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Cloud Computing 101

Understanding remote access and storage options

In either case, users are able to access applications remotely, while storing data with confidence that both the programs and information are safe. In both scenarios, however, Walborn says end-users must stay vigilant about what’s happening with their systems.

Sky High Applications
The number of common business applications available in the cloud is extensive, including email and office suites, QuickBooks, Famous, Lotpath, Harvest-Mark, ProducePro, SharePoint, Yammer, and various customer relationship management platforms.

“Currently, we’re hosting Outlook email, calendar, and tasks,” says Peter Townsend, IT director for The Nunes Company, headquartered in Salinas, CA. “We are also deploying PTI case labeling, essentially a cloud application.”

Further, for field operations, Nunes has document and image file sharing, and has been “tapping into the cloud for pesticide and material safety labels and data sheets.” Townsend says the company also leverages cloud-hosted web filtering services, like website blocking.

The cloud is also central to Ben B. Schwartz & Sons, Inc.’s backup strategy and continues to evolve, says Kyle Stone, who is in charge of food safety and technology for the Detroit-based wholesaler. “We use [the cloud] for the ProducePro software that runs our whole company, from inventory to accounts receivable to generating invoices.”

In addition, the cloud maintains the company’s entire recordkeeping and data entry system for orders, as well as Google Docs for price lists.

Return On Investment
Comparing the return on investment for cloud-based services, however, can be complicated depending on the size of the company, the number of users and offices, the number of applications, and many other variables.

“With the cloud, you have all the costs of software, hardware, network, data center maintenance, etc., baked into one monthly subscription cost,” notes Robert Froelich, a consultant for Software Licensing Advisors of St. Charles, IL, a western suburb of Chicago.

“Merging of all those costs into one line item makes detailed analysis a bit more difficult,” Froelich continues. “While companies think it will be far simpler to just pay a monthly bill for cloud services versus managing the costs and many moving parts of a sophisticated IT team and associated infrastructure, it’s tough to say because the transparency about what things cost or should cost isn’t really there.”

McCary of Zumasys provides some broad pricing ranges. To build a centralized in-house hardware and software operation for a small or medium-sized company could cost from $100,000 to $250,000—monthly leasing for a 30-person company would be from $6,000 to $8,000. And don’t forget the costs of maintaining equipment, what McCary likens to “a hamster wheel”—with computers usually lasting only three to five years before needing to be replaced.