology as if it is somehow the flavor of the month. The truth of the matter is, however, that we have barely scratched the surface when counting the ways in which this technology will revolutionize our world.

With our seemingly-endless appetite for personal remote and wireless technology, and an ever-growing need for greater global connectivity in the workplace, cloud computing solutions are quickly becoming an essential part of everyday life. Whether at work or at play, chances are you are already using cloud technology on a daily basis without knowing it. With that in mind, “What is the Cloud?” becomes a question that we should all know the answer to.

Personal Cloud Storage For All

Personal cloud storage is one of the fastest growing segments of the booming personal cloud computing market. Thanks to a wide variety of innovative new products and services, it is now possible for consumers to design their own custom cloud environment where they can store personal data, music and videos and even share them with friends, family and colleagues.

Advantages of Personal Cloud Storage
Although the traditional perception of cloud storage is simply of a data backup service, today’s cloud storage providers offer a far greater range of benefits. Not only do cloud storage services continue to back up your data files on multiple servers to guarantee that nothing gets lost, offer multiple restoration points and synchronize your files so that changes can be seen on multiple computers simultaneously, but many of them are specially tailored for personal users.

Among the user-friendly, personal cloud storage features one can find from cloud computing companies like SugarSync, Amazon and Microsoft are:

Free cloud storage (usually in small, introductory sizes)
Easy streaming and sharing of video, music and pictures
Seamless synchronization with mobile devices
These popular features allow fans of cellular technology and mobile gadgets to easily upload and share files from anywhere at any time. Whether on vacation, at work or just going about your daily routine, this capability takes the concept of social media and networking to a whole new level.

Choosing a Personal Cloud Computing Service
When choosing a personal cloud computing provider, the most important things to consider are the type of access you will need (i.e. mobile or remote), the type of file sharing you want to do, and how much security you require. Of course, the monthly fee for the service is a consideration as well, but it is critical that you first determine whether or not a provider can fulfill your needs before getting into pricing.

SugarSync, Amazon and Microsoft generally hit a home run for personal cloud users in each of the aforementioned categories. That is not to say, however, that the multitude of other cloud providers do not offer high-quality services – clearly, they do. Consumer reviews for 2011 do, however, generally reflect the highest levels of overall customer satisfaction with those three companies.

The Future of Personal Cloud Storage
While the majority of cloud computing services are still geared toward enterprise (i.e. business) users, a great deal of innovation has taken place in just the last year that is opening doors like never before for personal cloud users. With these innovations come increased accessibility, speed, reliability and security for consumers. Price remains an obstacle to many personal users, but this too is changing as several providers have made it a priority for 2012 to beat their competitors significantly on the cost of providing personal cloud storage.

Reviewing the Best Unlimited Online Storage Providers

Unlimited online storage is offered by a number of cloud computing companies, and often at surprisingly affordable rates. With that said, there are some significant differences in the quality, and price, of the service offered by different cloud storage providers. When it comes to value delivered in their unlimited storage plans, however, most consumers agree that four companies stand above the rest.

Top 4 Unlimited Online Storage Providers
The following companies consistently rank ahead of the competition on the basis of affordability and features offered in their unlimited storage services. All pricing is as of November 2011.

MyPCBackup

With no storage limits on its service since the company’s inception, MyPCBackup has always been synonymous with unlimited online storage. Despite a massive influx of new competitors, the company remained top dog in 2011 by offering unlimited space for just $4.95/month on two-year plans (rates increase to $6.95 and $9.95 for one-year and six-month plans respectively). Each account comes with free automated backups, data synchronization for multiple computers, and security encryption software.

Mozy

Although Mozy comes up short in features when compared to many other cloud storage services (e.g. Mozy does not support mobile access), its friendly price point makes it tough to beat. With unlimited storage for just $5.99/month, the service provides more space-per-dollar than any other company in the industry. Standard features include regularly scheduled backups and private file sharing.

ElephantDrive

The biggest things that ElephantDrive has going for it are its free trial program (which allows every new user to sample the company’s service risk-free) and its competitive price on unlimited storage. At $9.95/month for unlimited space, the service is fairly priced for a collection of features that includes excellent security and private file sharing capabilities.

Carbonite

For customers who are willing to commit to a long-term plan, Carbonite provides a great yearly service rate. Its $4.92 monthly fee on one-year contracts is by far the cheapest in the industry and the service’s list of features includes scheduled backups, remote access and data encryption security.

Is Unlimited Online Storage Really “Unlimited”?
In the case of the four companies mentioned in this article, the answer is “yes – for now”. As the amount of storage space required by HD videos and other digital files continues to increase, however, some companies (e.g. Mozy) are hinting that their unlimited storage plans may eventually be discontinued. As unthinkable as it may seem, the storage space available on even the largest companies’ servers is actually disappearing. For that reason, it is highly likely that unlimited online storage may be numbered, so we should all enjoy it while we can!

