Unifying Your Cloud Storage with DriveUnion

Image result for driveunion app logo pngThese days it’s common to have to use a combination of Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box. You might use one for your personal files while your work or school uses another. DriveUnion aims to ease the process of managing all of your cloud files and does so without taking up storage on your PC.

The app is available for Windows 10 for free but if you want to unlock the ability to use more than three cloud accounts or five favorites you’ll have to buy the premium version for $2.99.

All the Basics

DriveUnion supports four of the biggest cloud storage providers in Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box. You can login to multiple accounts from the same service as well in case you have separate ones for personal files and work or school.

The app has a basic design that is easy to navigate. Each storage account shows up in a panel on the left side of the app and you can expand specific accounts and folders within accounts. You can drag and drop files within accounts or between different providers and also have the option to drag and drop files from your PC to the cloud.

Copying larger files between two cloud providers takes a very long time. That isn’t necessarily DriveUnion’s fault as uploading larger files to the cloud is usually a long process but it’s worth noting.

The app does all of this without storing any of the files on your PC. This means you can browse all of your cloud files without clogging up your PC’s storage. Right clicking on files gives you the option to open them on the web or download them to view them locally on your device. You can also mark any file as a favorite making it easier to navigate back to them.

Navigating to specific files takes a few extra steps but works. Specifically when you click on a folder you then have to click on a specific file or subfolder to see any previews of files. But once you get to a file DriveUnion previews it well.

An exceptional feature within the app is viewing videos from the cloud. I keep a video portfolio on my OneDrive account and watching them within DriveUnion is actually a better experience than viewing them directly through OneDrive. The app takes a few seconds to load videos but streams them smoothly with no buffering or hiccups, which is an issue I face watching them within OneDrive.

More Improvements Please

DriveUnion is a solid app for moving files between cloud providers and viewing files but it has some limitations. The first and biggest issue is that you can’t create new folders. If you want to move files between existing folders DriveUnion is fine but not being able to create new ones is a major drawback.

Two other things that would be a big boost to DriveUnion are a better design and support for more cloud storage providers. The app is very functional but has a far from modern design. The app also has very little in terms of visual customization. This isn’t a huge deal as the app is for managing files rather than looking nice but bringing an app’s design into the present is almost always a good idea.

In Review

DriveUnion is a nice app for people who have to use more than one cloud storage provider. Being able to store and drag and drop files between accounts without ever storing a file on your PC is great.

The app could stand to be updated visually and to add some more features but it is a solid app for managing files in an increasingly cloud-driven world.

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Enhancements Coming to Microsoft’s OneDrive

My favorite cloud storage service, Microsoft OneDrive is about to get better.

Last month, Microsoft announced the refreshed OneDrive web UI that will offer cleaner look and improved performance to millions of users around the world. With the new UI, users can quickly see what files and folders are new, what content has been shared with others, who has accessed the content and who has not with click of a single button via their new People Card and more. When we reported about this new UI last month, we saw lot of users complaining about it. Microsoft yesterday posted a detailed look at their new design explaining many things. I’ve highlighted few of them below.

1) Folder and File icon update:

OneDrive team has made it easier to scan across file names and notice essential information quicker. They have made thumbnails larger and more detailed. Read their reason below.

Because OneDrive and SharePoint are alive, active and ever-changing. New files come in, others change, some get shared out. We heard from you that these changes needed to be more apparent, and we combined that knowledge with research about how the human eye parses items. The human eye is attuned to recognize familiar shapes and colors instantly. To take advantage of this, we modified the look of the files and folders in the list and tile views so it’s easier to find what you’re looking for.

In addition to the folder icon, they have redesigned file icons to be modern and lightweight. They have generated over 4200 variations and sizes of icons to make your files look great on any device. They are bringing these files experience across Android, iOS, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and the web interfaces in OneDrive and SharePoint to make it familiar for users.

2) Compact Mode:

Based on the feedback from power users, they are introducing new compact list view which is “high density list view” resembling Windows File Explorer. Also now both the regular and compact list design allows users you adjust column widths suit their needs.

