Cloud for Small Business: Cost, Functionality, and how to deploy it (An example)

I am basically almost fully cloud based these days, it started a couple of years back and I find myself now almost 100% there. What drove me to start using the services was twofold; first, I spend a lot of time hopping between customers so I need to be mobile and self sufficient and two, cost.

Gone are the days of consulting where you turned up and a shiny PC sat at a desk fully loaded with every imaginable application you might need to use on your customer’s network. The cost of that must be horrendous, hundreds of devices sitting all over the city fully licensed and doing nothing. It can get extreme a certain (private) company I did work for recently were so mean on consultants that you had to take your own knife, fork, and cup to site. That’s right, no cutlery for you mister.

So I bought a decent laptop (probably the most expensive part of the process)and went looking for an accounting package. I could have bought the standard off the shelf install on your laptop, but it’s a pain in too manage, so I went to Xero. I looked at a few others, and there are others, but this was what worked for me and I got a free trial so I could be sure. It takes all my bank feeds automagically and brings the data into the accounting package, it’s pretty easy to use, it’s maintained and kept up to date by someone else, I can provide feedback on what I want, and I can give my accountant access to do whatever it is that he does (black magic I suspect). That’s costing me $50 a month and I can access it from anywhere including my smartphone any time of the day or not in any country.

Yes, Xero does store it’s data offshore, but I do keep a rather large amount of paper. It would be a complete bastard if Xero went away, but I could recover. I’d have to, probably employ someone, to back enter all that paperwork into another system.

The next thing I needed was the Office suite. I chose Microsoft 365, we’re going back a couple of years now, and signed on to their beta. Google Apps I hear is good as is Zoho. Of course Apple has their own produce set and iCloud offering as well. I needed something I knew, so I chose Microsoft over the others, but I am tempted by some of other offerings.

Microsoft 365 gives me a service that will stretch to 50,000 (yeah, so it’s overkill). I get a copy of Exchange, a website, a Sharepoint server (file server), my domain name, and access to all of that from anywhere I am in the world. For $7.20 a month per user. I don’t have to have a copy of Office, I can do most of what I need to do in the browser. I do have a copy, just for ease of use. I bought a third party app for $20 so I can access the full service on my iPad as well.

I need to keep a backup of my files, so I have Mozy. That allows me to backup my files to 2.5GB for free, I’ve just gone over that, so it’s now cost me $6 a month for 20GB (off the top of my head). That account can be put any of my other devices and I can back them up as well. It’s all centrally manageable through a portal on any device. The data is encrypted (for what it’s worth) before it is sucked up into the cloud. Because I am paranoid about losing data I also buy an annual subscription to Diino for $60. Another $5 a month. It does the same as Mozy, though it isn’t as easy an interface to work with. There are plenty of products out there in the cloud for backup now including some good New Zealand ones for similar pricing.

For my data connection I have my office wireless and progressive customers will often have a standard, off network, wireless access point for me to use. Where I don’t have either of those I have either a Vodafone wireless tether through my phone, which is expensive but has better coverage than the 2 Degrees USB data stick I use most of the time. Data is probably the most expensive of all services costing me somewhere in the region of $150 a month across Telecom, Vodafone, and 2 Degrees (that includes voice as well). But you’re kind of screwed without that access and mobile data is ridiculously expensive.

Last but not least I use Mozy Stash and Dropbox, both free currently, to allow files to be accessed very quickly between devices and users. If my colleague wants a file it is easier, and safer, to drop that straight into stash where it appears on her laptop in seconds.

So the total cost of my services each month amounts to $217.20. Twice my Sky bill and less than my power bill. That’s accounting software (including payroll), domain services, email, document management, website services, data, voice, file swapping, and two forms of backup. Basically, as long as I can access the Internet, I can work.

There are some limitations, but they aren’t worth the swap to investing in my own infrastructure:

– Data is stupid expensive in New Zealand.

– Data can be slow in New Zealand.

– Sensitive documents can’t be stored in the cloud.

– If a customer doesn’t have an external web facing email service and wants me to use their email, I have to use one of their devices, though this is very rare these days.

– Recovery time of laptop only data could take a while and cost a lot given the first two points.

– Microsoft 365 limits the type of files that you can upload. For example, no access databases. This is for security reasons.

– Microsoft 365 has issues on any browser that is NOT IE. That can be a pain in the arse from time to time. For example, on Chrome, whenever you construct an email it sets the font to Tahoma 8 PT. Annoying, but not fatal.

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