Free Cloud Computing Software

Free cloud computing software is available to perform a wide variety of Software as a Service (SaaS) functions. These include everything from online cloud storage and digital file management applications, to antivirus protection for your computer. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the various types of cloud services you can use right now, free of charge.

Types of Free Cloud Computing Software
While most personal cloud computing users think of free cloud storage as being the technology’s only cost-free offering, the truth of the matter is that a large number of service providers now offer limited SaaS applications as well. Generally speaking, free programs perform one of four primary tasks.

Data Storage

Most cloud providers now offer limited free storage as a way of introducing prospective customers to their service. The user is usually given access to 2 GB or less of online storage free, and is then enticed to upgrade to a paid account through occasional reminders about the added features, etc. offered to paying customers.

Photo and Video File Editing and Management

With the ever-increasing consumer need for photo and video file storage, sharing and editing, a number of cloud computing companies have begun offering free applications to meet this demand. Among the capabilities offered by these programs are photo album creation and organization, photo editing, video creation and editing, and social media integration that allows sharing images and videos via popular services like Twitter.

Antivirus Software Protection

As opposed to the traditional approach of buying anti-virus protection and installing it onto your computer hard drive, users now have the option of protecting their systems with server-based security software. Created by Panda Security, the Cloud Antivirus application is able to detect, fix and prevent problems associated with malware in much the same manner as a store-bought program would.

GPS Software

Rivaling cloud storage for the most popular of the free cloud computing software services available, Global Positioning Satellite applications, or GPS as they are usually called, allow the user to access maps and directions from almost anywhere in the world.

The Future of Free Cloud Computing Software
The past few years have seen a remarkable surge in free cloud services offered, but that is likely to pale in comparison to what the future will bring. Traditional mainstays like Microsoft Office are expected to eventually be offered through SaaS, as well as a host of other programs that have historically dominated the client-server based software industry. Indeed, free cloud computing software may soon force consumers and businesses alike to completely rethink their technology-based needs.

Evaluating Cloud Computing Pros And Cons

Despite the varying needs of consumers, it is possible to identify several cloud computing pros and cons that are considered universal. It is important to note, however, that not all of these characteristics of cloud based computing will have a significant impact on each user that employs the technology. For this reason, it is absolutely vital to be aware of you or your organization’s specific needs when determining which cloud computing services to utilize.

Cloud Computing Pros and Cons – The Usual Suspects
Generally speaking, there are three major advantages of cloud computing, and three primary disadvantages. An overview of each follows.

Advantages of Cloud Computing
Cost Savings

For the vast majority of organizations that consider adopting cloud computing technology, managing cost is one of their primary motivations. Unlike standard business computing models, the cloud enables clients to utilize software and hardware on a per-use basis. This not only eliminates the need for capital investment, but also eliminates the wasted expense of underutilized resources.

Scalability of Resources

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, flexibility and scalability are critical to an organization’s profitability. Cloud technology makes both of these valuable capabilities accessible by allowing the client to instantly access additional resources (e.g. online cloud storage) as needed, or discontinue their use and associated cost when circumstances dictate.

System Administration

By managing all system administration, maintenance and upgrades for their clients, cloud computing providers remove this day-to-day burden and its expenses from their bottom lines. On top of the positive cost implications, this also means that the end user is guaranteed of having the latest, up-to-date software at their disposal every time they use an application.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
Limited Redundancy

Despite the fact that many cloud users believe that the technology’s redundancy (i.e. capacity for backing up and sharing data) is unlimited, the truth of the matter is that cloud networks can occasionally become overextended. This past year saw several high-profile cloud outages, where entire networks failed for brief periods of time and left clients unable to access their data and software.

Performance Issues

Due to increasingly strained resources in some cloud service networks, performance issues may arise for some users. These generally manifest themselves in the form of slowed down applications, which can lead to lost time and a frustrating experience for the end user.

Privacy and Security

Without a doubt, the greatest disadvantage of cloud computing for many users is lack of privacy. Because all data management is handled by a third party (i.e. the service provider) and its encryption software, organizations that deal in sensitive client information often find the typical cloud storage provider’s security systems to be inadequate.

Weighing the Cloud Computing Pros and Cons for Yourself
As mentioned at the outset, the issues mentioned in this article will affect each organization and personal cloud computing user differently. For instance, whereas the technology’s disadvantage in terms of security may make it unusable (or, in the least, unappealing) to some potential clients, it may not be consideration at all for others. Determining which of these cloud computing pros and cons are issues for you and your company requires an honest assessment of your requirements in each affected service area.

Characteristics Of A Cloud Computing Infrastructure

Cloud computing infrastructure is designed to provide users with software and services wherever, and whenever they need them. By supplying their clients with these essentials via an on-demand, pay-as-you-go model, cloud computing companies make it possible for businesses and individuals alike to enjoy all of the benefits of a traditional IT infrastructure at a fraction of the cost. Throw in the added benefits of scalability, remote access and security, and it’s no wonder that there is so much buzz over the technology these days.

