November 18, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud.

Despite deep-seated childhood fears of all data being consolidated into a single powerful system that touches everything, a little research (and extensive therapy) helped me to develop a healthy relationship with "cloud computing". And by that, I mean that nearly everything I do is contained in the cloud and I am completely dependent on it. Healthy is a relative term.



It started about a year ago when I signed up for a GMail account. Now, the last thing I needed at the time was another email address, but I figured the features of GMail were too good to pass up. Enter Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Groups ... I was quickly developing a dependency, but I was not quiet an addict.

Like a lot of small businesses and pretentious people who buy domains that contain their name, my primary email (containing a personalized domain name) was being hosted for me. I moved the hosting around from different providers, and accessed my email through POP or IMAP with traditional clients like Outlook. I even tried moving my hosting to my house, running off Exchange or one of the various Linux mail servers.

Needless to say, I got tired very quickly of the pricing structure (i.e. not free) and lack of features (i.e. not GMail) that was traditional email hosting. Self-hosting meant I had to keep up with my own maintenance, and also meant that anytime I cut the cable line mowing, I might miss some important emails while trying to blame the outage on my ISP.  I could always forward mail from my hosting provider to GMail, but that seemed like a waste of money, paying a provider for simply forwarding my mail. And I could always bury the cable line, but we all know what manual labor in sunlight does to us pasty folk. Plus, the in-house hosting comes at a premium in energy costs, not to mention time wasted trying to explain the presence of a noisy server to my wife before giving up and telling her the constant hum helps me sleep through her snoring.

So what is a good techie to do? After failing to find anyone that buries cable for free, the solution popped out in the form of Google Apps. Google Apps has been around since 2006, but until recently was simply a cool beta product that I wasn't cool enough to be using. For the uninitiated, it allows you to bring your own domain name over to Google's services (GMail, Docs, Calendar, & Sites) and waltz around in Google bliss without "@gmail.com" creating a mundane trailer to your otherwise memorable email address.


I started creating documents in Google Docs, because I could access them from home, work, or the toilet without having to copy them to removable media (and risk losing a meticulously written study guide to my septic tank). I could keep up to date with Google's powerful Calendar, and share it with family and friends. Even better, everything syncs seamlessly with my phone using Google Sync. I'm even offered many of the features you would only associate with traditional enterprise systems, like multiple shared calendars, shared contacts, powerful forms for data collection, world-class spam filtering, and huge storage limits.

Enough pillow talk though. Over the next few weeks, I'll make a couple posts detailing some of the reasons small and medium businesses (and enterprises, for that matter) should take a serious look at Google Apps, and how you can cut messaging costs dramatically while catapulting your organization straight into the stratosphere of technology (that's a cloud reference, see? You'll catch on.).

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