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You often hear the term “the cloud” or “cloud storage” but fail to understand the meaning behind these phrases. The cloud isn’t a mysterious entity that controls the “behind the schemes” happenings of the internet and computer technology, it’s actually a pretty simple concept.

To understand what the cloud is you need to understand what the meaning of the word itself is. Some people debate this, but really when it comes down to it the term “the cloud” simply means “remote storage and/or processing”. So with that understanding the cloud can be easily explained.

Anytime you have data that is stored on a system other than the one you are using and you access via the internet; that’s the cloud. Anytime you have a website like rescuetime.com that allows you to view your data from any device; that’s the cloud. It’s a simple system of storing data remotely, away from the user’s devices and giving them access to it. This access can either be via a front end application or website, or a direct link to the data (think Google Drive).

The second part of “the cloud” is something that’s more recently being utilized, and that’s remote processing. Think of remote processing as working at your computer with the monitor, keyboard and mouse but with the CPU in another part of the country miles away. Commands are sent from your keyboard and mouse to the remote CPU, it’s processed and then the result is sent to your monitor. A good example of this is onLive (http://games.onlive.com/). onLive allows you to play ps3 games on any device in your home. The ps3 acts as a remote CPU and then uses your input to process request and then displays its output on your chosen device.

That’s all it is, nothing fancy or over the top. The fancy side of the cloud comes into play with how website and software providers utilize this remote data and processing system in the services they offer to you. So, how can you benefit from the cloud or services that utilize the cloud? We’ll talk about all the advantages and then take a look at some of the best (free) solutions offered “in the cloud”.

Insights and analytics

A huge benefit of the cloud that most people don’t realize is actually completely run and stored in the cloud is Google Analytics. Google Analytics is one of the most robust data analytical tools for measuring website and web app interaction and response. Data insights aren’t limited to analytics though. Imagine having the same data set across all the services you utilize. Here is an example on how this could be super handy: Let’s say you have a website, a mobile app companion for the website, a landing page to get leads and finally a CRM system for your sales agent. With cloud based data connectivity you can more presicly capture data and utilize it. A random visitor hits your website, then after browsing 3 or 4 more websites hits on your landing page. When they fill out the landing page your sales rep gets notified and the system sends them a link back to the website to download the mobile app that is pre-personalized to them where it welcomes them back. Lastly, your sales rep now knows they went to the website, where they were at, where they jumped off to, how long it took for them to find the landing page, all of their information and the difference between how they utilized the website verse the landing page. That’s pretty powerful in terms of data collection and usage.

Website Analytics – Google Analytics

Big data and interconnectivity – Microsoft Dynamics

Collaboration

A key benefit to cloud storage and computing is the increase in collaboration. You can share files across the entire team, keep everyone up to date on projects with online project boards, have file check ins and outs for updates on graphic files by each member of your graphics department, have a shared calendar and scheduling tool that the whole team can use and manage at one time; the possibilities really are endless.

File check in/out and sharing – Adobe Creative Cloud

Meetings and Webinars – Team Viewer

Document Sharing – Office 365 Online

Notes and Ideas – OneNote

Schedule and Calendars – Google Calendar

All of your business needs

The cloud can handle anything you need to do or have done for your business and does it in a way that keeps everything synced and consistent across the board. Messaging, storage, applications, documents, websites, project boards… Everything you do now you could do better “in the cloud”.

Google Drive – File storage and collaboration

RescueTime – Time and workday management

DropBox – File storage and sharing

Gantter – Team and project management

With all these cloud based tools at your disposal if utilized correctly will bring you or your business to a higher level of interconnectedness and productivity.

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