In the final instalment of our series looking at small business and the cloud, Bree Freeman offers up some advice on how to manoeuvre your way through the maze that is the cloud.

If you’re a non-techie person, you might think of cloud computing as programs that are floating around up there, somewhere. You’ve heard about it, but don’t truly understand what it all means and most importantly how the technology can benefit your business.

But choosing the right cloud solution can often be a daunting one, however it needn’t still be perceived as a leap of faith. Some businesses are concerned about exactly how to choose the right cloud apps, how to get the best use from them, and if their data will be secure when it’s up there. To help dispel these doubts, do your research. For the sake of the evolution, or survival, of your business taking some time to figure out what your requirements are, is the first step to unlocking the full potential of the cloud.

Cloud services can make apps that were once the preserve of only the largest organisations, like CRM, sales management, contact centre software, call recording – available to any company, from a two-person business to a multi-million pound organisation. It puts what were once the big kids’ toys in the hands of any business – irrespective of size.

So, the first thing you need to decide is what are you basic business needs. Are you looking for an overhaul of your infrastructure or simply wanting an app to manage your finances, or are you looking for a tool that helps with productivity such as Office 365 and Google Drive?

Of course, not everything has to go on the cloud. Many people opt for a mixed model of cloud for sensitive things and localised computing for the day-to-day stuff. There are different forms of cloud – private cloud is exclusive to its clients, public clouds such as Google, which anyone can log on to without breaking the bank, and hybrid, in which the provider balances the client’s needs against the technical offerings.

If you are looking for an overhaul of your infrastructure then my advice is get yourself a credible service provider. But be warned the market is becoming saturated so maybe for your first steps into the cloud arena you might find chatting with one of the ol’ boys of cloud a better option such as SoftLayer, AWS, Google, Rackspace. However there are some fabulous young ‘uns out there, that speak your language, understand your needs and are local to you. Companies such as entrustIT, Yorkshire Cloud, iomart Hosting and Phoenix offer great managed services and have friendly experts to help you smoothly migrate to the cloud.

For the sake of the evolution, or survival, of your business taking some time to figure out what your requirements are, is the first step to unlocking the full potential of the cloud.

However, if you simply want to dip your toe in the cloud then you’ll be better off starting small and working your way up. If you’re looking for a storage solution then companies such as Box and Dropbox might be right up your street. If you’ve ever cursed yourself for leaving that important file on your office computer or ever needed to send a client a file immediately, then both Box and Dropbox can keep that from happening again. You simply drag a file, plop it into the relevant folder, and you can instantly access it from anywhere, well as long as you have internet access.

If you’re looking for a backup solution then I’d suggest looking at Mozy. They continuously back up the files on your computer or server. It gives small businesses the space to back up their entire computer and server files for a very reasonable price, so you know your files are retrievable, even during a data loss crisis.

When it comes to cost effective telecoms solution then VoIP could be the way to go for you. Like most cloud tech it’s a system that can grow or shrink as business conditions warrant. Adding extensions or direct numbers requires only a few mouse clicks, and new extensions can be provisioned in just a few minutes’ time.

Whether, like me, your colleagues are scattered across the globe or are located in a single building, hosted VoIP makes it possible for everyone in your business to operate on a single communication system. You can have one business number with multiple extensions and departments – all configurable from a computer or mobile device. With respected companies such as the likes of BT, RingCentral, Vodafone and Verizon having a firm footing in the VoIP arena, you can ensure you’ll be in safe hands.

Whatever your business needs are there is more than likely a cloud solution or app for you. The key as always with most things is ‘knowledge’; you can’t unlock and reap the benefits of the cloud without doing your research. You need a firm understanding of what YOU WANT from the cloud; once you have this then you simply need to find the right provider or solution. Easy peasy!

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