3) New Item and Popular file Indicator:

The New Item Indicator allows users to quickly catch up with the latest contributions. And the Popular files indicator helps users find the popular files in their organizations.

You can read the full post from Microsoft here.

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Windows 10 S Arrives

Microsoft has just launched a very different version of its Windows operating system.

It’s being compared to Chrome OS, a simple, web-focused desktop operating system created by Google.

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The device runs Windows 10 S, a new version of Windows 10. In previous leaks, it’s been called Windows 10 Cloud OS.

“Streamlined for simplicity,” said Terry Myerson, the executive vice president of the Windows and devices group, who went on to describe it as “the soul of today’s Windows.”

Windows 10 S runs on the full range of Windows 10 hardware, including high-end models like the Surface Book, and has a slightly different default desktop image to Windows 10.

Like Chrome OS, it’s lightweight and streamlined, designed for teachers, students and customers who only require access to certain core programs, such as the Edge browser and educational apps.

It’s also designed to boot up quickly, making it ideal for the classroom.

Everything that runs on Windows 10 S has to be downloaded from the Windows Store, which will suggest alternatives to any programs it doesn’t offer.

Windows 10 S will be available this summer, ahead of the start of the next academic year.

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Amazon Web Services Outage – Explained

Earlier this week, an Amazon Web Service (AWS) failure caused a massive outage all over the internet. Now we know why. It was a typo – yes a typo.

Amazon released a detailed report today explaining what happened. An employee entered what they thought was a routine command to remove servers from an S3 subsystem. By mistake, they entered a larger number than intended. These servers supported two other S3 subsystems, both of which manage the storage and metadata for the entire region. Down went the dominoes.

AWS assures everyone that it’s prepared for the occasional failure. Fixing the employee’s error should have been as simple as rebooting the subsystems. However, AWS admitted that it hasn’t actually restarted those subsystems in years, and S3 has grown considerably in the meantime.

If you’ve ever rebooted an older computer and notice it chugging on start-up, you’ll understand the feeling AWS must have had while waiting for the system to come back.

In response, AWS says it’s putting in safeguards to prevent this kind of error from happening again. Apparently, creating these safeguards had been in the works for a while, and AWS is making it a priority after this outage. Considering it even brought down AWS’s own conference mid-speech, this is probably for the best.

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Is the Cloud Killing USB Flash Drives?

In my continuing look at the cloud we turn to it’s impact on USB flash Drives.

Technology has developed at the speed of light over the last few years. What was once cutting edge technology is now outdated. However one piece of equipment that has stayed at the forefront of the computer world is USB flash drives.

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Compact, portable and inherently useful, flash drives make transporting pieces of information simple, quick and easy. And Data Memory Systems, a leading supplier of computer memory in the US, has celebrated the tried and trusted devices, despite them facing stiff competition from other means of data storage, such as The Cloud and file-sharing platforms.

A Very Popular Cloud

The increasing popularity of The Cloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive and other file-sharing platforms such as Dropbox have changed the way people save and store files. Allowing both individuals and businesses to upload documents, files and work to the internet and access them from elsewhere, they have proven to be incredibly useful.

Cloudy Concerns

There are some concerns here with only storing your files in the cloud. Although internet is accessible in more places than ever before, it is not always available – or reliable. This can cause problems should files need to be accessed there and then. One way to avoid this problem is to sync your important files which I talked about in my previous post.

The costs associated with online storage can also be a concern to some. Many services do offer up their services for free, but this is dependent on staying within the storage limits. This is generally okay if used by an individual, but for businesses – or even those who have a lot of files to store – a couple of Gigabytes is simply not enough. Upgrading storage can be quite costly overtime as they are usually paid for on a monthly basis.

Security is another cause for concern for many. As the technology is still relatively new, cyber security is still catching up. And although every precaution is taken to ensure files are kept safe, there is always the threat that breaches can happen.

