The case for both business and personal use of cloud services is becoming far less contentious or questionable as technology and processes improve, prices remain competitive and worries about computer security and system failures continue. Indeed, clouds are essential for businesses of every shape and size.
Business, especially small and medium ones, need no longer buy hardware and software licences or run their own in-house departments. They pay as they go for cloud-based services and what is do-able is fully comprehensive:
Emails, customer relationship management (CRM), payroll, application management, invoicing, web hosting, printing, collaboration, ecommerce platforms, spreadsheets, videos, music and online back-up.
Google Enter the Race
Despite some pundits saying they are rather late entering the cloud market (already worth an estimated £2.5 billion in the UK), Google have launched Drive. 5GB of storage space is free and with payment there is up to 16TB of storage for such vitals as files, photos, videos and general data.
BBC Technology News (24 April 2012) reported it is up against clouds such as, iCloud, Dropbox (Google’s 100GB rate is cheaper) and Microsoft SkyDrive (Google is more costly). It is unlikely Google will be the last entrant in the growth business, which will surely see a shakeout with mergers and acquisitions in due course.
Senior VP of Chrome and Apps, Sundar Pichai, was quoted from a blog post as saying: ‘today, we’re introducing Google Drive – a central place where you can create, share, collaborate and keep all of your stuff. Whether you’re working with a friend on a joint research project, planning a wedding with your fiancé or tracking a budget with roommates, you can do it in Drive’.
The advertising blurb goes on: it can be installed on PC or Mac, or as an app to Android phone or tablet. An Apple app should follow soon. Visually challenged users can access a screen reader. It will allow search by keyword + filter by file type, owner or activity. It will use optical character recognition to locate text in scanned documents and image recognition.
Google cynics have suggested that on top of all that blah-blah:
- Drive will provide another stream of focussed, targeted advertising revenue. The data that people store will be very useful to Google’s expansion of such methods of selling.
- the videos stored will be available on Google+ which will assist in the promotion of the social network.
Who Else Has a Cloud?
Speculation is mounting that as acquisitions by Facebook look set to delay its IPO buyout a little and reduce its capital mountain, it too may be looking to enter this market. Snapping up Dropbox cannot be ruled out after their £1b purchase of Instagram and 650 technology patents from Microsoft for $550m.
There is already a host of large and small companies offering cloud computing, many providing niche/specialist services such as consulting or gateways. In fact, there are so many providers now that there are sites that review and rate them, such as TopTenReviews.
So far in 2012 they put iCloud top overall, followed by Egnyte HybridCloud, Google Apps, OpenDrive, Dropbox and then Amazon Cloud. Ratings, reviews and testings may not always have the rigour of Which? consumer magazine and may be subject to rewarded inclusion, such as on many comparison websites for insurance and the like. However, it is a guide to help the beginner looking to the skies for inspiration.
Also, Dessol offers cloud based hosting running on Amazon Web Services, along with consultancy advice which helps other businesses in deploying their own cloud hosting.
SMEs and Clouds
In March the BBC Business News ran a series on how small and medium businesses use technology. John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace Hosting, founder of Openstack, the open source cloud operating system, said that third party cloud services over the net without a contract was ‘transforming how SMEs use IT and do business’.
Engates felt the cloud ‘democratised information technology’ and allowed small businesses to appear like bigger organisations. Therefore cloud computing had a ‘positive impact on industries and economies alike’, although he conceded it was not the ‘panacea for all IT problems’.
Increased cloud spending from business indicates that people are finding ways to adapt and work round limitations and exploit advantages. Start-ups particularly are embracing the possibilities enthusiastically. The general feeling is that the cloud market can only grow as all sizes of enterprises and even governments jump aboard.
Image: Giancarlo Rossi