As more and more of us decide to use the cloud for our personal and professional lives, the number of options available for small businesses is on the increase. Microsoft 360 Office has been around for some time now as has Google Apps for Work. Both compete for this share of the market and that is good news. Competition means they have to offer us more if they want to grab and keep our attention and our business.
This year Google launched Drive for Work – a new version of Drive and Google apps for businesses which comes with extra security features. What is interesting is it offers unlimited storage space and an upload of five terabytes. If you can find anything that big to upload then good luck! All of this for around £6 a month per subscription or user. Or you can keep the regular Google Apps for Business for half the price.
Office 365 – Microsoft’s Cloud version of Office, has grown in popularity and is something our clients have been asking for over the last year or so. We have now put 1400 seats on Office 365 and expect that number to grow. If you already use Office this is an easy transition. Everything will be familiar. You can buy Office 365 Small Business from around £3 a month and that will allow you to have up to 25 users, however, the Business Enterprise at £7.80 gives you much more for your money, including 5 full copies of Office 2013 as well as Office online, Email, Sharepoint, Sky Drive and Lync messaging.
I should also mention there are other Cloud computing systems for businesses including Amazon (it’s not just for those last minute Christmas presents!). However I’m going to focus on the pros and cons of the ones we use – Google and Microsoft – as well as our hosted virtual desktops.
Google Apps for Business does join the dots. So you can convert emails into Calendar events, launch a Hangouts video meeting and use Google Apps sync to continue using or switch to a number of the Microsoft Outlook services. There is storage of up to 30GB too with the option to buy more.
Google Docs is basically an online version of word and excel and you can update in real time. You can also do this on Office. In other words, while one person is writing in a document, another can see it being done. It is a bit like invisible writing which magically appears.
The new Drive for Work supports an application called Google Apps Vault which is where you can store and search your organisation’s email for compliance and legal requirements. It is an additional cost but could be useful.
The Downside: If you’re a business that relies on continuous access to your documents you won’t find the customer service as fast and responsive as a dedicated IT support service.
If you buy Office 365 you don’t have to buy Microsoft Office for any of your laptops. One subscription (depending on the plan) allows for five copies of the office 2013 application with every account, which can represent a great saving for a small business.
You can continue working in Office without an internet connection and it will automatically sync once you get one. Google do the same. Both are really useful if you travel a lot and can’t get stable wi-fi.
You no longer have the battle between PCs and Macs/Ipads. Office 365 means you can access word and excel on any device, including mobiles and tablets, without having to worry about compatibility.
The Downside: Office 365 is slightly more expensive than Google but you get the apps everyone is familiar with.
Hosted Virtual Desktops (VDI)
As a small business it may well be too costly to have your own server(s), so a hosted desktop on the Cloud is a way around this. You can choose the amount of storage you need online too.
You will have access to a support team – in our case 24/7 – who will be able to access your computer if required to sort out any issues. You and your team can access your documents on any computer, great if you want to work from home unexpectedly or don’t want to carry a lap top everywhere.
Should the worst happen – fire, flood or a visit by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – your data will be safe in the Cloud. You and your staff will be able to access it remotely and carry on with your business while the problem is resolved.
The Downside: Hosted desktops do cost a little more and you can’t access your documents without internet connection.
My best advice is always to think about what is the most suitable for your business and your staff and work out your budget from there. Do you need 24/7 support? Will you always have access to a stable internet connection? Are staff likely to need to share documents in real time?
1. Google and Microsoft are well-established and have very strong security in place. They also will have back-ups of your data. After all data loss would be extremely damaging to their reputation as well as yours.
2. Go to an IT company which is truly independent i.e. won’t try to sell you either hosted or virtual solution but offers you both options and with a choice of providers.
3. Ensure the IT company is itself a reliable provider. For example we have G-cloud security. This means our systems have been scrutinised and approved by the government and ISO 27001 – Information Security Management Certification.
Andy Hinxman is owner and founder of Keybridge IT Solutions.