Not So Fast

Flash drives are often still the best way of storing and transporting data. They have come a long way in recent years and can now store large amounts of data at the touch of a button.

So there you go. Flash drives – today – are still in many ways the best way to go, however during the next several years they will only continue to decline in importance as cloud storage providers continue to improve their service.

Now if I could only find that USB Flash drive with all those Star Trek episodes I had….

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What is the Cloud Anyway?

One of the questions I am constantly asked is “what is the cloud”? This seems to be something that truly confuses many people so if you are not so sure about what “the cloud” really is you are not alone. This is because this a very ambiguous concept. However it is also a “concept” that has transitioned into a working reality so we all need to understand this  if we want to benefit from all that “the cloud” has to offer while avoiding pitfalls along the way.

For the purpose of this article I will focus on the consumer cloud. What does the cloud offer to the regular joe. The Enterprise cloud (business) is a much more complex world and we will cover that in a later post.
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So What is “The Cloud” Anyway?
At its most basic, the cloud is internet-connected remote storage. When you save a photo to the cloud, what it means is that instead of (or in most cased i in addition to) that image being saved directly to the phone in your hand, it’s saved on another computer far away. While it’s stored remotely, it’s still connected to the internet, so you’re able to access that photo whether you’re on your phone, your laptop, or a friend’s computer.

Image result for the cloudThe idea of cloud storage is that you can store as much data as you want (files, photos, music, whatever) and not be constrained by one particular device’s physical limits.

Usually, you have to pay for cloud storage — think Dropbox or iCloud (Google Drive is also cloud storage). You’re paying for that company to store your files and keep them safe, accessible, and secure, no matter where you are or what device you’re on.

Similarly, there’s cloud streaming. Apps like Spotify or Pandora have copies of all the songs in their library stored on a network of internet-connected computers (called servers) somewhere. When you decide to stream a song, your phone plays a copy of that music file over Wi-Fi or your cellular connection. While you may have playlists or music libraries in the app, the songs themselves are not stored there — they’re saved remotely.

The Cloud’s First Appearance

Where the word “cloud” first got into the mix is a little up for debate. The first reported instance is circa 1996, when Compaq executives said that the internet would give rise to “‘cloud-computing’ enabled applications” (how prescient). But the first modern example was in 2006, when “the cloud” really started taking off thanks to Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt. At a Search Engine Strategies conference, Schmidt talked about Google services living “in a cloud somewhere”.

“We call it cloud computing — they should be in a ‘cloud’ somewhere. And that if you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn’t matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile phone or a BlackBerry or what have you…you can get access to the cloud.”

The buzzword does make some sense. Like a cloud hanging overhead, your data is accessible, but not right there next to you. (But with that sort of reasoning, it could have just as easily been called the blimp, the moon, sunshine, or air. I kind of like the idea of moon storage, personally.)

The Pros of the Cloud

Image result for the cloudNaturally, there are some pros and cons to the cloud. The benefits are that you don’t have to worry about running out of storage on your phone or computer. And if you break your phone, but all your data is backed up to the cloud, no biggie — restore it from the most recent back up and software-wise, your new phone will be exactly the same as your old one. And as apps such as Netflix and Spotify show, for a reasonable fee, you can get access to a huge library of movies, TV shows, and music, without having to download them yourself or buy them individually.

Access on the Go. Just think about this – through the use of a good cloud provider you have access to all of your files and apps no matter where you are and no matter what device you are using.

Security & Backup. You do not need to worry so much about it. That is because you cloud provider is doing this for you. Your files will be stored on several different servers spanning a large geographic region and encryption (like your bank uses) protects your data from prying eyes.

The Cons of the Cloud

I am a big believe in the cloud and suggest that it is fast on its way to becoming the way everyone manages their data. Hard drives and media for many people are on the way to something that we look back on like floppy discs. I will note a couple of common arguments regarding the cloud along with some remarks.

