Cloud Computing Services and Alternatives

It’s common to categorize cloud computing as either Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  When we were moving to the cloud, it seemed more helpful to think in terms of the individual services and applications that we needed to provide our users.  Below is a list of the services we moved, or considered moving, to the cloud and the choices we evaluated.

Email Services
Managing an Exchange or other mail server is expensive, considering Google will do it for next to nothing. Google Apps for Business provides 50 mail accounts using your domain name for free; beyond 50 accounts, Google will charge $50 per user per year.  At a similar cost, Microsoft offers Exchange Online.

Document Sharing and Collaboration
SharePoint is a fantastic program and a huge success for Microsoft.  You might not have to install your own instance though.  Microsoft will host SharePoint for you for around $5 per user per month. Check out SharePoint Online to see how it works.  Google offers services similar to SharePoint using Google Calendars, Google Groups, and Google Sites.

Office Applications
If you choose Google for document sharing and collaboration, you might also like Google Docs for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  If you prefer Microsoft Office, check out Microsoft Office Live, which offers online storage and online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint similar to Google Docs.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) began as CRM in the cloud and has expanded from there.  There are also hosted versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and SugarCRMIn the end, we chose to host SugarCRM Community Edition on our own virtual server using Amazon EC2.  See my prior post, Saving Money Using the Cloud and Open Source Software.

Database Services
If you need a relational database and like SQL Server, check out SQL Azure.  You can have a database up and running in seconds.  It will cost you about $10 per gigabyte per month.  Amazon Relational Database Service is an alternative based on MySQL, and costs as little as $500 per year.

If you need massive amounts of disk space, Microsoft, Google and Amazon all have cloud offerings.  Check out, Windows Azure Storage, Amazon Elastic Block Store, Amazon Simple Storage Service, and Google App Engine.

Application Hosting
If you’re a .NET, PHP or Java developer, Microsoft Windows Azure provides a complete infrastructure for deploying your applications.  Azure is a massively scalable, zero-administration platform based on Windows Server 2008.  It provides Web hosting and much more, including storage, load-balancing, elastic scalability, authentication services and integration with you local network.  Google App Engine offers services similar to Azure and includes APIs for Python and Java developers.  It’s even free up to a certain number of requests per month.

Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to deploy an application on your own server.  That doesn’t mean you have to buy a physical machine though.  Amazon EC2 allows you to spin up Linux or Windows virtual machines in minutes.  The cost of a Windows server is as little as $109 per year and you don’t need any hardware.

If you want to learn more about cloud computing, come to one of Learning Tree’s cloud-computing courses.


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