If you run a small business and wish to take advantage of the latest technologies then now is a good time to start investigating the options available to you.

The origins of Cloud Computing.

The idea of working in the cloud is not new, as it was introduced as “networked” or “network centric” computing by Sun Microsystems (now acquired by Oracle) over 15 years ago. What has initially been seen as a paradigm shift in business computing back then has now been embraced as a mainstream technology today.

Cloud computing is now widely deployed in many scenarios for serious business computing applications. This article will explore six common application areas for your business today.

1. Hosted Virtual Desktops

A hosted virtual desktop operates just like your normal PC desktop, with the key difference that your applications, user profiles and data are all stored in a secure remote data centre. Everything has been designed to replace your traditional desktop PC environment, providing the same level of performance and functionality as your normal PC, together with replacing your existing server network infrastructure with a cloud-based replacement.

The advantages.

Hosted desktops offer a cost-effective network infrastructure solution that it will save you money, through reducing your overheads, energy bills and monthly IT maintenance costs.  An added benefit of hosting in the cloud means everything is monitored and supported 24/7, by experienced IT professional Support technicians. Access your hosted desktop from anywhere with an internet connection on almost any device, including tablets and smartphones.

2. Virtual Servers (Machines).

A “virtual machine”, or VM for short, is an isolated software container, usually tightly coupling an application with an operating system. As each VM is logically separate and completely independent, you can run as many of them as you wish on every single physical computer server, as long as there are sufficient resources in terms of CPU cycles, RAM, disk space and network bandwidth. A software management layer known as a “hypervisor” further demarcates each VM from its physical host, managing and allocating computer resources (CPU, RAM, storage and bandwidth) on-the-fly.

This virtual architecture redefines computing and let’s you deliver many applications on each server, enables maximum server utilisation while minimising server count, and allows faster and easier application and resource provisioning. Companies have found they have been able to consolidate their existing server infrastructure through virtualisation technologies.

3. Cloud backup

Almost all businesses backup their critical data using traditional tape backup solutions, and many have seen the benefits of migrating their backup solution to the cloud for multiple reasons.First, data is sent securely over internet connections to multiple data centres outside the immediate geographical area, providing improved resiliency against threats to any single location.

Second, using simple software that has been designed to be easy to use, you have complete control over the backup sets created, such as File Backups, Microsoft Exchange (message level retrieval) and SQL Server backup sets.

Third, using the same easy to use application, you will be able to restore any lost data to a file or folder within seconds back onto your server/workstation. Finally, by using cloud backup solutions you are no longer relying on expensive backup software, tapes and tape streamers, also simplifying backup management and operations at the same time.

4. Disaster Recovery

Using virtualisation and cloud backup solutions, companies have also found their disaster recovery (DR) planning and operations changed fundamentally. Many businesses have reported that the reasons for deploying virtualisation for DR are similar to those used to justify any other server environments.

Chiefly through close to full utilization and better reuse of existing resources and infrastructure, the cost and efficiency of any DR plan is improved. Additionally, recovery of VMs and data is much faster when directly compared to traditional DR setups involving physical servers.

As an example, a common cloud-based disaster recovery operation involves a new class of solutions known as “Physical-To-Virtual” (P2V) DR. This setup supports the backup and replication of physical environments to virtual machines in remote locations, which is an ideal scenario for most companies who still require physical servers for their high transaction load production environment, but also need more flexibility in their DR environment that’s obviously not under a daily heavy load.

5. Hosted Exchange (email)

Hosted email solutions in the cloud such as Microsoft Exchange enables business users to access their contacts, calendar and email from anywhere and at any time, whenever they have an internet connection on any mobile device. Hosted Exchange cloud providers also give businesses the opportunity to use the latest mobile technology without any need for their own capital investment in systems and personnel, providing significantly more benefits to businesses than traditional “on-premise” Microsoft Exchange.

Have the freedom to work anywhere, using just a browser on any device to allow Outlook Web Access. A better user experience is provisioned for owners of a Windows mobile device, Blackberry or iPhone. The service is best experienced on a dedicated Outlook client, just as before with “on-premise” Exchange. More importantly, reduce costs by replacing capital expenditure with usage based payments like a utility or mobile phone bill. Pay for what you use without the need to worry about investing in your own infrastructure, servers, storage, backups, data centre and software licensing, not to mention employing dedicated technical staff to manage and maintain your email solution.

6. Software as a service (or SaaS)

Both technology giants Microsoft and Google offer complete office solutions for the cloud in the form of Office 365 and Google Apps for Business. Use the same office productivity applications you are already used to, as well as additional business-class IT Services such as enterprise email and online conferencing. Have access to web-based email, calendar and documents that allows you to work from anywhere.

Communicate, collaborate and coordinate your work in virtual project teams as you work online.

Office 365 Small Business Premium gives you access to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Lync, OneNote, Access and Publisher (the last three need Windows PC clients and cannot be used across devices). In addition, you will also get business-class email, a public website, web conferencing and easy document sharing, in a simple to use, always on service.

With Google Apps for Business, you will have access to Gmail, Calendar, Drive (cloud storage), Docs (word processing), Sheets (spreadsheet) and Slides (presentations). Google are touting the benefits of their cloud software in terms of improved security, better connectivity from any device with a web browser and enhanced working in real time, across organisations and distances, etc. Billed as “invisible IT that just works”, Google are promising enhanced productivity through better searching and information management tools, which should make your employees happier working in the cloud.

Wikipedia has a fantastic page about Software as a Service

In summary, cloud technologies have matured sufficiently and unit costs have come down significantly for any SME to consider giving this networked business computing paradigm a go. Pay for what you need like a utility, use it for your virtual IT infrastructure, disaster recovery, enterprise email and hosted office productivity suites. Once you make the switch to the cloud you’ll never look back again.

David is currently busy working for Our ICT , when he is not fixing computers, David loves to write article about anything technology related. 

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  1. We are using a hosted desktop solution at work, occasionally I forget and try to work from my old desktop but I am getting used to it. I like being able to use the same desktop at home. Well Done Dave for a great article.

  2. I think this peice of technology is pretty good and we need to embrace it.
    However we need training.
    Cloud hosted desktops were deployed in our organisation and we didn’t have proper training and our helpdesk didn’t have enough training either
    Therefore the system was decommisioned and we resorted to the legacy system.

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