The dark side is that you are entrusting your personal data to a third-party company. If you upload a very personal file or document and then delete it from the cloud, you have no way of knowing that every bit of that file was actually erased from existence. And then if the government comes knocking (for whatever reason) and wants to look at your data, as Apple’s current battle against the FBI shows, data securely stored on your phone is inaccessible, but data stored remotely can be turned over quite easily with a warrant. This is probably the biggest concern anyone should have as it relates to controlling files in the cloud. Once they are the hands of another provider you do lose a little control, however in the vast majority of cases this will rarely impact most users. This is yet another case where law if lagging behind technology.

Another downside can be if you end up stranded without an internet connection. With no internet, you’ve got no access to your cloud-stored files. Here with a little planning you can avoid this scenario. Just about all cloud service providers allow you to “sync” your files. This means that your files can be both on your device – and the cloud. With this “sync” in place you can work on your files even during times that your files are off-line. When your device re-connects to the internet the files that have been changed or added sync with your cloud provider.

Now you know the basics of what the cloud is, where it came from, and how it works

To Be Continued…

In upcoming articles I will touch on the Enterprise Cloud as well as offer some of my suggestions in respect to the best cloud providers out there.

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Understanding the Cloud

Here at the Borough of West Chester this week we moved our phone service into “the cloud” with Microsoft’s Skype for Business. What does this mean and what is the cloud? Here I will describe what “the cloud” is and later we can talk about our new exciting Skype for Business service.

These days I have fielded many questions about “the cloud”. The term “cloud” is actually not all that accurate and often serves to confuse and scare people. So what is “the cloud” anyway?

In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is simply a metaphor for the Internet, nothing more. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.

Explaining “The Cloud”

What “the cloud” simply is – when data and applications are stored… elsewhere, other then your local computer or network.

When you store data on or run programs from the hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. With local storage everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy, for that one computer, or others that are on your local network. Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades. However during the past several years there has been a major shift towards “the cloud”.

The cloud offers mobility, smaller local infrastructures and even smaller technology staffs. So you can see why many users, large and small are attracted to “the cloud”.

For it to be considered “cloud computing,” you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synced with other information over the Web. With an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.

Cloud Winners

The lines between local computing and cloud computing can get very blurry. That is because the cloud is everywhere and many things we do are there and we do not even realize it. You can easily have a local piece of software such as Microsoft Office that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft OneDrive).

That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web-based apps, Office Online, that are Internet-only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote accessed via your Web browser without installing anything. That makes them a version of cloud computing.

Cloud Service Examples

Google Drive: This is a pure cloud computing service, with all the storage found online so it can work with the cloud apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Drive is also available on more than just desktop computers; you can use it on tablets like the iPad or on smartphones, and there are separate apps for Docs and Sheets, as well. In fact, most of Google’s services could be considered cloud computing: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on.

Apple iCloud: Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage, backup, and synchronization of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device (Windows users have to install the iCloud control panel). Naturally, Apple won’t be outdone by rivals: it offers cloud-based versions of its word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote) for use by any iCloud subscriber. iCloud is also the place iPhone users go to utilize the Find My iPhone feature that’s all important when the handset goes missing.

Amazon Cloud Drive: Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon, and images—if you have Amazon Prime, you get unlimited image storage. Amazon Cloud Drive also holds anything you buy for the Kindle. It’s essentially storage for anything digital you’d buy from Amazon, baked into all its products and services.

The Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files online, but they also sync those files with local storage. Synchronization is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally.

It is also considered cloud computing if you have a community of people with separate devices that need the same data synced, be it for work collaboration projects or just to keep the family in sync. For more, check out the The Best Cloud Storage and File-Syncing Services for 2016.

The Wild, Wild Cloud

There is no central body governing use of the cloud for storage and services. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is trying to deal with this. It created an IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative in 2011 to establish standards for use, especially for the business sector.

Cloud computing like so much about the Internet is a little bit like the wild west, where the rules are made up as you go, and you hope for the best. It is because of this that you are safe in the cloud, if you stick with the big players like Microsoft, Apple, Google & Amazon.


