Defogging the cloud-computing myth


4 Jan 2010

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Too many companies think cloud computing isn’t for them, but Martha Rotter, developer and platform team, Microsoft Ireland, believes there’s something for everyone.

During a recent discussion with a handful of IT industry executives, the topic of cloud computing arose. While I was not surprised to learn that several of the organisations present were not making specific cloud-based adjustments to their software offerings, it was interesting to discover that many other organisations were discounting cloud computing completely.

The reasons not to invest in cloud computing focused on existing investments, scale and price, with a frequent comment being, “We’re not large enough for it to make any difference for us to shift to the cloud.”

This is a common misconception in the IT industry today, and companies that believe they are too small or do not have the investment funds to use cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) are missing opportunities to save both money and time.

There are many services out there that manage infrastructure for organisations, for example, and charge companies a monthly fee, which saves the up-front costs of building it from scratch, as well as the maintenance and personnel costs. Other companies provide services or storage for free in exchange for various terms and conditions, such as viewing advertisements or the ability to use customer data in some way.

Here are a few cloud computing and SaaS offerings that require very little up-front investment, but offer significant savings in terms of time and money for any company, large or small.

File Storage: Drop.io

Drop.io is simple, real-time sharing of files, and they give you 100MB for free. There are business plans for companies who need more space, and there is an Outlook plug-in to allow easier

e-mailing of very large attachments. This is an easy solution to an often-painful problem. Organisations who need to share large files, whether they are images, slides, media files, or other types, frequently run into problems with attachments being blocked by mail servers, mail boxes that are too full, or inability to access the file from wherever the receiver is. Drop.io elegantly solves these problems and keeps it very simple.

Live Chat Services: Meebo

Customers do not want to wait on a phone to speak with a live customer service representative anymore. Why not give them the ability to visit a company’s website and chat live, in the browser, with customer service? Meebo lets users use one of many messaging services they are already familiar with, and companies can embed a small widget on their website to make it easy for anyone with a question about their product or service to ask quickly and painlessly.

File Backup and Sharing: PutPlace.com

Frozen hard drives, corrupt data, faulty upgrades and stolen hardware are very real nightmares for individuals with valuable data stored only locally. PutPlace gives users peace of mind by automating file backup to the cloud.

Note Aggregation: Evernote

Evernote is the simple solution to a problem everyone has: taking notes and being able to find them. Its easy input system allows a user to capture web pages, text notes, photos, screenshots, voice memos and other forms of noteworthy information. Everything captured by Evernote is indexed and searchable, and users can add tags or organise items into ways that make sense. This ends up making item search and recovery very fast. Evernote even enables searching through handwritten text notes.

File Replication/Synchronisation: Live Mesh

Information workers frequently work at several different computers. It is painful to get home and realise the document you need to edit was saved onto a desktop folder in the office. Live Mesh replicates files from one machine to another and keeps them updated across various devices. Additionally it backs up 5GB of data for free to the cloud. The file that is edited at the office is now viewable at home, on a mobile phone, on the web, and on any computer where a user has installed Live Mesh.

Collaboration Services: Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)

The idea of hosting and maintaining an Exchange server is often not appealing to small companies without resources. Microsoft now offers its Business Productivity Online Suite including hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, LiveMeeting and Office Communications for companies who need highly available and secure communication and collaboration tools.

All of the above solutions can be used on their own or in collaboration with each other. Many have both free and paid versions depending on the level of use and support. This is by no means an exhaustive list and new solutions arrive on the scene quite regularly. By taking the time to examine some of the existing SaaS offerings, companies can save a lot of money and time in the long term.

By Martha Rotter

Martha Rotter

Photo: Martha Rotter, developer and platform team, Microsoft Ireland.