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  • 25 March 2014
  • Eric Michaels

What exactly is "cloud computing" anyway?

Among the many tech terms flying around these days, you've probably been hearing a lot about "the cloud." Is it an alternative to software, a virtual storage space, or a concept that hasn't been fully defined yet? In fact, you might say that cloud computing is all of these things. Here's what to make of the cloud and how it can help you in your business.

The cloud is the Internet

In the simplest terms, you may consider the cloud to be the equivalent of the Internet, in that it is a place where data is stored and processes are handled without burdening the actual computer you use. Imagine having to store machines that could channel all the websites you access online every day. It's impossible, which is the principle behind cloud computing in general.

You'll never have to worry about bringing a certain computer to a meeting or copying files to bring work with you.

Makers of software and infrastructure for computers concluded the transactions serving business and individual customers could be conducted entirely online. Instead of installing Microsoft Office using a disc that downloads the programs onto your computer's hard drive — which must be periodically updated — you could subscribe to Office 365 and have instant updates for as long as you have an account. That's software as a service, or SaaS, and it's probably the most relevant example of cloud services for small business owners.

Data storage and software

Software and storage top the list of ways you can use the cloud. In fact, the two work together in nearly every aspect of cloud operations. Using the example of Google Docs, another cloud service, entrepreneurs tout the instant access to documents online. When using a Google Doc shared with different members of your staff, all changes are saved instantly and accessible by everyone on your team with permission to view the files.

It works brilliantly for word processing, time sheets, accounting, payment service apps, and virtually every other operation you'd normally have to download software to use. That entire process takes place online.

This system makes data sharing, project updates, and every other form of office collaboration a cinch. It reassures many business owners who worry about computers crashing and data being lost forever. The Internet cannot be lost; therefore, the data saved instantly via the cloud lives forever, as long as you can access the Internet. It also means you can build up an enormous amount of material you'll never have to physically store on disc drives. As long as you keep your cloud subscription current, you have storage for life.

Cloud computing offers a lean business model

On top of the convenience of keeping space in your hard drive free, cloud services allow everyone involved in your business 24/7 access to the files you use. You'll never have to worry about bringing a certain computer to a meeting or copying files to bring work with you. Any Internet-enabled device can instantly access everything in the cloud.

If you have employees who travel frequently or a virtual business that depends on remote communication and collaboration at all times, you have every reason to get to know cloud services in-depth. These programs can keep your personal business footprint lean while your network and operations grow at their appropriate pace.

On the question of scale, there's no business that can outgrow the size of the Internet. You'll always be able to find solutions that cover your operation for as large or small as you'd like to keep it. Just put it in "the cloud."

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