The best cloud computing service for your business

The words ‘Cloud computing’ and ‘Cloud storage’ are thrown around a lot, but if you were to ask people what it was, many wouldn’t be able to give you a clear answer.

For instance, they might be conscious that they are a more secure way to store documents as they aren’t attached to your computer – which in many respects is true – however, they don’t understand the full scope of what cloud computing has got to offer.

If we had to describe it broadly, then cloud computing covers everything from document storage, databases, servers and networking, to custom application development and hosting for your business.

It essentially takes your services and moves them outside of your organisation’s local servers or personal devices, and enables you to access them – via the internet – from anywhere. A great example of this is university students. They are able to work on assignment whilst on campus; save it on the cloud, and then return to it when they get home – even if this is hundreds of miles away.

Then there is the added bonus of there being no limit to how much you can store. So whilst devices usually have a limited storage capacity; the cloud does not have this problem (depending the package your cloud computing provider supplies).

As you can imagine, this has resulted in a number of cloud computing providers each vying to support your business through various cloud computing options. So how do you pick? How can you determine who can offer you the best cloud computing service?

To help you with your decision, we shall review all of the best cloud computing solutions on the market; ranging from document storage to pre-built online application usage (that most SMEs use). If you are interested in a more advanced cloud computing solution, please feel free to get in touch with us at Economit.

Before we get started though, let’s go over the ‘types’ of cloud computing that exist:

  1. Public Cloud – these are owned and managed by third-party providers. This includes all hardware, software and infrastructures. With this solution you can access your account via the internet.
  2. Private Cloud – as you can guess, this is a private resource that is exclusive to a single business and is usually located internally. These are often managed by third-party providers; however, the services and infrastructure they use are usually located on a private network.
  3. Hybrid Cloud – this is a hybrid of the two above, as it enables you to bounce data between Public and Private Cloud systems, giving your greater flexibility and security.
  4. Multi-Cloud – in this situation you will have multiple providers managing the cloud infrastructure and applications. This gives you the freedom to pick and choose where you want to place certain pieces of work (usually where it will best perform).

Why should businesses choose cloud computing?

Honestly? There are many reasons why you may want to incorporate a cloud computing solution into your business. For most businesses, the biggest attraction for using the cloud is its ability to let you collaborate in real time. This instantly boosts productivity and reduces response times across departments, buildings or even countries; as you’ll all be able to view the document at the same time.

In addition, cloud computing allows you to access your work from any device with internet. This is especially helpful when members of your team are forced to work remotely (due to illness, travelling or meetings across country); as it enables you to continue working collaboratively.

Advantages

  • Cost – cloud computing eliminates the need to spend money on hardware, software and on-site data centres in order to store your work.
  • Security – cloud providers use remote servers to back-up data, meaning it is impossible for you to lose critical data and applications. Likewise, there is no fear of your company’s computer systems failing.
  • Speed – data can be accessed in most instances on-demand, making it faster and more flexible.
  • Accessible anywhere and at any time – the cloud allows you to access data outside of your organisation’s IT system.
  • Reliable – there is no fear over losing data; costs of recovery, or dealing with disasters.
  • Scalability – the cloud is designed to evolve and grow alongside your business by providing you with just the right amount of IT resources, as and when you need them.

Disadvantages

  • Bandwidth limitations – some cloud providers may only allow you to transfer certain amounts of data at a time. Meaning, if you go over you could face additional charges.
  • Data security – whilst the cloud is incredibly secure, storing data outside of your organisation may make you feel wary, as they are essentially third parties whom you are passing on sensitive data to. For this reason, you need to do your research and ensure you find the right cloud provider, something at Economit we can help you to achieve.
  • Accessibility – find yourself with no internet and you won’t be able to access your stored services or data.
  • Data management – not all data management systems suit cloud systems and their structure, so you need to make sure that they are compatible.
  • Compliance – depending on your industry, you may not be able to work within the cloud. This usually applies to healthcare and financial industries due to the nature of the information that they store.

 

Best Cloud Computing Services

By now you recognise the advantages cloud computing can bring to your business – but how can you pick? How can you choose from the numerous offerings that are out there?

