3 Ways to Stop Business Interrupting the Holidays

The summer’s officially over, and the kids are going back to school. Whatever fun we had over summer is soon going to be a distant memory, and before long, the Christmas countdowns will begin. We had precious few summery days in 2015, and for many entrepreneurs, holidays had to make way for essential work.

It’s the same every year. For SMEs, family holidays never really mean true relaxation. Fortunately, cloud computing is helping more entrepreneurs enjoy the summer, while offering clients a good level of service. Here are five ways to find a better balance.

1. Turn Off the Smartphone

To an entrepreneur, the idea of disconnecting the phone lines is akin to commercial suicide. But as convenient as smartphones are, they are also responsible for keeping us connected to the world of work when we should be relaxing. Last year, the German labour minister Andrea Nahles looked at banning employees from checking emails at home, due to the risk of “psychological diseases”. While it’s not helpful to overstate the risks, there’s certainly an argument for giving yourself a break.

To contain risk, ditch the mobile number and use hosted VoIP. That way, you can give our a respectable geographical or non-geographical number, while routing calls to your smartphone or a softphone app. Using an IVR, you can direct callers to an answerphone greeting and voice mailbox, or have urgent requests forwarded through to your phone.

2. Take Your Desktop With You

Hosted desktops function in the same way as a regular desktop computer. When you log on, all of your applications are there; your files are stored in the right places, and authentication prevents anyone else logging in. Unlike a regular desktop, your hosted desktop can be accessed through a browser, so you can enjoy the familiarity of your work machine from practically any location.

Hosted desktops let you access work when you need to, without the hassle of carrying a laptop on holiday. If you really need to work, you can jump on to any computer in the hotel’s business suite, and pick up where you left off. If you’re not staying in a hotel, take a tablet PC, and use all of your usual software on a virtual version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.

3. Sync Your Files

If you get a sales enquiry when you’re lounging by the pool, hiking back to your room for the laptop is the last thing you’ll want to do. It makes more sense to sync important files to multiple devices so you always have a copy on hand.

Cloud4 has a cloud sync product that’s a holiday essential. MyOwnCloud is packed with business features, with all files hosted in the UK. Download the apps for your PCs, laptops, tablets and phones, then sign in to sync them together. Sharing is simple, and the service works offline, even when you don’t have a data connection.

Get Set Up Today

The summer may be over, but the Christmas period will be upon us before we know it. Get set up with Cloud4 now, and your next holiday will be all the more relaxing. For a free demonstration, or details of our offers, speak to a Cloud4 sales advisor today.

Can Mobile Working Save Your Business?

mobile business apps for productivityBy 2020, half of the world’s workers will be remote workers. That’s according to a survey at the Global Leadership Summit in London. Over the course of the next five years, we’re going to see some big changes. Not every business will keep pace; some will fail.

The global economic crisis continues to put financial pressure on companies, and smaller businesses are still finding it difficult to raise capital. Now more than ever, remote working could be the answer if your business is finding it hard to adapt.

Benefits of Working Remotely

Employees are looking for a good work-life balance, and that means changing the way they work. People don’t want to travel at rush hour with everybody else. They don’t want to put their kids into after-school clubs if they can avoid it. As the world’s best employers offer more flexible working, the world’s best employees will follow.

Sir Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin group, is a vocal supporter of flexible working, and says that remote access is making this easier. Virgin employees can take unlimited holiday leave, providing their productivity is not affected. That means taking time off when you’re not needed, and being around when you are. Richard himself works remotely from Necker Island, a career move that would have been unthinkable before the internet became so widespread.

While we can’t all work from a Caribbean beach, the benefits of remote working can be felt on a smaller scale when working from home. Freedom to choose when to work, where to work, and when to take breaks; the chance to get fresh air, spend more time with the family, or cut back the daily commute. Far from being less productive, remote workers get more rest, are more energised, and feel more connected with their home life, helping them achieve that work-life balance they so crave.

The company gets its share of the benefits too: a workforce willing to work, and staff that enjoy collaboration. Rather than forcing people to fit the company mould, giving them the tools they need to work anywhere means work will often ‘just happen’.

Make it a Reality

You don’t need to have complex infrastructure to let people work remotely. But you do need to invest in modern services that help keep people connected.

Here are some ways to free up your employees and let them work wherever they like:

  • To ensure everyone has access to the right software and data, purchase hosted desktops rather than a fleet of laptops
  • Issue everyone with a smartphone capable of 4G connection, plus a tablet that can be tethered to it
  • Use hosted Exchange email so that employees can access their messages from anywhere, free from the size restrictions of an on-premise Exchange mailbox
  • Invest in VoIP telephony, project management tools in the cloud, and use video conferencing in place of lengthy on-site meetings

All of these things are affordable to small businesses, helping to keep costs down and ensure the company stays competitive.

