Moving Your Business To The Cloud

by Stephen Cole on October 28, 2014

office computer to cloud storage transferPricing for cloud data storage and email hosting have dropped dramatically in the past year, causing small businesses to consider the possible cost savings of moving most if not all their applications and data online. The media buzz about the wonders of cloud technology not withstanding, there are some pluses and minuses to outsourcing vital services to online vendors. I will look at the most important features that cloud services offer and examine their pros and cons.

File Sharing and Collaboration:

The ability for small business to save files to the cloud and have users share and collaborate on that work is a huge plus. Before the advent of OneDrive, Google Apps and Dropbox, businesses would need an expensive on-premise SharePoint server to accomplish the same thing. Microsoft OneDrive is now available for as little as $5 per month for 1 TB of storage. Google Drive offers 1 TB of data for $10 per month, and Dropbox for Business features unlimited storage for $15 per user per month. Note that I am referencing the business versions of these products- the “home” versions, such as Dropbox and Dropbox Pro do not feature the more robust collaboration tools and security that OneDrive and Google offer.

Hosted Email:

Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps and other Exchange hosting providers offer business-class email, calendar and contacts sharing/syncing, etc. that previously would have required an in-house Exchange server. Pricing for these services is dropping as I write this. Office 365 goes for as little as $5 per user per month including 1 TB of OneDrive data storage. Google Apps for Work has similar pricing. Third-party Exchange hosting providers typically charge more than MS or Google, but may have additional services that MS or google can’t provide.

Outsourced IT:

Switching to a cloud-based provider means not having to pay for in-house support for these services. The monthly /yearly fee includes 24/7/365 support for the product. The quality of support varies widely, so just because a vendor says they offer it doesn’t mean it will be delivered in a timely manner. This is often a deal breaker if a customer has to be on hold for over an hour to get their email working.

Robust Security and Backup:

Redundant and secure data centers with multiple backups means a customer doesn’t have to worry about backing up their cloud data and email. Encrypted upload/download links means data stays secure when transmitted. These are all advertised features that for the most part hold true. Some customers are not comfortable with storing sensitive data in the cloud no matter what the security is, so they stick to local storage and backup with all its inherent risks.

Application compatibility:

Office 365 and Google Apps allow users to open, edit and save files using native apps such as MS Excel or Google Sheets whether or not the user has those installed on their device. Dropbox requires that you have the software installed on your device in order to open many file types.

Summary:

Dropbox is easy to set up and start using for non-technical users, but is really targeted to the home user or home office, unless you’re willing to pay a lot more for the business version. You’ll need to do that if you want business-class file versioning, which is already included in the entry-level Office 365 and Google products. If you want hosted email, you’ll have to use another 3rd party vendor. It’s hard to justify Dropbox’s pricing when you can get the same features for less from Office 365 or Google.

Google Apps for Work offers low pricing and for both cloud storage and email and relatively easy set up. Non-profits and companies on a budget can save on software by using the native Google apps instead of paying for multiple licenses of MS Office. The problem with Google Apps is getting them to work with other users who have MS Office. This can be a deal breaker for businesses that need to present a professional front. Cloud storage prices are low but are pooled across an account, which can cause unexpected added costs.

Microsoft Office 365 is more complicated to set up and use, but offices that are already using MS Office should find the transition relatively smooth. Microsoft is aggressively pricing their product to match or beat Google. Combine hosted Exchange email, 1 TB of OneDrive storage per user, built-in compatibility with existing MS Office products along with cloud-based versions of the same, and you have a very compelling product.

My next post will compare Microsoft Office 365 Hosted Exchange email to 3rd party Hosted Exchange providers. Stay tuned.

 

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