Below we have compiled a list of the top cloud computing services, including all of their pros and cons:

Microsoft Office 365

Best known for boosting business productivity and its work apps; Microsoft Office 365 offers a powerful range of online collaboration and communication services, including Outlook, Skype for Business and OneDrive.

Pros                                                    

  • Most businesses use Microsoft file formats, meaning you will rarely run into compatibility issues when sharing files across organisations.
  • Offers a wide range of tools for improved document creation, customer relationship, and workflow management and communication.Amongst its arsenal are:- Outlook: supplies email management tool-filters, shared calendars and features for managing tasks, files and payments. It also uses AI-enabled data analytics.
    –  Skype for Business – allows you to hold conference calls with up to 250 people and includes recording tools. Its Broadcast feature makes it possible for you to livestream a meeting to 10,000 viewers. It also comes with 24/7 operational support, which is great when you’re working across different time zones.
    – Yammer: a social media network for businesses; it can be used as a repository of data, whilst allowing management to relay news and policy changes efficiently.
    – OneDrive: similar to Google Drive, this tool allows you to real-time edit and collaborate on their other features i.e. Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It comes with 1TB of unlimited cloud storage (depending on your plan).
    – Microsoft Teams: geared towards acting as a forum for collaboration, it focuses on channels i.e. groups of people in the same department or whom are working on the same project. With its support, users can upload files, edit documents (in real time) and initiate meetings.
  • Desktop apps that come with the package have more features than the browser apps – this gives you increased flexibility on how you choose to work.
  • Mobile apps available for all device types – this makes remote working even easier as you can essentially work off any device.
  • Better value for money – in comparison to other providers – whose lower band pricing options have limited storage – Microsoft can offer you enhanced storage choices, even with their cheaper products.- Business Essentials: £3.80
    – Business: £7.90 (comes with 25 licences)
    – Premium: £9.40 (comes with 25 licences and can often be tried for free for 30 days)
    – Enterprise: E1 and E3 (£28.10) and E5 (£48.90) – comes with no free trial option.
  • Apps are quite feature rich – this is great news for businesses, as no matter the task, they can offer a good solution to everyone. In fact, Microsoft Office 365s breadth of tools can easily be used end-to-end by your organisation. From pitching marketing ideas to crunching numbers in your supply chain; you can also take advantage of its business analytics tool, Power BI.
  • You add a business email with their paid subscription – this removes the need of having to go elsewhere, but instead enables you to integrate it into your package.
  • Good storage options – with their Business Premium plan you’ll receive 1TB of personal cloud storage which you can increase in size for an additional fee.
  • Strong security – Office 365 offers Enterprise Mobility and Security; a management platform that allows you to restrict and allow access on certain devices, as well as encrypt data and investigate data leaks/cyberattacks i.e. phishing.

Cons

  • Annual commitment – in order to get their best price, you have to pay monthly fees and commit to an annual deal. Add in the breadth of their pricing options and this can make it complicated for you to pick the best plan for your business.
  • Lack of consistency – some of their apps look different across different operating systems. This can create confusion amongst users working on different devices.
  • Hard to set up – setting it up right is complicated and time consuming.
  • Limited functionality on online features – sadly, some of their features can only work in a limited capacity in comparison to their desktop counterparts. This means employees may encounter some problems when working remotely or on other devices, in comparison to those on a PC.
  • Limited functionality on their free option – so whilst it is nicer on your bank account, it is limited on what it can offer.
  • Suffers from feature bloating – the ribbons on Outlook and its Office apps contain a lot of productivity tools which often result in businesses having to send their employees on lots of training sessions (so they know how to effectively use Office 365).

G-Suite

Renowned for its online collaboration capabilities, G-Suite makes it possible for your business to work together in real-time, thanks to its services such as Google Docs.

