Image courtesty of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotosJust as the weather changes so does the way computers work starting with subscription vs purchased software.

The “cloud” by definition is condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere; however, most of us refer to it as an unseen symbol hosting our most valuable data.

The concept of cloud computing to home and business use isn’t so much a new concept as it is a confusing one for many. Those unclear view it as an unsecured hosting plan and others view it as money down the drain since you don’t have a physical disc to hold. We challenge you to review the choices available so crunching numbers and details avoids getting caught in the rain later on.

For years we have bought software in a box and kept the discs in case of a sudden crash. Once in a while an update would come along and keep us running smoothly. The more recent reality is that software companies are only offering cloud based subscriptions so that they can offer a better product. Benefits of your cloud based subscriptions include timely updates, accessibility across multiple devices, shared tutorials and forums. One more thing to consider is that when a company decides to end production of purchased software you will eventually be forced go to the cloud.

Case in point is the Adobe Creative Suite. Now only offered as a Creative Cloud, the monthly rate is about $49.99 versus the take-home version that could hit you for somewhere around $1499.00. Once your partner began using a newer version, compatibility was an issue forcing upgrades you probably weren’t planning to make. Additionally, Adobe has made the online service so intuitive that upgrades are welcomed by users.

QuickBooks online for business starts around $26.95/month and offers a host of services that again can be accessed from anywhere and across multiple devices. There are also tools available with the subscription that just aren’t available for the purchase user who spent about $199. Additionally, QuickBooks encourages upgrades every few years or you lose your support system.

There is a place for software as a monthly service.  If you were to buy a CRM (Customer Relation Manager) software package you would pay an upfront cost for the software, often an annual maintenance cost and depending on the size of your organization a physical server, additional backup costs, etc.  Let’s take a 10 user CRM you would likely pay $5,000 for a server, $3,000 for setup and installation, $10,000 for the software. In initial investment of about $19,000 but you own it.  Then you look at at $50 per user per month that is $500 per month or $6,000 per year. In three years you will have paid more for Sales Force but have saved any IT support of physical hardware and the upgrade and migration of the software when your hardware needs to be replaced.

Utility computing is known to the end user as cloud storage. Companies like Amazon, iCloud and Dropbox have built this world into a cloud heaven for businesses that like to access files while on the go. These services are often free or low cost for individuals or small businesses.  However, often do not scale for businesses with increasing need for security and managing who has access to your documents.  There are cloud based file sharing programs out there for businesses.  They may be slightly more expensive but simplify sharing, manage user rights and can easily revoke documents from a user.

If you’re going to the cloud for business or personal use, be sure to talk to your IT Support team. There are security issues that need to be addressed so all your data stays in the cloud and doesn’t shower down on someone else.