So you’ve been hearing everywhere, or maybe just here, a lot of talk about cloud computing. If you haven’t heard about cloud computing yet, I would bet that you’ll be hearing about it more and more in the coming months and years.

So what is “the cloud,” and what does that mean to you?

Cloud computing is simply Internet computing.

As a business in today’s world, you probably need a computer to run your business. You may use your computer to communicate with your customers and vendors, handle your finances, track your inventory, maintain a website, or a multitude of other tasks. If you’re a one-person shop, maybe you have one computer that holds all of your software and computer files. If your business is larger, you may have a server on premises that helps you centralize your data so you can collaborate with your team members. And you have probably hired some type of IT support to help you maintain all of that.

That’s the traditional model.

With recent advances in technology, computer software has started moving outside of your office. Think of Gmail or your favorite smartphone or iPad app. Or Facebook or Twitter. Those are nothing more than software being run from… hmm… where? The Cloud.

Programs may be accessed by your computer, phone, or iPad, but the information doesn’t live there. Your hardware (the phone or computer) becomes a conduit for you to access your data which is on the Internet, or “in the cloud.” This software lives on someone else’s server in some remote location, but you are able to access it anytime from anywhere and are not responsible for making sure it’s on the “right” version or that all the updates have been applied to the software. The details of operating this “software as a service” (SaaS) are someone else’s job to figure out.

The Internet has now become more of a utility – like electricity or water that makes its way to your home. You probably don’t go out and generate your own electricity, and likewise, there is no longer the need to maintain your own server. And if you were the one previously installing software updates and handling software glitches, you’ll be happy to know that your time will be freed up to focus on the revenue-generating needs of your business.

Cloud computing has essentially leveled the playing field between small businesses, who have little funding available to invest in technology needs, and big businesses, who can afford to hire IT professionals and purchase their own in-house servers. SaaS has removed the barriers to entry so you can have the software tools you need and the remote availability you want without a huge capital investment. You can also scale your usage up or down based on your current needs vs. buying the largest server you might need several years down the road. That makes your ongoing costs flexible and your business adaptable to economic conditions.

Different functions that can be moved to the cloud include e-mail, accounting, social media, invoicing, billing, customer relationship management, inventory, document storage, payroll, project management… pretty much anything you can think of that you’d need to run your business. And if you’ve ever dreamed of having a paperless office, this is a big step in that direction.

Working in the cloud frees you to work with whomever you choose. Or from wherever you choose. Or whenever you choose.

With cloud computing, you are only limited by the reach of the Internet.

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