Business owners are presented with an increasingly broad set of business solutions, and decision-making, for technology and tech services. Understanding the basics can create clear parameters, even for non-technology decision-makers.
First, the cloud is simply someone else’s computer. If you learn nothing else from this article please understand that when you hear someone talking about the cloud, all they are talking about is renting the use of someone else’s computer on a monthly, per-user, or a resource basis.
Secondly, a program that your business may have run entirely from a server or servers sitting in your office (or not run because it is too expensive for you to run yourself), is now running in a data center on someone else’s server. This means, a company who in years past may have been a software provider, is now a cloud application provider. They are responsible for making sure the software runs, and the servers are up and working.
For more than a decade we at PC911 have provided information technology advisory and consulting services to small businesses, and have seen tremendous change during that time. For example, ten years ago, there was no such thing as “the cloud”–and just five years ago Microsoft was offering a license for software called “Small Business Server”. This bundle took some otherwise unaffordable software–including most importantly Microsoft Exchange–and made it very affordable for a small business owner. Microsoft Exchange was, and is, THE STANDARD when it comes to email. In fact, before the world of Gmail, if you were in business, and you had your own domain for email, i.e. Me@mybusiness.com, it was on Microsoft Exchange.
Fast forward to today, and Microsoft has stopped selling Small Business Server–under the theory that small businesses had better things to do than run their own Exchange servers–and, also, Microsoft happens to be really good at running Exchange servers, since it’s their software. This means that now, instead of buying that license, you pay Microsoft to run Exchange on their server every month, per user, paying for only what you use, and they do all the “stuff” to keep it running for you. This service is one piece of a complete business cloud package that Microsoft calls “Office 365”. Properly evaluating your business’s needs, installing, and maintaining a customized suite of products is an important to maximizing the utility of the products and generating the highest return on this important investment. Some businesses will want to find outside support for this, and the best choice is often with a certified third-party provider.
PC911 is a Microsoft certified CSP, or Cloud Solution Provider, this means our team has passed certification and has a sufficient depth of understanding of Microsoft’s Cloud products that they Microsoft feels confident that we can help a small businesses with their Office 365 options.
To help understand the cost and pricing shifts resulting from moving Exchange to the cloud, consider this: Microsoft Exchange online via Office 365 costs $4 per user per month, while back in 2010 you could get a well configured Dell Server with a 3 year warranty running Small Business Server, for 15 users for between $4000-$5000. Running Exchange is not the only thing that would necessarily run on this server, but this gives us a frame of reference.
Microsoft/Office 365 is just one example of thousands of software providers who have moved their businesses to the cloud. In the software/application/cloud business world there are four very common terms that business owners need to understand as they describe some basic functionality of the software or service that are being purchased. They describe where the application is resting, and may also describe the method of billing that will be employed.
Here are the 4 terms and some basic definitions:
This is an application or program that runs from a server or computer sitting in your office. Most often it is a case where a program is running on a server and a piece of client software is used to connect and access the data on the server. A great example of this is QuickBooks, most people know QuickBooks as a piece of software that runs from one computer or server in their office, that is then accessed from a desktop using QuickBooks software. This allows multiple users to access and modify the QuickBooks information at the same time. Quickbooks Pro is approximately $199 and that is for one-user using the software. Intuit, the maker of Quickbooks also offers an online version that is comparable, however is lacking some features, that is called Quickbooks Essentials Online that is sold for $40 per month.
A hosted application, program, or service is a true cloud solution and means that all application and data are in the cloud. These services are connected to, and used, either directly through a web browser such as Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer or through an application, or app, designed to give you an interface to the data/program.
One great example of a hosted app for businesses is Docusign. Docusign is a company that provides a service where you as a business upload a document you need a client to sign, the Docusign service sends an email, the signer reviews the document in a browser and signs the document–all on their screen. It has the same legal force as signing a document with pen and paper, and eliminates printing/signing/faxing/scanning/emailing back. All of this is done through a browser window or app, the users never have to set up a server, or manage one. Docusign offers their services for anywhere from $10-$40 per month depending on what type of user you are and what type of business you are in.
A Hybrid Cloud solution is where an application or data is available both locally on the computer without an internet connection and available online as well. One of the most common hybrid solution providers that people use is Dropbox. Dropbox is amazingly convenient for storing files as well as sharing those files and collaborating with others. As any Dropbox user will tell you, one of the coolest features of Dropbox is that it keeps copies of all your files on all of your devices, and ensures the files have the latest versions. Dropbox for Business runs anywhere from $12.50-$25.00 per user per month depending on the length of service you choose, as well as how much storage you need.
One of the biggest buzzwords sweeping technology and IT service providers is ITaaS, or Information Technology as a Service. With the advent of cloud services, IT service providers all across the country like PC911 have begun to offer a different business model to their small and medium business clients. ITaaS is a new business model that takes all of your combined IT expenses, including hardware such as computers, printers and monitors as well as all of your expenses for cloud, user support/help desk, and maintenance and roll them into one all-inclusive fixed price. This gives you as a small business all of the IT services you need for every employee at a predictable price every single month. Pricing on a per-user basis makes this model easier for businesses to know what an employee costs them every month, and how much it will cost to add an employee.
The great thing for a small business is that these plans can be customized to include as little or as much of your IT business support needs, as you want. This means that if you want new computers for your employees every three years, with all the software and support you need, and you don’t want to own the computers at the end of three years, you don’t have to. At one fixed monthly per user cost your employees can have brand new desktops or laptops every three years without any up-front capital expenses.
Ultimately, one of the key things that can help a small business owner the most in navigating the cloud, and their own individual IT needs, is having an informed, and well-trained technology advocate in their corner helping them to evolve their business in today’s digital age. In Las Vegas and Henderson, PC911 has trained technicians and business consultants standing by to help you make sound decisions, maximize your business’s potential, and lower your costs, while leveraging the technological advancements like the cloud.
Give us a call today (702) 309-1911 so we can help you navigate the promise, and perils, of technological change and let us be your technology advocates!