This article will take a look at the common traits of cloud computing architecture, and discuss the ramifications of using this type of environment for your business or personal cloud computing needs.

Cloud Computing Infrastructure Characteristics
There are three basic characteristics required for a cloud computing infrastructure to be considered as such. A brief review of each follows.

Transparent Self-Governance

Regardless of whether a client is using private cloud computing technology or a public alternative, the expectation is that the system will be self-governing. In essence, this means that the cloud servers providing the service will incorporate some form of artificial intelligence that transparently monitors system performance, and makes automatic corrections and adjustments when needed in order to prevent interruptions of service.

Security

Secure cloud computing requires that the service in question provide adequate levels of encryption software to protect client data. To meet this need, cloud storage providers and companies that offer SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) typically encrypt data multiple times while it is being stored and transferred.

Ease of Scalability

With consumer needs changing more rapidly than ever in today’s global business environment, the necessity for instant, easy scalability of services is paramount. The best online cloud storage services facilitate this by giving users access to additional storage space as needed, while providers of other services simply increase or decrease access to applications, etc. according to client demand. In either case, the cost of the service adjusts according to how much is being consumed which, in turn, allows users to immediately scale their expenses to meet their business requirements.

What Can a Cloud Computing Infrastructure Do For You?
Regardless of whether you are trying to satisfy your small business cloud computing or personal usage requirements, adopting a cloud computing architecture can yield tremendous benefits. The expenses for capital investment in hardware and an IT staff are almost completely eliminated, as is the cost of underutilized assets. Your data and applications will be available to you and your employees anywhere at any time, and you are guaranteed of always having the latest software at your disposal. In other words, a cloud computing infrastructure effectively removes all of the traditional headaches associated with business computing once and for all.

Online Storage Solutions

The list of leading online storage solutions for 2012 includes some of the industry’s best-known cloud service providers, as well as a host of promising newcomers. In addition to established names like MyPC Backup and SugarSync, companies such as JustCloud and ZipCloud have recently jumped into the fray with online backup storage services that offer a bevy of exciting features to private and personal cloud storage users alike.

Best Online Storage Solutions for 2012
In this article, we’ll review our picks for the top four online storage solutions of the New Year: MyPC Backup, SugarSync, JustCloud and ZipCloud. The following online storage review rates each company according to pricing, features provided, security and the service’s user friendliness. While they are far from the only excellent cloud computing solutions in the marketplace today, these four companies have positioned themselves above the competition for the first half of 2012.

MyPC Backup

Offering unlimited online storage at a mere $9.95 per month, MyPC Backup consistently clobbers the competition when it comes to price-per-gigabyte of storage space. But there’s more to this veteran of the cloud storage wars than just volume. MyPC Backup also provides outstanding multi-level security features that keep your data safe and rival the industry’s finest.

While the service is undoubtedly easy to use and full of the basic features that most users expect, it does have a notable drawback in that its software must remain running in the background on any connected computer. This is fairly non-intrusive to most users, but can potentially cause performance problems on systems that are challenged for available memory.

SugarSync

One of the undisputed leaders in cloud computing for several years now, SugarSync’s pricing has always been one of its strong points and this continues to be the case in 2012. With plans starting as low as $4.95 per month for five GB of storage, the provider is extremely popular with those looking for cheap cloud storage, but its ease-of-use and unequalled lineup of features (including one-click file viewing for non-members, and tons of other services for easy sharing).

Industry-leading security features are also part of SugarSync’s service, including full data encryption during all transfers, backups and storing. In fact, the company’s security features are of such high quality that they meet the standards of the U.S. Government.

JustCloud

A relative new kid on the block, JustCloud has quickly made a name for itself through a combination of top-flight security features, easy mobile and remote accessibility, and unlimited online backup. The service ranks in the middle of the pack where price is concerned, offering an introductory package of five GB of storage for $9.95 per month.

ZipCloud

ZipCloud has shaken up the status quo over the past year by offering an array of popular, premium features at a surprisingly affordable $9.95 per month for five GB of online storage solutions. By packaging unlimited online backup storage plans with cutting-edge file management and sharing software, ZipCloud poses a threat to the industry’s elite by giving users the best of both worlds.

Another area where ZipCloud has made waves is with its extremely user-friendly interface and high-level security features. Using the latest encryption software to provide state-of-the-art protection to client data is achieved through a control panel that is every bit as intuitive and easy to use as it is chocked-full of options.

What Online Storage Solutions are Right for You?
Each of the online storage backup providers discussed in this article serves both personal and enterprise users. It is also important to note that they, along with the many other fine companies they compete against, offer customizable plans that can accommodate a wide range of business and personal needs. In other words, deciding which online storage solutions are the best fits for you requires first taking a thorough inventory of your specific needs and expectations.