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Oracle’s New Cloud Strategy

The race for your cloud dollar just heated up.

Tech giant Oracle is jumping into the cloud sector in a very big way. Larry Ellison,  executive chairman of the board and CTO, this week announced a beefed up Oracle Cloud Platform that aims to compete head-to-head with Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft.

The Oracle Cloud Platform is an integrated suite of services designed to help developers, IT pros, business users and analysts build, extend and integrate cloud apps. Larry Ellison announced 24 new cloud services, including Oracle Database Cloud — Exadata, Oracle Archive Storage Cloud, Oracle Big Data Cloud, Oracle Integration Cloud, Oracle Mobile Cloud, and Oracle Process Cloud.

If there was any doubt that the cloud was not here to stay here is yet another example of why cloud services are the future of how we will deal with document management, messaging services and collaboration efforts.

As an example of what I am suggesting just take a look at Oracle Cloud Platform’s specific growth. Their platform is powering some of the world’s biggest brands, with over 1,800 customers including Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, the Washington Nationals, Big Fish Games, General Motors among many others.

Finding Oracle’s Cloud Nitch  

While Amazon, Google, Microsoft Azure and the other providers have largely been providing commodity-like compute services it appears that Oracle Cloud is branding itself as a fully integrated platform to run Oracle apps in particular.

It is becoming not a decision for most organizations if they should go to the cloud, but which cloud to embrace.

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Office 365 Welcomes Box Aboard

Microsoft’s cross platform strategy continues with new integration with cloud storage service provider Box.

Starting today the new deep integration with Office Online will allow users to preview, edit and even create new Office Online files right from Box’s Web interface.

It all happens via Microsoft’s Office Online interface, but syncs automatically onto your Box storage.

The change makes document editing on Box a much more seamless experience. Previously, you’d have to download a file make your changes, and then remember to re-upload it. Without those additional steps, editing documents is a lot more convenient.

It’s an interesting move by Microsoft, given it has a cloud storage service of its own: OneDrive. It’s not nearly as popular as Box and Dropbox are, however, so adding deep integration with other cloud services makes sense – Box says there are “over a billion” Office documents on its platform alone.

It’s also a way for Microsoft to save off Google Docs’ popularity. People use drive primarily for the convenience of saving and editing all your documents on the cloud.

Office’s apps are generally more powerful, however, so deep integration with existing storage platforms can help Microsoft retain customers on its platform instead of Google’s. Box, meanwhile, gets feature parity with its biggest competitor.

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The 3 Eras of Modern Computing – Embracing the Cloud

We finally made it. After a year of planning today our organization is in the cloud with our data. Researching cloud services led us to Microsoft 365. Today our migration is complete!  This had me thinking about computers, networks, human beings and the applications we all use to get things done.  For some, the “cloud” is some whimsical word play filled with mystery and curiosity.  To me, “the cloud” is simply the next, logical step in how we use and interact with digital data.

I will try to demonstrate this natural progression in three eras. Hopefully once you see this some of the mystery about the “cloud” will be diminished.

Era #1. DOS – Modern Computing with the “Disc Operating System”

MS-DOS dominated the computer market between 1981 and 1995. That’s a long time. DOS was Microsoft’s first operating system on the first wave of offering user friendly and affordable computers. However, to work with DOS the computer user had to run commands from the command (c:/) prompt. For example, if you wanted to use a word processor like “WordStar” you would need to go to the DOS prompt and type the command, c:/ws.exe (oh, those were the days). Each program was executed like this and you could only use one program at a time.  Although this was clumsy and complex it is all we knew at the time and most of us grew quite comfortable in the world of MS-DOS.

We lived in this DOS world for more then a decade until a GUI (graphic user interface) was released.

Era #2. The Graphical User Interface (GUI)

On November 20, 1985 Microsoft debuted their new, dramatically different operating system, Microsoft Windows. This new operating system replaced the command line prompt with a graphical interface. Microsoft’s new interface for the first time brought the ability for “non techs” to move around the PC easily and work with countless applications.

