All can damage or destroy your company s computers along with the data and applications you rely on to run your business.

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2 All can damage or destroy your company s computers along with the data and applications you rely on to run your business. Losing your computers doesn t have to disrupt your business if you take advantage of the cloud. Solutions like automatic cloud-based backup and collaboration applications allow you to access your data any time from any number of devices. Yet if you re like many owners of small- to medium-sized businesses, you may wonder what the cloud is and what it can do for your business. The cloud, or cloud computing as it s commonly called, refers to computer applications that operate over the Internet, rather than on your PC s hard drive. Your programs run on Internetbased servers and your data is stored there. You access both the software and your data using a Web browser or mobile app. The cloud offers a number of advantages for your business compared to software you d install on your PC or company server. The benefits include: No capital costs. Instead of purchasing application software for one large up-front price, you subscribe to cloud services, paying a predictable and affordable monthly or annual fee. Cut hardware costs. Because you access the applications through the Internet, you no longer need to purchase the fastest PCs or devices with the most memory. All you need is a reliable Internet connection. Get started quickly. The cloud provider takes care of installation and upgrades, relieving your IT staff of those tasks. You can quickly start using the application and you ll always be working on the most recent version because your application is upgraded automatically. Anytime, anywhere access. You can connect to your cloud-based data and applications anytime, anywhere from any PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. For example, if you re using a cloud-based service like Gmail, you can check your on your computer or smartphone. 2

3 Simplify collaboration. No longer will there be a need to worry about compatibility of data formats across your business. Everyone can access the same documents and data. Cloud applications make it easier for businesses to collaborate internally and with partners, vendors and customers. Focus on your business. The cloud allows you to take advantage of advanced software without having to spend your team s valuable time installing and maintaining your IT infrastructure and applications. Your staff is free to focus on creating new products and services that differentiate your business and generate income. When considering cloud applications, businesses choose from three types of cloud services. Public The public cloud uses the Internet to connect customers and services, providing easy, inexpensive access to software and storage. Examples of public cloud applications include the Amazon Simple Storage Service, Salesforce.com, and all Google apps. This option can be a good fit for companies without an IT staff. However, some companies hesitate to put highly sensitive or proprietary files into public cloud applications because they re concerned their data may not be secure. While this may be a concern, most cloud providers make security a top priority and will even publish their security protocols on their websites. Private Larger organizations that are particularly worried about security may choose a private cloud. A private cloud is operated solely for a single organization within their firewall to restrict access to information. In addition to providing greater security, a private cloud allows an organization to easily customize their applications and data. The downside is that the private cloud requires significant in-house IT resources to set it up and operate it. Hybrid A hybrid cloud infrastructure uses a blend of public and private cloud environments to deliver the advantages of each. For example, you might put sensitive production data on an application in a private cloud to maximize security and then archive less critical data on a public cloud service to take advantage of the less expensive storage costs. Hybrid clouds can also provide more costeffective scalability. Your organization can take advantage of the computing and storage resources you typically need on the private cloud without buying more than you need. Instead, you pay for extra resources on the public cloud as you use them; for example, in response to traffic spikes. Remember that you will also have to pay for the infrastructure and operational costs of the private cloud. 3

4 Once you ve determined whether you want to use a public, private or hybrid cloud-based application, you need to decide what particular business problem you re trying to address. When considering what cloud applications to try, many small- to medium-sized organizations start with their accounting systems. As they face new accounting regulations, they often find that using spreadsheets no longer helps them meet those requirements. Cloud-based accounting systems offer a broad range of features for a lower monthly or annual subscription cost. Getting started is usually quicker than installing software on your office machines because installation is handled by the cloud provider. Two other applications that small- to medium-sized businesses commonly move to the cloud are sales force automation and data storage and backup. When choosing a cloud application, you want to make sure you select a reputable provider. After all, you re likely to work with your cloud vendor for a long time. It s critical to perform due diligence to ensure that you find the right partner. Consider these six areas: 1. Data security. Ask what the vendor does to protect your data. For example, do they encrypt data both when it s stored in their data center and when it s being transmitted over the Internet? Look at the security of the facility. Where is it? Who can access the facility? How is it protected? If you have any special security requirements, does the cloud vendor support them? For example, are you required to keep all your data in U.S. data centers? Make sure the cloud service provider can support this requirement. 2. Total cost of ownership. While the cloud doesn t require large up-front capital expenditures, you ll face ongoing costs. Find out what they are before you sign a contract. For example, are there costs to scale the solution up or down? Does the vendor charge a fee per user? 3. Support. Learn how the vendor delivers support. Can you pick up the phone and talk to someone or do you have to use or community-based support to get answers? 4. Management. How do you know how well the system is working? Does the vendor give you performance reports? How do they notify you if the service goes down and you can t access your data? 5. Setting up the service. What s the process of getting started? Do they offer installation services? What about training? Will they help your employees get up to speed on the system? What does the support structure look like? Do you need to them and wait 24 hours for a response or can you pick up the phone and call a customer service representative for help? 4

5 6. Additional capabilities. What other features does the vendor offer that you might be able to take advantage of in the future? Do they offer collaboration tools? Analytics capabilities? How do they tell you about new features they offer? Is there a blog or newsletter you can subscribe to? By partnering with the right cloud services provider, failure of your mobile device, PC or server no longer means your business is endangered. By taking the time to research and evaluate public, private and hybrid cloud solutions, you can make sure you re selected the right solution for your business. The time you spend making sure that your security, support, management and cost requirements is a good investment in your business and increases the chances that your new cloud-based tool will be a success. Comparing references with your peers, doing research online and talking to a customer service representative are all ways to help you choose a solution that s the best fit for your business. You can feel confident knowing that your data is secure in the cloud, and you no longer have to worry about a hurricane, fire or flood disrupting your business. Instead you can concentrate on growing your business, knowing that you can access your data quickly and easily on the Internet. 5

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