In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulonimbus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.
Cloud computing comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities.
We believe it’s no longer a question of if but when most companies will adopt cloud technologies. At a time when everything has gone mobile, when social computing is redefining how people communicate, and when data stores are exploding and leading to new insights,
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.
- 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.