Pros

  • Offers both robust free and business options – its free options are significantly better than Office 365. In fact, they cater to a lot of budgets. Their Basic option costs £4.60, their Business option £9.20 and their Enterprise option £20. You can experiment with each of these with a 14 day free trial.
  • Utilises browser-first applications – this ensures that it looks the same across all devices preventing any confusion.
  • Mobile apps available – making it more accessible to employees forced to commute or work whilst on the go i.e. whom travel a lot or are often out of the office at meetings.
  • Intuitive apps – this is particularly true when you compare them to the apps offered by Office 365. Instead, their apps are guided by Google’s data trove which focuses on user behaviour.
  • Business emails are available with paid subscription – Enterprise Gmail includes a few features that are beneficial to businesses, as they can help you to enhance security and privacy. In addition, these emails can be managed by central IT personnel across multiple accounts and devices – plus they guarantee 99.9% uptime and data backups.
  • Google accounts can be used to sign up to other services without needing a new password – this is great for individuals working across multiple things, as there is no risk of you forgetting your password. Just be sure to change it regularly; make it hard to guess, and keep your password secure. TIP: don’t use the same password on everything to prevent a security breach.
  • Straight forward to use – from setting it up, to choosing a pricing plan; the whole process is simple, stress free and not overwhelming.
  • Google Drive – similar to Office, Google Drive can provide your business with cloud storage, word processing, spreadsheets and a variety of presentation tools.
  • Comes with an option for unlimited storage – this option is more expensive; however, in comparison to other services, it is better than their high price bands. For instance, with their Basic edition you’ll receive 30GB of data each, whilst with their Business and Enterprise options, you’ll receive unlimited storage.
  • One-off cost for Google Drive – it is possible to make standalone purchases with G-Suite, instead of paying monthly. This is approximately £6.39 per active user, with additional costs of £0.80 per 25GB used.
  • Hangout Chats – deeply intuitive, from this messaging app you can schedule events on the calendar; upload files from the Drive, and export chats to Vault with just a few simple clicks.
  • Google Meet – like Skype, Meet allows you to hold and attend video conferences both inside and outside of the company. It also supports screen sharing and can host 25 to 100 people, which is ideal when members of the team are working remotely. You can even sync between devices, and move from one device to another during the same meeting. In addition, you can broadcast to up to 100,000 viewers.
  • Google Vault – this archiving tool allows you to store and manage your emails, chats, recordings and Drive files. On top of this, you can set up passwords and expiry dates for data, which is great for maximising security (GDPR), whilst keeping your storage clean and your archives relevant.
  • Good security – G-Suite utilises Identity and Access Management services which allow you to control credentials and access of all users. Administrators can also set up parameters that will enable you to detect when an email or a document stored on Google Drive contains potentially sensitive data. Should this occur, you will be given the option to either quarantine it or block it from being shared – both of which are great for GDPR.

Cons

  • Not 100% secure – the security features on their free and lower price bands are not as strong; making them susceptible/at risk of data leaks or being sharing with unauthorised parties.
  • Less tools and applications – G-Suite doesn’t offer the full range of tools and application types that you can find with Office 365.
  • Document conversion issues – whilst you can create files and save them as a Microsoft file type; when they are uploaded to the cloud these MS files don’t always convert perfectly, making them tricky to open.
  • While call and chat functionalities are available through Hangouts or by using integration tools such as Slack; they can’t compete with Microsoft Team. In fact, there is no equivalent to Microsoft Team where everything can be accessed and used from a central platform.

There is no doubt that Office 365 and G-Suite are the two frontrunners when it comes to SME cloud computing. Able to offer you an array of apps and services – beyond document creation and storage – they can help you to cover all of the bases.

However, if you’re looking for a simpler solution or are only interested in simple document collaboration and storage; then you may be more interested in the following suggestions.

And they are definitely worth considering:

Dropbox / Box for Business

Dropbox is widely known for its file-sharing capabilities and is often used in universities as it serves as a personal online hard drive. Likewise, Dropbox has proven itself to be ideal for small businesses and customers as it allows you to store files and documents virtually through remote cloud servers.

Its tech is admittedly a lot less advanced/technical than Office 365 and G-Suite. However, it is widely popular as it is constantly striving to keep up with the competition and offer you additional solutions. In fact, they are more than a ‘filing cabinet’ and are branching out.