You would think that this would have been an easy transition for many. From DOS to Windows. No more command lines!

Guess what? For many PC users this was anything but easy. Even many non-tech types struggled with this change. It actually took until about 1989-1990 before the majority of PC users were starting to accept Windows and move away from MS-DOS. Why this delay in adoption?  Well, to me, it seems that even when something is old and complex and lacking state of the art features, if we know how to get around it, warts and all, that, at least in the short run it is easier then learning something new, even if it is our best interest.

Era #3. Cloud Services – Not So New

The concept of cloud computing dates back to the 1950’s. Yes it really does. I would not mislead you. Back in the 1950’s large mainframe computers were popular and seen as the future of computing. These large main frame computers soon became available in universities and corporations. To make these costly mainframe computers more efficient and cost effective the ability to allow multiple users became very important. This was the original concept of “cloud computing” and what is really cool is that this “new” technology, is not so new, and was in fact around long before I was born.

The Modern Cloud

Although this idea dates back to the 1950’s the modern concept of “cloud computers” that we understand today remained out of the public sector for decades. Then Microsoft dominated the market with DOS and Windows from the early 1980’s with files stored locally on PC’s and then servers. This remained so until about 2006 when Amazon.com (yes the online retailer) launched Amazon Web Services in order to provide website and client-side applications to customers who did not want to host these services on premises. By 2011 and 2012 Amazon Web Services was maturing into a widely accepted option for organizations who did not want to manage and host their applications and websites.

Not to be left out of this new wave of computer services both Google (2008) and Microsoft (2010), among countless others, entered the world of cloud services. With these two tech-giants engaged cloud services began to grow in popularity.

Here, at our organization we first entered cloud services in 2011 when our email was migrated from an on-premises Exchange (mail) server to what was known at the time as “Microsoft Online Services”.

This first step into the cloud with email services, I have found is the best way to make an eventual full transition into cloud services. It provides time for the organization to get antiquated with the new service and how interacting with off-site information works.

Back to Microsoft for a second. Having missed the boat with smartphones there was no way Microsoft could afford to fail in the new world of cloud services. Since their cloud services launch in 2010 it has been full sped ahead with improving and enhancing their cloud services. Office 365 was publicly launched in 2011 which now offers the ability to manage data offsite, in the Microsoft’s cloud, which is known as Microsoft Azure.

Today, June 10 our organization completed our 2 week migration of our data to Microsoft’s Cloud.

Why Go the Cloud? What is the Benefit?

These are two questions I am asked often. I will try to answer these and other questions in respect to what the cloud offers to both the organization and employee.

Benefits of Cloud Computing – With the Right Cloud Partner

  • Mobility –  Or what I call, the “Magic of the Cloud”. This is the ability to work from anywhere, on any device, on any document. In addition the magic is that when you open a document you can start from where you stopped working on it.
  • Collaboration – The ability to easily share documents with other employees and even stakeholders outside of your organization. The ability to work & share documents today is critical to the success of projects and collaborative efforts.
  • Security – Very often, cloud providers can offer security levels that organizations simply to dot have the ability to provide on premises. For example, with Microsoft specifically, an organization’s data is stored in several data centers located in the continental United States. These data centers are “Department of Defense” certified, are located in “unmarked” buildings and guard by security personnel.
  • Up to Date Software – Cloud services bring the ability for the organization to always be using, and have access to, the latest versions of their applications. This fosters innovation by providing the best in technology to the staff.
  • Controlled Cost – Cloud services are considered “software as a service” (SaaS) which means the cost is incurred as a subscription. The annual cost can be projected and budgeted, allowing the organization to have a good handle on current and upcoming financial situations. Licensing rules and cost, especially with Microsoft have grown increasingly complex and expensive over the years. Microsoft’s cloud service for the most part ends this confusion and it’s unknown future cost.

There you go, a fast rundown regarding what I call the 3 Eras of Modern Computing. I believe cloud services are here to stay so we might as well embrace it and make it the best it can be.

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