Cloud Computing for business
The Cloud is the latest in-thing about computing. From hosting services which make use of Cloud servers to deliver 100% uptime and totally scaleable bandwidth to bookmarks and apps (like Evernote) which keep in the cloud your private data, likes, preferences, notes and web clips and, browsers, like Chrome, which simply synch everything.

When it comes to fads and trends one of two things happen: We jump on them so that we do not feel we are being left behind, or we totally ignore them. I fall somewhere in between. Because I write about technology and what’s coming in I get naturally excited about every fresh development. I like the feeling that I am living in a Star Trek future which I would never have thought even possible. I also like to feel that all this has a practical edge, particularly when I recommend them in my blog.

This Monday started with a headache. My laptop which stands for my office, entertainment centre, playground and connection to the world at large, developed a problem and had to go back to the mothership to have its hard drive replaced.

Those of you with a Karmic sense of humor will appreciate the fact that this happened five days past its two year warrantee. That however was not the headache. Anyone working online today has to have a multi-media presence. Whether you are a one-man band or are running a complex website and an offline business and have a 100-strong, team to back you, you still need to produce content across different formats, of varying styles and different lengths. All of this takes software (which I now need to have installed across many different computers) and information.

Software is not a problem. Provided you keep a record of all your license keys and have purchased enough for your main computer and your back-up one(s) all you need to do is fish it out of the portable drive you lag with you and get onto installing it (if you haven’t already). Information is another issue. Information is data.

Over the course of the past twelve months I crisscrossed Europe, talking to business groups and conferences from Spain to the Czech Republic and I accumulated reams of fresh data. Articles which I wrote for my website, data and research for my next book, blog posts I want to read and websites I want to revisit. It has all somehow found itself in some folder or file on my computer, and though I back up every month, I now have to hunt for data in files which are not organized the way I normally organize them and which respond more sluggishly as they are called up from the flash drive and frustrate me further.

Why is my misfortune important for cloud computing? Because I spent the best part of three days getting back up to speed again and getting anywhere near as productive as I was before. In the process I learn valuable lessons and I hope my mishap helps you avoid suffering a similar one.

Up In The Computer Cloud

Luckily for me I use Chrome to browse the web and better still I chose to sign in and have my data synchronised across devices some time ago. As a result the 800-odd bookmarks, carefully arranged in 32 folders, which I use to make sense of my online world, get information and post information, travel with me on any device which has a Chrome browser.

The moment my laptop was sent off all I needed to do was fire up my back-up, open Chrome and allow it to synch and presto! It was all there.

Pocket for content. On any given day I will come across a dozen articles which are good enough to read with care and these I keep in a Chrome app which is entirely cloud-based. Pocket lets you add web pages to a list. You can cross them out the moment you no longer need them. It’s light, fast and available on Android (so I also have it on my phone). At the last count I had saved over 500 web pages there which, had they been lost, would have been a heavy blow to my reading list of vital content.

Evernote for everything else. I came across Evernote when I started to travel for business in 2010 and I needed somewhere to keep my notes. I now use it to clip web pages which I need for my research. I keep track of all my receipts and expenses and I also use it to store voice files when I am on the go. Evernote is invisible. It lives locally on your computer but is totally cloud based so the moment I had to use my back-up PC all I had to do was download the software from the web, install it. Log in using my user name and password and then, ten minutes later all my research files and notes were there. Instant relief for me on that score.

Gmail for most things. I use Gmail and that is totally cloud based so as far as that went my Gmail life was totally uninterrupted. But in addition to Gmail I also have a professional email address and a personal one and those are not in the cloud. This little detail became a major headache as I had to find the email client I use (it’s Eudora), re-install it, find the license key, install that and then struggle to import all the necessary data from the flash drive back-up. It made me mad enough to go looking for web-based email clients which, like Evernote, also has a computer-based presence (there aren’t any).

Content and Files. Finally the largest issue came when I had to transfer data files such as images, text and video which I use in my work. Although I should be grateful for the fact that the gods of chance were on my side and I had backed everything up over the weekend, the process of getting files across drives became laborious and quite tedious.

Although my hard drive was wiped out I did not lose a single file, but that was more due to luck than planning. When I had finished congratulating myself on my foresight to back my files up, I set out to streamline what I do even further.

I now use Gmail as my main ‘Push’ mail server. I have synched all my email addresses to it using Gmail’s Mail Fetcher as a catch-all which then allows me to receive everything on my Android phone or tab. So far this has worked smoothly. I have not missed any vital messages and I have not failed to reply to any.

I am experimenting with GDrive. I have uploaded all my data file to Google’s Drive. I have also downloaded GDrive to my back-up laptop. All the files are instantly there and after I finish working on something I save it back in there. I know this makes it available to my Tab and phone and any other synched in computer I own. All of these services are free. I have chosen to pay for Evernote going to the Premium version, mainly because I find it so useful. At 40 Euro a year it's hardly going to break the bank and I find the extra features useful, but that is the only exception and I did not have to do it, the free version was more than adequate.

Has this made me crash proof now? Probably. By taking everything to the cloud I now only need to worry about the software which lives on any of my devices. This is a first. In the past, whenever I had a serious crash or a laptop was destroyed or stolen, I lost vital data. Some I could live without, some I couldn’t. But I never had any choice.

Now I am pretty confident that I can throw the laptop I am typing this out on, out the fourth storey window and I can just go to the shelf where I have yet another back-up, older laptop and simply carry on from where I left off.

If that isn’t reason enough for any online business to consider the cloud, I don’t know what is.

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