10 Ways Of Doing Business In The Cloud

Clive Lobo

Today more than ever it is possible to run an entire business in the cloud.

Here are a few examples of how you can run your business in the cloud with outstanding software that is either free, or very inexpensive. I use the majority of these tools on a regular basis in our company. Of course there are many alternatives to the ones I’ve listed below. It’s up to you to make the leap and try some of them out yourself before settling on your favorites.

  1. CRM – SugarCRM
    Free for the community Edition

    SugarCRM is commercial CRM software developed Open Source. That means you can download and run the Community Edition, extend it yourself without any licensing costs. It’s a complete CRM system that is fully web enabled. If you want the support of a commercial software company can you license SugarCRM and get the enterprise support you need.

    With 3rd party modules for integrating with MS Outlook, Gmail, Blackberry and more it’s a good choice for a CRM system.

  2. Email & Calendar: Gmail & Google Calendar

    I spent the first 10 years of my career sending and receiving mail inside of MS Outlook. I have several 2 gig PST files archived on DVD with emails I will never look at. I spent many hours archiving messages, and repairing damaged PST files. Not to  mention having to wait to check my email when I left my computer somewhere.

    I’ve since made the choice to switch entirely to Gmail for managing my inbox. It handles multiple accounts, filters, tagging, signatures and more. There is even a great Gmail to Blackberry synchronization application. Now I never wait or worry about checking my email.

    I feel the same way with Google Calendar. With shared calendars you can easily view and manage your calendar long with colleagues and devices. Create a calendar for your projector or boardroom, share it with your colleagues and don’t bother with MS Exchange!

  3. Project Management: Basecamp
    $24.95 / month for the basic account

    Over the years I’ve used quite a few project management applications and services. None of them are as easy to use as Basecamp. While it does not support gantt charts and advanced project management techniques (that’s better left to MS Project or OpenProject) it does provide the platform to manage a team of individuals on a project, integrate email and documentation in an intuitive platform. You can even bring your clients into it and have them work with you on the projects.

  4. File Storage: Skydrive + Gladinet or Amazon S3 + Jungle Disk
    Not free but very affordable

    In this category I have to paired solutions. I’ve done much more work with Amazon S3 coupled with Jungle Disk so I’ll start there. First, S3 is just a giant set of disks in the sky with basic security. You need a tool to get at the disk space and that’s where Jungle Disk comes into play. Not only is JungleDisk a good backup utility to back your data up from one ore more computers, you can use it to create a mounted drive to your S3 storage allowing you to drag and drop files as needed. If that was not enough, Jungle Disk offers a basic web interface into your S3 storage so you can upload, delete, download and create directories right from the browser.

    If you’re working with distributed teams this may just be the best way to share files with one another and not have to worry about centralized hardware, VPN’s and FTP.

    You can achieve the same results with Microsofts SkyDrive (25 gigs)  coupled with a product called Gladinet. I have used this combination a little bit over the last few weeks and it appears to be promising. The downside? Limited file storage although it is free storage. I suggest you give both a try and see which one suits your needs best.

  5. Uptime Monitoring: Service Up Time
    $4.95 / month for the standard edition

    Need to make sure you website is up and running? Why download and run your own software which would only check from  your single location when you can use a service like Service Up Time and check from multiple points around the world. The service is super affordable and allows you to check multiple domains at various intervals and with different protocols. If a site is down, you get a nice email warning you of the issue. You can’t beat that.

  6. Documents / Notes: Google Docs & Evernote

    I’ve recently been on a small mission to break away from the Microsoft (and in some cases Apple) stranglehold on my data. So I’ve done some experimenting with Google Docs, Evernote and Open Office. We’ll leave Open Office out of the discussion for now. I like Google Docs for two core reasons. First, it’s collaborative so I can use it to easily work with our distributed teams around the world. Second, each document has a publishable URL so I can easily integrate individual documents into the MY Portal section of SugarCRM making it even easier to share these common documents with our teams! The only downside is that Google has our data. Fortunately, we’ve got nothing Google might be interested in.

    For my personal note taking needs I’ve settled on the “Free” version of Evernote. The web based interface is stunningly simple to use and all my notes are conveniently stored in the cloud. I can access them from any computer I’m on including my dual boot Ubuntu / Vista laptop.

    The only downside here is that my data is stored in the cloud with a proprietary format and commercial company. If they go out of business I may not get my data back. However, that is still probably safer than storing my data myself and running the risk of losing to due to theft or hard drive failure.

  7. Bookmarks: Delicious

    Ahhh, one of the greatest solutions to bookmarking dilemmas. Storing your bookmarks in your browser may be fine if you only have one computer and never leave your house. I on the other hand have several computers, multiple offices, and am constantly travelling. The result – I never know when or where I’ll need access to my bookmarks. So, I leverage Delicious heavily to store and tag my bookmarks making them available to me whenever I need them from wherever I am. No need for crazy “bookmark synching tools”!

  8. FeedReader: Google Reader

    Some say RSS readers and RSS in general are on the way out. I happen to disagree. I consume all of my news and content via Google Reader. It’s the simplest way for me to gain quick access to the information I need on a regular basis without having to virtually travel out to all of those websites.

    With the power of RSS I also keep track of our projects from Basecamp, and also my friend feed from Facebook.

  9. Backup: Data Deposit Box
    Free Trial, and I think it’s roughly $2 / gig for storage.

    Backing up data is critical and online data storage services have made it even more simple and safe. I’ve used a few different services including JungleDisk, and Mozy. Data Deposit Box makes it affordable and extremely reliable both for the individual user and the enterprise. I recommend you give them a try!

  10. File & Folder Synchronization: Live Mesh

    Ohhhh, this is one my favorite offerings from Microsoft. Live Mesh is a file and folder synchronization utility that works with both Macs and PCs as well as other mobile devices (coming soon).  Live Mesh will synchronize folders and files from all of your enabled devices to a “desktop” in the cloud which you can then log into and access your files and it also synchronizes them amongst all of the enabled devices. A new file on computer will seamlessly find it’s way to your desktop in the cloud and all of the enabled computers.

    Now you don’t have to worry manually synchronizing files with your home computer, office computer, and cottage computer – let Live Mesh take care of it all.

    The only downside is that there is a 5 gig limit. So don’t use this to sync your music library. Instead keep it focused on work related files and you should be safe!

As you can see from this collection of 10 cloud based services it is entirely possible to do business in the cloud. More importantly it is cheaper to use these services and  easier to roll them out and manage them. It can also improve your employees productivity. They are no longer tied down to a single computer but can easily move between multiple computers, even ones that are not their own.

If you have never considered moving to the cloud I highly recommend you think about it now. The time has come when it’s safe and prudent to do so!

Clive Lobo

Spark’s resident boss man, Clive possesses the very nature of an entrepreneurial spirit.

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