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Paid cloud versus free services – what’s the difference?

Why pay for cloud services when giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft are offering space in the cloud for free? Loryan Strant looks at the pros and cons of using free cloud services.

Cloud has been made possible by a variety of factors – key amongst these is economies of scale when it comes to physical IT resources.

Cast your mind back to the mid 90’s and think about how much money a 2GB hard disk would have cost for your PC. If you remembered it being in the hundreds of dollars you would be correct. Walk into Australia Post now and while waiting in line you can purchase a 2GB USB keyring for less than $10. Go online and you can get the same storage for free with services like Dropbox. This is all brought to us by advancements in technology in terms of new materials and lower production costs.

However access to disk space on a server can’t really be classified as a cloud service – it’s simply disk space on a server.

Looking over at some of the giants of technology such as Microsoft, Google and Apple they all offer disk space of varying types – and it’s free. However these giants go several steps further in their free offerings, throwing in mail and calendar functionality, document authoring and sharing, video chat and a whole raft of others.

The key point to remember here is that these services are free.

Microsoft and Google are currently waging an all-out war in order to stay relevant as we move into new ways of communicating and collaborating. The benefit to customers is the continual improvements to free services offered by both giants. That’s great you say. We all like free things that continue to get better. There are however several areas where free is not always good – especially in a business context.

Many people I come across use Microsoft Windows Live (aka Hotmail) or Google Apps (aka Gmail, docs, etc.) for their business and are happy with this because it’s a free service and provides them with all the functionality they need. The challenge arises when that business needs support – as free doesn’t include phone or even email support. Neither service includes any service level agreement or guarantees to the safety of your data (backups or privacy).

Both giants offer free services for various reasons. For Microsoft it is to entice you with a good looking interface that integrates with numerous social networks and ultimately keeps you using Microsoft products. For Google it is to entice users with simple interfaces and rich functionality while analysing your usage in order to serve advertisements.

So while there are no tangible costs of using free cloud services – there can potentially be other costs borne onto the business which may amount to more than the few dollars per month a paid cloud service would charge.

As a business owner the key question to ask is how much are you prepared to sacrifice for free?

What do you think?

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Loryan Strant

Loryan Strant

Loryan Strant is a 16 year veteran of web and network technologies. His company <a href="http://www.paradyne.com.au/">Paradyne</a> focuses on helping organisations of all types and sizes get into the cloud and Office 365. Loryan regularly blogs and writes articles about the cloud and has recently published a book on <a>Office 365</a>. He's passionate about enabling people and organisations using technology the right way, enabling them to become more productive. Loryan is a Microsoft Office 365 MVP (Most Valuable Professional), an award created by Microsoft to recognize the best and brightest from technological communities around the world. You can follow Loryan’s <a href="http://www.thecloudmouth.com/">blog</a> as well as follow him on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/TheCloudMouth">@TheCloudMouth</a>.

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