  1. Smart Sync – this new feature allows users to pull up any file that you’ve ever shared on Dropbox, download it to your desktop or make it accessible online only.
  2. Dropbox Paper – this enables real-time document editing that can be shared with multiple people. Amongst its features are the ability to create task lists; drag and drop images, videos and audio clips, and assign tasks. Thanks to its limited formatting options, the interface is less cluttered which is ideal for file-heavy projects.
  3. Dropbox Transfer – this is still in the beta phase, but will allow users to send up to 100GB of data through links, as well as set expiration dates on availability. You will also be able to review analytics and see how many people have downloaded the file.
  4. Slack – this feature allows you to send files over chat or talk whilst inside Dropbox. Users can also directly import their Dropbox files into any chat channel.
  5. Zoom – similar to Google’s Hangouts and Microsoft’s Skype; Zoom allows you to initiate video calls for meetings, share files by dragging and dropping, and monitor who is sharing what content.

Pros

  • Can create and edit both Microsoft and Google file types – which if we’re honest are the most common kind of documents that you’ll be working on.
  • Integrates with Slack for document storage and sharing.
  • Seamless interface – this pro is often attributed to this service being built around a simple premise – easy file sharing and storage. It doesn’t seek to overcomplicate itself, making it more widely accessible and easier to use.
  • Free option – it is possible to get Dropbox for free; however, for better functionality we suggest investing in either their Standard package (£11.97) or their Advanced package (£19.95). They do offer an Enterprise plan, but prices have to be requested.
  • High level of security and access management – in comparison to Microsoft 365 and G-Suite, Dropbox’s security options are more limited and aren’t ideal for businesses who deal with highly sensitive information i.e. those in healthcare or finance. Instead, with Dropbox project managers will have the ability to toggle access to files and remotely wipe files from connected devices. For an added fee, you can gain the ability to set passwords and expiry dates on files.
  • Allows users to access any saved data or content from any device as long as it has an internet connection.
  • Is available as a desktop app which users can easily download and then use to save their files directly (into a Dropbox folder found on your desktop).
  • Lots of free trial versions – allowing you to test this cloud computing service and see if it fulfils your needs. We suggest taking advantage of their 30 day free trial.
  • Massive storage options – Standard users receive as much as 3TB of data, whilst Advanced users can take advantage of unlimited storage spaces. You can also opt for storage-only solutions such as Dropbox Plus where you’ll receive 2TB of storage, whilst Professional users usually get 3TB.

Cons

  • Storage limits can be quickly met – it hasn’t got the biggest storage options (in comparison to its competition), making it unsuitable for larger businesses.
  • Access and functionality issues have been reported in relation to its long subfolder string – this can negatively affect productivity across the team because if you cannot access the documents you need, you cannot get your work done.
  • Uploaded files sometimes experience formatting Issues – creating accessibility problems on top of an inability to maintain consistency.
  • Has got less functionality compared to apps in its native environment.

Ultimately, the product you choose will be affected by more than its features. You also need to take into account their cost, your number of users and their functionality.

For that reason, we have created a comparative rundown of each solution, so you can make an informed decision on which is best for you.

After all, whilst Microsoft 365, G-Suite and even Dropbox are the most popular; this doesn’t mean they’ll be the perfect fit for you.

iWork

Pros

  • Can convert files into popular Microsoft file types such as Word, Excel, etc., ensuring employees see documents in the same format (improving consistency).
  • Can use in browsers on any device – enabling employees to work on the go or remotely from home, as documents can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.
  • Comes with a range of free apps.
  • Higher level of design features than MS or Google presentation types.

Cons

  • Desktop apps only work on apple devices – this can prove costly as you’ll have to kit all of your employees with apple devices.
  • Whilst its free apps are appealing, if you require additional cloud storage you may have to pay for it.