By kitting out the workforce with cloud services and relevant support, they can access company data in a secure, compliant and speedy manner, without a break in productivity or an increase in IT spend. The reality is this: if you don’t wise up to remote working, your business could be overtaken by the dynamic, youthful competitors just waiting to steal your thunder.

Public or Private Cloud? Risks and Benefits of Both

When choosing cloud providers, you’ll need to look at your wider migration strategy, and consider the ways you need to use cloud technology. Part of that discussion is the consideration of public or private cloud services (and possibly hybrid cloud services that span the two types).

Every business is different, so it’s impossible to get the ‘right’ answer to this question, but having the right information will steer successful migration.

What’s a Public Cloud?Being productive in the office

A public cloud is, generally, a cloud service shared by large numbers of users. Typically, public clouds are very affordable, since usage is metered. For a small business, a public cloud storage service may cost less than a mid-range VPS.

Public clouds are great for testing and development, where a server is deployed specifically to carry out a task behind the scenes. The service is elastic, so you can run 1 or 100 servers, trashing and deploying on demand.

The potential downside is that you’re sharing resources, much like a shared hosting environment. You don’t know who else is using that public cloud. You have no control of the hardware. Your business cannot choose its hardware or monitor its performance. And, in the main, your technical team is responsible for managing its public cloud account.

Private Cloud Pros and Cons

A private cloud gives the business more control over the nuts and bolts behind the service, which means overall security can be tightened up, far beyond that in a public cloud. Unlike a public cloud, you can’t really scale up on demand; you’ll have to over-purchase resource to ensure you always have enough.

The obvious trade-off for this kind of service is the price. Once you start taking over entire servers, you begin to take on more on-going commitments, and your costs are fixed regardless of usage. For some large businesses, the cost isn’t an issue. For SMEs, it’s rare that a private cloud is an affordable option.

Misconceptions

Some businesses believe that they need a private cloud because of compliance, but that isn’t actually the case. This line of thinking stems from the fact that remote storage sounds risky, but a well-secured public cloud service can be just as compliant as a private cloud deployment.

Private clouds are seen to be less susceptible to hacks, too, but this is down to a very small number of high-profile hacking cases (targeting consumer services like iCloud, not business services). With a public cloud service, it’s up to your service provider to secure everything and pay for the necessary infrastructure.

The Case For SME Adoption

For SMEs, the public cloud (or a hybrid) is the perfect place to be. It’s affordable, scalable and secure, letting you access enterprise grade solutions for a manageable cost. In fact, it’s SMEs and startups that are leading cloud adoption, and it’s cloud technology that is fuelling their growth and flexibility.

In 2014, IDC claimed that cloud adoption would grow by 20 percent through to 2019.

Don’t let your business be left behind.

3 Big Brands That Do Amazing Things in the Cloud

When we use our phones and tablets, we may not consciously use cloud technology, but most big companies rely on cloud infrastructure to get things done behind the scenes. If you’re not yet using cloud storage for business, these innovators could change your mind.

Instagram

It’s hard to imagine that Instagram was once an iOS-only app, since it’s now ubiquitous on Android phones and tablets too. Shortly after it divertified its user base, it was purchased by Facebook, itself a large user of cloud storage.

Instagram used to store data on Amazon servers and used a cloud-based content delivery network to push photos out around the globe. It now stores all of that data in Facebook’s data centres. Despite the fact that Instagram has terabytes and terabytes of photo data in storage, it can pull out a single picture in a matter of seconds to anywhere in the world.

Speed and efficiency is critical, since billions of pictures and videos need to be accessed in the blink of an eye, any time. We don’t even think about the cloud technology that goes into Instagram’s service, nor do we wonder how Instagram staff migrated 20 billion of our pictures while the service was still live.

BBC

The BBC is more than just a national broadcaster. It’s also an innovator in the digital space. Its iPlayer product is undoubtedly a world leader in streaming technology, and the service gained more ground when it was migrated to a public cloud platform.

Prior to the migration, it took the BBC’s iPlayer team around 9 hours to put a video online. This was mostly due to the vast amount of rendering and processing power required. Since the cloud migration, this delay has been slashed to around 15 minutes.

iPlayer copes with millions of requests every day, and it makes content available to hundreds of different devices, all with slightly different specs. The cloud migration allowed the team to deliver content in a more flexible way and cope more effectively with periods of high demand. Phil Cluff, team lead at BBC Media Services, estimated in 2014 that the new cloud version would last at least 10 years before it needed to be changed.

