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Cloud computing suites - is this the future?

It’s been a long time since I've used Outlook and POP3 email delivery for personal use - I've been using Google Mail for a while now and can’t recommend it highly enough. Intrigued by the number of different area’s Google seemed to be getting involved in recently I wondered if they did domain hosting. A friend of mine mentioned Google Apps and I didn't really know what it was, so I decided to take a look.

In a nutshell, Google Apps allows businesses to deploy Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and other web apps to its employees. Everything's hosted by Google, which is what really caught my attention once I started to think about it. Instead of purchasing the hardware and software for say a Microsoft Small Business Server (to act as a File & Print server and Exchange server) and individual Microsoft Office licenses, for $50 per user per year you can deploy Google Apps to each of your staff - effectively outsourcing your IT hardware and software. Now whilst I’m not entirely sure a lot of SME's are ready to embrace this kind of forward thinking technology quite yet, I can certainly see the immediate benefits - 99.9% uptime guarantee, effectively unlimited storage, no special hardware or software requirements and all for around 1/3 of the total cost of competing solutions.

On top of this you gain features like Gmail’s superb built in spam filtering, fully searchable email with a Google-powered search engine (obviously!) and access from anywhere including mobile devices. Google Docs includes web apps for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, sites and video, all of which can be collaborated on in real-time. No more hassle with email attachments of multiple versions of documents, or compatibility issues between Windows, Mac and Linux co-workers. It really does start to make you think if this is the way things will go and in-house file/email servers will soon be a thing of the past.

Just like web development platforms such as PHP and MySQL are more widely used than Microsoft Access database programming these days, I can truly see this being the way forward for SME's as well as large corporates. At times it can be difficult to get clients to see value in investing in IT infrastructure and the cost is often prohibitive. However it’s equally difficult to convince them the internet is reliable enough and more importantly secure enough to house all of their data. With Microsoft looking to include online versions of Word and Excel plus Exchange and Sharepoint with its upcoming Office 10, I'm genuinely excited to see how this pans out in the future.

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