Zoho

Pros

  • Comes with free and paid options – naturally, the more you pay, the functions you’ll have access to. Of the apps though, it is the most affordable as it follows a freemium model i.e. if your team consists of less than 25 users, you can use their free plan (this has limited features though). Alternatively, you can pay $5 per user per month for their Standard plan or $8 per user per month for their premium plan.
  • Simple to set up – whilst it is not as advanced as the others, what it lacks in features it makes up for in ease of use and pricing. Amongst its features, you will be able to:- Transfer document ownership
    – Email in feature: this allows you to send documents from your scanner to your Zoho Docs without having to sign in.
    – Group sharing: here you can create a group alias and share documents with its members.
  • Great customer support.
  • Similar functionality to Google – which is handy if you are already used to that system as you’ll be able to easily transition onto this one. Its package includes: Zoho’s Office Suite which comprises of Zoho Writer (similar to Word), Zoho Sheets (similar to Excel) and Zoho Show (similar to PowerPoint).
  • Access stats for documents – it allows you to see how many people have viewed a document that you have shared.
  • Designed with small businesses in mind.
  • Has got an integrated app ecosystem similar to Microsoft (but not as prevalent) – within their offering you can take advantage of its sister products including Zoho CRM, Zoho Support, Zoho Reports, Zoho Projects, etc. They also offer an Android and iPhone app, plus an extension for Chrome making it more easily accessible across devices.

 

Cons

  • Smaller storage for money compared to other providers – the free plan only gives users 1GB of storage which is not enough for even small businesses. To get the storage you need, you have to pay for their Standard and Premium plans.

Pros

  • Comes with free and paid options – naturally, the more you pay, the functions you’ll have access to. Of the apps though, it is the most affordable as it follows a freemium model i.e. if your team consists of less than 25 users, you can use their free plan (this has limited features though). Alternatively, you can pay $5 per user per month for their Standard plan or $8 per user per month for their premium plan.
  • Simple to set up – whilst it is not as advanced as the others, what it lacks in features it makes up for in ease of use and pricing. Amongst its features, you will be able to:- Transfer document ownership
    – Email in feature: this allows you to send documents from your scanner to your Zoho Docs without having to sign in.
    – Group sharing: here you can create a group alias and share documents with its members.
  • Great customer support.
  • Similar functionality to Google – which is handy if you are already used to that system as you’ll be able to easily transition onto this one. Its package includes: Zoho’s Office Suite which comprises of Zoho Writer (similar to Word), Zoho Sheets (similar to Excel) and Zoho Show (similar to PowerPoint).
  • Access stats for documents – it allows you to see how many people have viewed a document that you have shared.
  • Designed with small businesses in mind.
  • Has got an integrated app ecosystem similar to Microsoft (but not as prevalent) – within their offering you can take advantage of its sister products including Zoho CRM, Zoho Support, Zoho Reports, Zoho Projects, etc. They also offer an Android and iPhone app, plus an extension for Chrome making it more easily accessible across devices.

 

Cons

  • Smaller storage for money compared to other providers – the free plan only gives users 1GB of storage which is not enough for even small businesses. To get the storage you need, you have to pay for their Standard and Premium plans.
  • Limited functionality in apps compared to other providers.
  • Free version has got no integrated email and is light on features.

 

WPS Office

Pros

  • Supports Microsoft file types with equal levels of functionality – this makes it easier for you to transfer documents to anyone outside of your team, as they will be able to easily open them.Users can use WPS Office to create and modify word/text documents (including adding images and graphs which you can customise), create spreadsheets (NOTE: its spreadsheet application enables you to easily analyse data due to its in-built formulas and functions) and build presentations (with the Business Edition, employees can collaborate on presentations, share ideas and add comments); convert PDF files into editable documents, and retrieve files/documents that you’ve accidentally deleted (WPS Data Recovery Master).In fact, its Writer application is fully compatible with Microsoft Word, so you can move between the two without issue. Plus it includes a tabbed view feature which enables you to view/edit multiple documents at the same time (from a single screen/window).
  • Free version comes with basic tools i.e word processor, spreadsheet applications and a presentation tool, which is handy for smaller businesses.
  • Lifetime fee option rather than monthly or annual subscription – in other words, you can pay a one-off fee and not have to worry about setting up an annual or monthly direct debit.
  • Works out cheaper than Office 365 – meaning you can receive the same quality of service at a lower price.
  • Compatible with mobile devices – enabling you to access, edit and share documents on your mobile phone and tablet. You can even use your mobile device to show presentations on Wi-Fi cable TVs, projectors and on other devices that have WP Office installed and enabled.
  • Apps for most devices* – its applications are light, efficient and can run on Windows, Linux PCs, iOS and Android devices, making it a cross-platform office suite.