Airbnb

Some websites disrupt their peer group, while some disrupt an entire industry. Airbnb is a holiday home rental site that offers peer-to-peer renting and vacations, and it relies on cloud computing to keep its site ticking over.

Airbnb uses RDS, a database technology that allows them to avoid bottlenecks in the cloud. It has allowed Airbnb to keep up with its own rapid growth, and to cope with the huge amounts of content generated by property owners in their listings. With an emphasis on big, beautiful photos and lots of holiday home details, the company needed a way to ensure it had a flexible solution that did not break the bank.

Cloud computing scales beautifully and inexpensively, even for very large websites like Airbnb. On a smaller scale, it can be useful for small businesses looking to increase and flex computing capacity, week by week.

Realise Your Potential

Could your business be more elastic, more responsive or more efficient? While you may not need cloud computing on a massive scale, our hosted products could make a significant impact on your business’ performance. Contact Cloud4 today and take your first step to a more profitable, efficient future.

Where is Your Data Resting Right Now?

Small businesses have been quick to adopt cloud computing. For the nimble sole trader, or the agile start-up, the cloud presents obvious advantages. It’s affordable, and it can be deployed instantly. It scales without effort. And there’s no need to assign the airing cupboard as a makeshift server room.

For larger businesses, adoption can be fraught with problems, mainly because of compliance and governance. The cloud is not an inherently risky technology, yet many gatekeepers fear handing control to a third party.

Risk mitigation is all about knowing where data is stored, and understanding the means by which that data can be accessed. Cloud storage is not a compliance risk, but you should understand where your data is resting.

Boundaries and Laws

As many medium and enterprise clients ponder the finer points of cloud adoption, they often miss the bigger picture: where the data is stored. This problem was highlighted with the US Patriot Act, a piece of legislation that as arguably slowed growth in the US cloud market.

The Patriot Act was brought in to scupper terrorist communications in 2001, and it effectively gives the US government free reign over data that crosses its boundaries. This is quite an odd concept, since data is often thought of as being transmitted in a fairly random way, and without any regard to date lines, borders or continents.

In essence, the US government can intercept any data transmitted on a US network. It can also intercept data held by a US company. It’s effectively a very broad digital search warrant, and it affects the cloud because of the way cloud data is distributed.

Is It Risky?

In the US, some see the Patriot Act as being unconstitutional, but that argument is out of scope here. The real issue for internet users is access.

If you use a US cloud provider, your data will cross the boundary into US territory. For businesses, this could be seen as an unacceptable risk. If your IP is viewed by a third party, this could violate legal agreements, non disclosure agreements and contracts you’ve got with suppliers.

The US government has, in the past, demanded access to data stored in Europe because of the company’s links with the US. Microsoft was one target, in April 2014; its Irish data centre was subject to a federal court judgement.

Like With Like

Every country has privacy laws, terrorism laws, and ‘snoopers charters’. The Patriot Act is not unusual, and there are very good reasons for governments to access data in some cases.

However, if you’re in the UK, and you only do business here, it’s safest to stick with UK cloud providers. At the very least, you should try to keep your data within the EU, if only so that you know who can see it.

If government agencies have good reason for asking to see data, responsible providers will oblige. Naturally, that’s the way it should be. But it makes sense to choose only the most appropriate locations to store data, geographically speaking. And it pays to research the law before choosing your next cloud provider.

5 Things to Look For in a Hosted Desktop Provider

Virtualisation is a drcloud computingiving force behind efficiency and productivity, and hosted desktops are great for any employee that works in the field. They can access their desktop computer from a range of devices, and pick up where they left off no matter where they are.

Your hosted desktop provider is responsible for storing your desktop images and making them available to your staff around the clock. There are lots of providers, so what should you look for in a quality desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) host?

1. Security

Security concerns can present a barrier to cloud migration. Businesses often feel wary about putting data into a cloud environment. But with the right security, there is no need to be concerned. The key is to control access effectively, exercise common sense and increase security where you need to be sure of compliance.

For critical environments, look for two-factor authentication. With this enabled, users must provide a password and another token (such as a code sent via SMS) before they’ll be logged on. Also, make sure your hosted desktops have full virus and malware protection from the moment they’re deployed.

2. Choice

If you’re still migrating from Windows XP, you might be wondering which operating system to adopt. There are pros and cons with Windows 7 and Windows 8; technically, the former is now a discontinued product, but it’s potentially friendlier than the hybrid interface in Windows 8.

