Remember those SAT questions: a bat is to a ball as a shoe is to a ____?

Well, as much as we hated them, let me use this to explain what cloud computing is and how it can change the way you work. Here goes:

Cloud computing is to your office computer as a cell phone is to a land line.

We (okay most of us) remember what is was like to work before cell phones. Running.. running to grab the phone on your desk, running to pick up your voice messages or running to grab a phone at the airport the minute you got off the plane. Cell phones freed us from being tethered to the office. You can work from anywhere, at anytime. And for smart phone users, you have email, calendars & contacts with you at all times.Yes, its ubiquitous, but none of us want to go back.

 

Yet for all this freedom, we are still tethered to our office computers and servers. The programs we use every day, our word documents & files, accounting, contacts… the list goes on. Smart phone users allow you to access your calendar and contacts, but I bet you still have had that ‘oh no’ moment when you had to run back to the office (or home computer for those who work from home) to get that file, the word doc, pull up an invoice, etc. You can use a program like PC Anywhere to log in to the office from your laptop, but its slow and limited.

Cloud computing simply means that your documents, photos and programs are stored in server farms maintained by companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft. You can, safely and securely manage an entire office or organization from any computer or laptop anywhere. Accounting, email, customer management, word documents, file sharing…whatever you need.

Here’s a list of Q&A that address many concerns that I hear:

Q: is it safe? and is it secure?

A: Yes. The companies that manage cloud programs host your information on multiple mega server farms. Your data is encrypted (garbles your data to make it unusable to anyone but you), automatically backed up and mirrored into 2 locations around the country (e.g.:in case CA has an earthquake, your data is fine and in NY). Security? The Cloud is as safe, or safer, than the firewalls your IT guy built into your server .. and certainly safer than your laptop.

Q: Are these ‘cloud’ programs as good as the ones I am using?

A: Absolutely. Here are some examples:

  • GoogleDocs does everything that Microsoft’s Word does but saves it in the Cloud. Create and edit a word document, save it and find it from any computer, laptop or smartphone.
  • Skype: nothing more need to be said. Ask any grandparent whose grandchildren live out of town.
  • Quickbooks online. I have been using Quickbooks online for 4 years, integrated it with my bank accounts, set up my tax payments and added my CPA as a limited user. I can generate an invoice, pay my sales tax, run a report and send a payment on my time.
  • Evernote: Clip a section of a website from your desktop, laptop or tablet, clip a photo from a webpage or one that you took on your phone and save them all to your Evernote account. And when you want to access any of it, no matter what device you saved it on, simple log in at www.evernote.com and its all there. All of it.

Q: Ok but let me ask again: Is it really safe?

A: Yes. Companies like Amazon and Google aren’t going out of business any time soon and use the same protection that your financial institutions use. If you have ever paid a bill online, paid for a book or your iTunes with a credit card, paid your taxes or renewed your drivers license online….you have used the Cloud.

And to my fellow Floridians: remember the hurricanes of 2007? How many of you were out of work until your office got its power back. With cloud computing, you will be back at work from anywhere you have power. And not only you….with the cloud, your entire office can be collaborating from their home, Starbucks or from out of town.

For those who are reluctant to embrace the cloud, think about it the next time you answer your cell phone instead of running to grab your land line.

Reprinted from SmallBusinessBlog.