The cloud computing wars heated up at the beginning of the summer when Microsoft announced that Office 2010 would come with free Internet-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You don’t have to purchase the Office 2010 suite in order to use them. But unlike Google Apps, which are also free, Microsoft’s cloud-based programs aren’t really intended to be a replacement for the word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs that live on your computer. Rather, they’re best thought of as an add-on that will enable better collaboration and mobile access.
Both Google and Microsoft offer souped-up paid versions of their cloud services. Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, or BPOS-S, is available for as little as $10 per user per month. Google Apps costs $50 per user per year – quite a bit less, but already Google has lost one marquee customer to Microsoft after complaints about lack of functionality and poor customer service.
While these battles rage on in the enterprise, you might wonder what this means for the small business world. If you’re like most small business owners, you’re more concerned about preserving the value of the technology you’ve already invested in rather than throwing your whole technology architecture out the window in favor of the latest and greatest. So chances are you’re not quite ready to put your whole business in the cloud.
And as long as there are security concerns around the cloud – including how your data gets from your location into the cloud and back, where the data actually lives, and how you control who accesses it – many businesses will continue to opt for old-fashioned, offline local control.
That said, there will be times when a cloud solution just makes sense. If you’ve got multiple authors collaborating on a single document, do you really want to bother with multiple copies on multiple hard drives, going through multiple revisions, passed around through endless chains of email? Or do you want everybody to be able to work on a single document in a single place at the same time?
Over time, your business will likely evolve into a hybrid application architecture that includes in-house applications (the programs that are on your hard drive or that you access through an in-house server), hosted applications (for example, Web hosting or hosted Exchange email), and cloud technology. In the end what you want is something that minimizes costs, increases productivity, and doesn’t have you tearing your hair out over how to manage it. Low-cost, collaboration-friendly cloud applications will play an important role in making that vision a reality.