For best results, we recommend a provider that offers you more than one operating system so you can deploy a mixture of desktops for different purposes. Let users choose their OS, or assign Windows 7 for legacy use only.

3. Support

Cloud uptime is known for being much better than with a traditional infrastructure, and your hosted desktops should be available 24/7/365. Naturally, not every problem can be planned for. If there’s a fire, flood or other catastrophe, you’ll need quick support. And sometimes, it’s good just to have the reassurance that the support is there.

Look for a provider with two key provisions: support in your own language, and support in a relevant time zone. If your teams are working remotely, they might need hosted desktop support outside office hours. Factor that in.

4. Printing

Logging on from anywhere is convenient for all staff, but what happens when they need access to a printer? You need to ensure your team can quickly print out a document in the office, even if they’re in the airport waiting to board a flight.

Most good cloud providers offer some kind of remote printing, where documents are spooled through the virtual infrastructure, giving them always-on access to the printer back at work.

5. Backups

Data loss is always catastrophic when there are no backups to rely on. Don’t assume that your provider is taking care of it. Make sure your company’s file repositories are being backed up frequently, including files used collaboratively and personally.

With cloud backup, there should be multiple instances of your backups to ensure complete coverage should one host fail.

More Information

When choosing your cloud services portfolio, it’s important to assess providers in detail. There are many companies competing for your attention, but not all of them offer a five-star service. Look for the features your users need, coupled with robust security and protection against downtime. This will ensure your users get the best from DaaS.

 

How Cloud Influenced Politics in the General Election

Political parties pulled out all the stops to get your vote on May 7th. Behind the scenes, there was a media frenzy, with newspapers, TV outlets and polling companies all trying to get to grips with the mood of the nation.

When Barack Obama ran for his first US Presidential term, his use of social media and cloud was notable. His was a very modern campaign, with copious use of Twitter and YouTube to get the message across (alongside lengthy TV ads, naturally). His campaign won two awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Awards, with unanimous support from the judges.

Our Interaction

Politics these days is a two-way street, and election campaigns are turning into conversations between the electorate and the parties. User involvement still requires people to stick flags in their garden, and posters in their window. But there’s more data, and a quicker turnaround, mostly thanks to increasing reliance on IT.

Behind all of this activity is a reliance on cloud computing. The Obama campaign could not have succeeded without the use of cloud-based storage powering sites like Instagram and MySpace (which was still a powerful tool at that time). Marketers are harvesting Big Data and using it to measure the mood of the people. Along with that goes a need to store, select, cleanse and control the data that marketers can use, so it meets compliance requirements.

Elections also inevitably attract funding and donations, and these donations are increasingly given online. For the first, award-winning Obama campaign, officials took more than 4 million online donations.

The Agenda

In terms of the future, no main party has explicitly mentioned the cloud, but its influence lurks under the surface. Many small businesses have fully bought in to the efficiency gains and cost savings that cloud computing presents. For a government, this is potentially gold dust.

We’ve seen hints at this shift during the current coalition government’s term in office, when Open Data standards have been part of policy, and the Gov.UK website has received an award-winning, responsive and accessible makeover. Government Digital Services are already making UK public services more efficient, and there is potential to roll this out at at a local level.

Anyone currently using the cloud knows that security and privacy are key concerns in business. For many, it’s important that data does not cross geographical boundaries and exit the EU, where different data laws exist. Political parties are keen to ensure that UK businesses can share data within Europe, and that means treading carefully around a potential EU exit. While cloud computing is rarely mentioned, the implications could be considerable if a referendum led to the UK going it alone.

The Outcome

IT and business professionals will be interested in both facets of the election. They’ll note the way new technology is used in this gigantic marketing drive. And they’ll note the way policies will change the way we use technologies like cloud to drive identity management, data collection and quality service provision.

Now is the Time to Move to Cloud Servers

Business MobilityVirtual infrastructure is revolutionising IT. The days of the old, dusty data centre are fast becoming old fashioned, and new software-based alternatives are creeping in. For small and medium sized businesses, virtualisation presents enormous benefits, including a reduction in cost, and fewer support and maintenance tasks for the team. Virtual infrastructure is greener, more flexible and less demanding on your staff.

Virtual servers are the corner stone of any software-based data centre, and if your business is still running old physical servers, the time is right to take the first steps towards the cloud. Not only are servers very cost effective, but there’s a good chance some of your oldest machines are ripe for replacement.

Out with the old

In less than three months, Windows Server 2003 will become an unsupported operating system. For the millions of businesses still using it, that will be a costly blow, and many have tried to put their head in the sand and ride out the last few months. However, once July comes, all bets are off. The longer Windows Server 2003 is left unsupported, the more damage hackers could potentially do.

