How Small Businesses Can Use Cloud Computing

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on April 8, 2011
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If you dabble in tech topics, you’ve probably heard of “the cloud” before. But what does it actually mean? Is it just another overhyped tech term, or is it something that could actually be useful to your business?

Cloud computing can mean a lot of things, but essentially, it refers to any service in which data is stored in a remote virtual environment instead of on your business’ premises. Generally, these services are subscription-based, and may be billed on a monthly basis, with rates dependent on the amount of data you’re storing remotely, or in “the cloud.” Here are a few ways that you might use cloud computing for your company.

Document storage. Have you ever used a  service that allows you to save, edit, and modify files that are stored online? Then you’ve used a cloud computing service. Many cloud document storage services allow you to store and access Word files, PDFs, audio files, spreadsheets, and other data through your Internet connection, so you can access your files from any computer as long as you can get online. A typical provider allows up to one gigabyte of free storage per account; if your business needs more space, it can be purchased on a per-unit basis.

Website hosting. Instead of purchasing a physical server to host your website, many users have now switched to “cloud hosting,” which operates on one or more connected servers online. This means that you can quickly scale up or down if your bandwidth needs increase or decrease. It’s also far more cost-effective than a dedicated server, as you only need to pay for the amount of computing power you’re using, instead of paying the full cost of running an entire server. On the downside, because you are not physically in control of your data storage, there are some security risks as far as cloud hosting is concerned. Nonetheless, it’s a great option for many small businesses.

Accounting and billing. If you and your employees need to keep track of your hours, expenses, and invoices, one way to make sure everything’s in order is to use an accounting system that’s hosted in the cloud, so users can access the service from anywhere. Many accounting services even offer programs that let you track your time as you are working, and monitor how timely your clients are with paying your invoices.

Project management. If you’re managing a team of workers who frequently need to upload files for feedback and editing, it makes a lot of sense to switch from an internal project management system to one that’s hosted online. This is particularly useful if you have employees who work remotely or travel for business, or if you’re managing a project that involves freelance contractors. In addition to file sharing, such systems can be used to send messages within a group, and to set up milestones and email reminders.

Web analytics. You could track your own server logs for data about who’s visiting your business website, but many cloud-based web analytics platforms offer far more advanced solutions for tracking and parsing your data than you could do independently. There are a number of popular free analytics options that allow you to track measures including browser type, country, referring link, and conversion rate (i.e., completing a desired action). If you’re willing to pay a small monthly fee, you can even sign up for real-time reporting services that let you track what users are doing on your site at this very second.

For more tips on cloud computing services that are ideal for small businesses, check out this article in PC Magazine.

kathryn

Kathryn Hawkins is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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