10 Cloud-Based Services You Can't Live Without

by Kenneth Hess

If 2011 is 'The Year of The Cloud,' then it's time to get serious about cloud-based services. Will it be private cloud, public cloud, or a mixture of the two for your organization?

It's time to think about moving part, if not all, of your business to a cloud-based infrastructure. Safety, reliability, scalability, and availability all come to mind when thinking about cloud-based services. The price is right now, too, since the companies that provide these services can meet your needs at a lower cost. Private cloud, public cloud, or a mixture of the two make sense for "The Year of The Cloud." This list of 10 cloud-based companies will help you manage your business, keep track of your employees and give your customers unbreakable service.

1. Dropbox

Dropbox is a backup and storage service that provides 2GB of space free for those who sign-up for the service. Two gigabytes is enough to store critical configuration files, documentation, and other important files. For those that wish to save everything to the cloud-based service, $9.99 per month buys 50GB of space, and $19.99 per month provides a full 100GB. Dropbox supports all operating systems and mobile devices, including the iPad. You can also selectively share your files by folder.

2. Amazon EC2

Perhaps the best known cloud-based service is Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). This service provides high-end computing power in the form of virtual machines on Amazon's Xen-based virtualization platform. Use the service as a substitute for your entire computing infrastructure or for additional computing bandwidth. It will cost you about $1,000 per year for a standard Windows server and a little less for Linux. How does that price compare to what you pay now?

3. Google Apps

Google Apps include the familiar applications (mail, docs, instant messaging) that you've likely grown used to, and they include an array of new applications that cover every aspect of online business freedom. Use Google's App Marketplace to select web-based software that handles your accounting, document management, CRM and backup/restore. But don't feel limited by the dozens of ready-to-use applications that you see in the lists. If you need something that you can't find, there are companies out there that specialize in creating custom Google applications.

4. QuickBooks Online

The world's most popular small business accounting software is now available online. The online versions have the same features and capabilities as the installable desktop versions, including multiple users, payroll, invoicing and integrated online banking. Handling QuickBooks online might seem more expensive than buying your own software, but the online version includes automated backups for your data, automatic upgrades and updates, customer support, and 100 percent availability from any computer with Internet access.

5. Salesforce.com

If you haven't looked at Salesforce.com lately, you should. It's no longer simply a cloud-based CRM management package but a suite of applications. The suite consists of Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Chatter, Jigsaw, Force.com, Heroku, Database.com, and Remedyforce. Salesforce.com enables your company to deliver a fully-equipped and mobile sales, CRM, customer service and helpdesk force to your customers at a price that's low enough to recover without sacrificing huge profits to do so.

6. Skype

Skype is not only for individual users but also for businesses of all sizes. Its very low (from 1.2 cents per minute) international calling rates, group video calling, real-time collaboration, and cloud-based availability make Skype a 2011-must-have technology. In addition to Skype's other features, you now have the option of extending Skype to your PBX via Skype Connect.

7. OpenAir

How much does management of projects, resources, timesheets, expenses, invoicing and reporting cost you on a yearly basis? OpenAir's goal is to lower that cost by providing professional services automation (PSA) software. One of its customer testimonials states, "OpenAir performs the work of two full-time employees at an employment cost of about $150,000." Your savings may vary, but your satisfaction level won't when you realize that OpenAir's applications integrate with your existing software solutions, including Salesforce.com and QuickBooks.

8. Eucalyptus

Changing gears to the more technical end of cloud-based computing for a moment brings us to Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is open source software used for implementing a private cloud using your own technology infrastructure. Eucalyptus also has the advantage of integrating with Amazon's EC2 cloud infrastructure so that companies with private clouds can leverage Amazon's computing power in addition to their own.

9. Smartphone Services

Yes, even communications companies feel the need to tap into cloud-based computing and storage for cell phones. Address books, contact lists, photos, text messages, call logs and GPS information all take advantage of the accessibility and availability of cloud resources. With high-speed communications networks, everything phone-related will reside in the cloud. Contact your cellular provider directly for more details on cloud-based storage and services.

10. Savvis

If you need enterprise hosting, enterprise-level content management, ecommerce solutions, business continuity planning, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technology, Savvis is there to help. Its cloud-based services and support help your company achieve zero downtime for online services and computing infrastructure. For cloud-based services, use Savvis' easy-to-use Symphony interface to manage your hosted cloud infrastructure. Savvis' 15 year history, 2,000 employees, and 28 data centers make for a fast escalator to put your business in the clouds.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday Jan 14th 2011
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