Many businesses keep their old servers running for fear of upsetting the status quo. Often, servers run highly specialised applications that are business critical, and the business sees that as good enough reason to leave the old server well alone. Face it. You don’t need a Chief Data Officer to realise that a business critical database or key application should not be running on server software that has no manufacturer support. Come July, that’s what many organisations will be doing.

Safe migrations

Thousands of businesses have already completed successful cloud migrations, and a big part of the process is having the right cloud servers in place. Virtualisation lets businesses achieve maximum efficiency because hosted services are elastic; they scale up and down automatically, based on business demand.

Compatibility concerns are understandable, so planning is key. With the End of Life phase so near, businesses should refrain from entering panic mode and migrating too quickly, or without the right strategy in place. Working with a provider like Cloud4, they should start pre-work now in order to get valuable data off Windows Server 2003 and into a secure cloud environment, either before 14th July, or as soon as possible afterwards.

No time to lose

Some businesses are still searching for a good reason to move to virtual servers. The demise of Windows Server 2003 is the best catalyst we can think of. While moving legacy applications is certainly a daunting step, there are very good reasons to quit procrastinating and choose a cloud provider that can help. And running an on-premise/ cloud hybrid solution is better than putting your entire data centre at risk.

While a move to the cloud is a huge endeavour, and not without challenges, leaving data on unsupported servers is not a sensible way forward. End of Life is weeks away now. OK, it’s late to act, but it’s not too late to do something about it.

Hosted Exchange vs Office 365

Cloud servicesBusinesses are increasingly using cloud computing to save money and improve efficiency. Migrating the on-premise Exchange server is a key step that can improve performance and cut costs. There are essentially two routes to the cloud: a hosted Exchange solution, or a move to Office 365.

Hosted Exchange and Microsoft Office 365 are both valid choices, but they are not the same solution. The former provides email services in the cloud, while the latter is a virtualised version of the Office suite. Both do provide reliable and scalable email services, but there are some fundamental differences that can make or break a successful migration.

About Office 365

Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud version of Office, and it includes desktop software on a rental basis. It ‘feels’ the same as the traditional version, so there’s nothing new to learn. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how eager you are to stay within the Microsoft ecosystem.

Businesses buy Office 365 on a subscription model, and there are various levels of service on the menu. The most basic is Email Only. If you pay more, you’ll get access to Web Apps – online versions of Excel, PowerPoint and Word – with a license to install the desktop equivalents.

Hosted Exchange is Different

Office 365 is purchased from Microsoft, but hosted Exchange is provided by a number of third parties (like Cloud 4, for example). Hosted Exchange always includes Exchange email in the cloud with support for calendars and tasks.

Hosted Exchange providers will tell you exactly where your data is stored, and precisely which countries’ privacy laws are protecting it. This is vital if you need to follow governance procedures to protect sensitive data. If you do business in the UK, it makes sense to choose a provider that will not transfer your business data across international borders.

It’s sensible to check basics like mailbox size, since those irritating mailbox warnings are the number one bugbear people have with traditional Exchange servers. Ensure Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are in place and offer adequate protection. Note that SharePoint access is not normally included with hosted Exchange, but it may be something you can bolt on.

Weighing It Up

If your organisation uses services like Google Apps (including Google Docs and Sheets), Office 365 is overkill, since you need to rent all of the software alongside the service. Sure, you can purchase the Email Only version, but then you may as well go to a third party for hosted Exchange. Even Active Directory support isn’t included on the cheaper plans.

If your goal is to have rock-solid service and unbeatable uptime, hosted Exchange ticks both of those boxes. For small businesses, hosted Exchange provides the core functionality employees need alongside flexibility of choice. SMEs can adopt solutions from other vendors, rather than being tied into Microsoft’s systems for everything.

Your hosted Exchange provider will help you to migrate your Exchange server over to their cloud platform; this is something Microsoft cannot offer with Office 365. Your provider will also let you know how to change your email server details on any devices already in use; Microsoft offers no phone support for SMEs at all.

Convinced? Activate your free hosted Exchange trial now.

All you want to know about Hosted Desktop

Desktop as a Service from Cloud4Desktop as a Service, a more techy expression for hosted desktop solutions, is a cloud computing service that provides you with access to your desktop PC from wherever you are in the world on any device connected to the internet. In simpler words, a virtual desktop is a desktop PC that can be accessed from the anywhere, provided you have an internet connection, giving full Continue reading All you want to know about Hosted Desktop