Why Cloud Computing IT should be the first choice for new businesses
You’re starting a new businesses, maybe selling cakes, printing tee-shirts, providing financial advice; you know you are going to need some sort of IT, but to be honest you have better things you could be spending your time and money on.
Pretty much every business is going to need some form of computing: to run an accounting package, send emails, store documents, run some form of customer relationship management package, not to mention the website. On top of that you probably need telephones, possibly something that can divert calls to the right people or take voice mail. So you start you’re shopping list: some PCs, an internet connection, a server to store the documents and run your applications, a PBX for the phone, and then consultants to set all these things up.
But, you are a new business maybe with a loan from the bank, the amount of capital you have is fixed and really you want to spend that on the things which are going to make you money, your stock, your manufacturing or production equipment, your advertising. And how much should you invest in the IT? Is your business going to grow quickly in which case you may want to buy better equipment at the beginning, or do you start off small but then have to replace it in a year’s time when the server or PBX is struggling to cope?
This is where Cloud hosted services can really help. First of all, what is “Cloud”, besides the marketing people’s favourite buzzword? It’s a big subject but from the perspective of small and start-up businesses it basically means using servers or services hosted by someone else, and paying for them monthly as an operating cost instead of using capital to buy equipment and software and run them on your own premises.
Here’s some examples: Email has been a Cloud product for a long time, we’re all used to using Gmail or Hotmail. We don’t know or care where the email servers are, they are up there in the cloud somewhere. Saving your personal files, pictures, music in the cloud is now becoming common place with services like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive.
As a business your needs are sometimes a bit more complex. A good example is a line of business application shared by say 5 people, it needs to run on a server to be shared, it needs to store and link to Office type documents, maybe quotes or letters, and it needs to email out to customers. You also want to be able to access it from home, from the car/train, or from a customer’s site. This is where the other part of the Cloud comes in, remote desktop hosting, also known as hosted desktop or remote web applications.
This uses a technology called Terminal Services. The applications, e.g. MS Office, Sage Accounting, ACT CRM, run on the cloud servers and the user connects to a remote desktop, often called a virtual desktop, over the Internet. They can be accessed from any device and from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. So, why is this better than running the application on a server in the office? Basically, flexibility and cost.
The server is paid for, maintained, monitored, repaired, and upgraded by the hosting company, you just pay a monthly rental fee. The software licences, which can be a significant cost if bought upfront, are instead paid for monthly (and this usually means you always get the latest versions). If your company is doing well and you want to add more users you just add them, but the real flexibility comes in where you need to reduce numbers as you can usually just cut the numbers down and reduce your monthly fee. If you had bought full licences for these users you would be stuck with them. The other big IT investment is telephones; individual phone lines and an onsite PBX are expensive, and inflexible.
Hosted telephony using Voice over IP is the way forwarded. Using your broadband to carry the phone signal instead of a fixed line means you can scale the number of external lines up or down as your business needs. Costs are typically a fraction of that of a fixed line and call charges are generally much lower.
Most hosted telephony systems can also provide you with Enterprise level functionality such as automated attendants (press 1 for Sales, 2 for Accounts etc.), voice mail, and the ability to call in from another phone such as your mobiles to request your calls be diverted to that number. This is on top of the normal functionality you would expect from a PBX such as transferring calls. Again you would only pay for this on a monthly basis from your operating budget, although there may be some capital outlay for IP desk phones. When choosing a hosting provider there are a few things to look out for: Flexible contract, you don’t want to be locked into long term contracts, look for providers that allow you to flex up and down and only contract on a month by month basis.
UK data centres are important if you have Data Protection concerns.
Service Level Agreements that guarantee up time of at least 99%.
Around the clock support.
Ideally look for providers who own their own equipment and are not renting from another provider and most importantly look for a company with experience.
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