Cons

  • *No apple device apps – this can be limiting as it excludes the use of Macs and other apple devices.
  • Ads pop up on free version – this can be frustrating and can often slow the page down.
  • Fewer integrations than Google and Microsoft versions.

 

LibreOffice

Pros

  • Compatible with MS document types – based on the OpenOffice codebase (which was originally a free alternative to Microsoft Office), you can move between LibreOffice and Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher without experiencing any inconsistencies in formatting. Instead, you can confidently use them to create professional looking letters, brochures, financial reports, presentations, diagrams etc.Its PowerPoint feature is particularly impressive as you can add 3D scenes and images, as well as create slide shows. Likewise, users can utilise its drawing program to create eye-catching sketches, graphics and diagrams, which is perfect for businesses who require technical drawings, brochures and posters as you can create them yourself.
  • Offers a wide range of extensions (plugins) and templates – users can harness these to add new functionalities to its tools, enabling you to create documents quicker, easier and more efficiently.
  • Spreadsheet supports multiple users – allowing team members to collaborate without encountering editing conflicts. Instead, they can share alterations with each other and add new data with a few quick clicks.
  • Ideal for small businesses or those on a limited budget.
  • It is a 100% free and open source office suite.
  • Experiences frequent updates by community volunteers* – this can be a blessing and curse. On the one hand these updates are done for free; however, there is a greater risk of mistakes happening.
  • Powerful database management system – offers native drivers for popular multi-user database engines e.g. MySQL/MariaDB, Adabas D, MS Access and PostgreSQL. This means you can connect virtually with other database engines.
  • Accessibility with ODF (OpenDocument Format) – it comes with flexible capabilities of the ODF which is an open, ISO standardised file format that is supported by other office programs. As a result, documents can easily be transferred between different programs and operating systems without you needing to pay license fees.

Cons

  • No mobile compatibility – whilst it is supported on Windows, Linux, Android, iPhone/iPad and Mac, it is not fully mobile compatible, creating access/formatting issues and inconsistencies when viewing.
  • *Updated by community VOLUNTEERS – true, there may be some experts amongst its community who can provide quality updates. However, it can easily go the other way and their update could create problems i.e. accessibility, protecting data, editing, etc.

 

Budgets play on every businesses mind – even bigger organisations – so it is a relief to see that most of these cloud computing solutions, offer a free version for you to experiment with. However, they are free for a reason – their functionality and features are limited. That is why, we recommend looking into their paid versions, as these are more suitably designed to cater to businesses. From their increased security and support, to their added features; these extra bonuses could make your life better.

Yet how do you pick?

There is no denying that each of these cloud computing solutions come with a long list of pros and cons. However, unless you already have had something custom built, then it is likely that you’ll find the breadth of services included in the paid G-Suite or Office 365 subscriptions most useful for your business operations.

Your choices:

  1. Limited budget (or you’re simply looking to pay no money) – the free version of G-Suite is a good place to start; however, you will need to create a business email account with another provider. They’ve got a good amount of storage, so even decent sized businesses will be able to use it. But even this storage has its limitations, so you’ll need to consider your long term plans and how quickly you want your business to expand. The more your business grows, the more storage space you’ll need.
  2. For a small-medium spend – Office 365 is a good choice because you gain access to a wide range of apps that can support you with everything from daily task management to long term customer relationship management (without needing to integrate with any other cost incurring apps).

Large budget/organisation – it is likely that you’ll need a lot of storage (due to the increased amounts of data that you’ll have access to) which is where the higher price band of G-suite comes in. This package comes with unlimited storage, as well as access to all of Google’s apps and integration options.

Ultimately, which cloud computing solution you choose will greatly depend on the needs of your business. So before you make any decisions, you need to consider all of the benefits and downsides to each of these solutions, and then determine which is the best fit for you.

For further assistance, contact our team at Economit today. We can help you to navigate this long list of the best cloud computing service providers and match your business specifications to the right plan.an.

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