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Cloud Computing at its Best

Published by Charles Brodeur

Shared File Server

Every office has and needs a shared file server, but they’re expensive, a nightmare to set up, a nightmare to connect to and so many of them are neither backed up properly or located off site so if there was a fire you’d still lose everything anyway.  I read a statistic recently claiming that 75% of businesses that suffer from significant data loss (a fire, robbery etc.) fold within three months, whether or not that’s true I don’t know, but it would certainly prove pretty crippling for my business.  I think a lot of businesses save cost in the area of disaster / recovery because they simply think that it won’t happen to them and it will cost a lot to sort out.

It doesn’t need to be expensive and honestly whether you’re a freelancer working on your own or a SME you can’t afford not to have some sort of backup solution.

First problem to sort out is storing files locally, this is as bad as storing emails locally (POP3), arguably worse because if you were to loose all your emails whilst it would be a massive inconvenience for most people it would be nothing like as serious as loosing all your files.  You can solve this really easily using a piece of software called dropbox.  You install dropbox on your computer and any file you place in it will automatically be uploaded and backed up to the dropbox server, your copy is still stored locally so it behaves as a normal file.  Dropbox is free up to 2GB, I trialed it and loved it so much that I placed my dropbox at the root of my hard drive and therefore now store every file on my computer in it.  I store near 50GB in my dropbox and it cost me $9.99 a month.  It’s amazing, I work with all my files as normal, never have to trigger dropbox and it just perpetually updates the version of my file on the server.  This can also work cross platform and device, so when I get home and power up my PC laptop I can access all the same files and versions of those files that I was working on at the office on my iMac.  Using dropbox you can easily set up shared directories with colleagues, freelancers and clients.  And when a file is added or updated on another device you will get notified.  And as if it couldn’t get any better dropbox comes with an iPhone app that lets you access all your files from anywhere.  Recently I went to Spain for a few weeks to work remotely and as I rushed through the French countryside on the TGV I answered urgent emails on my iPhone and then I was even able to send a 70MB PSD to a client via the dropbox app, which simply sends a low bandwidth email with a link to the file in dropbox.  As I did this I felt pretty smug and if I hadn’t been bragging to my client over email that I was remote working on the TGV they wouldn’t have known that I wasn’t in the office, however be warned my mobile data charges were an absolute shocker and I was only using email… i.e no int. calls.

Versioning & Recovery

So you’ve got your files backed up off site… the next problem to solve is versioning and recovery.  If you’re sharing files with clients and freelancers what happens if someone accidentally deletes all the files in your shared folder?  Well you can pay for a recovery service with dropbox it’s something like $2 a month, I’ve used it to reinstate a deleted file, which was great, but I haven’t used it extensively and I’m not sure what would happen if you wanted to recover a previous version of a file, i.e you haven’t deleted it, but you’ve over written it with a new erroneous version… perhaps if someone knows they can leave it in the comments at the bottom.

What I use to solve this problem of version control is Time Machine… I appreciate this is something you can only get on Macs, but it is unreal.  It basically backs up your entire hard drive every 15mins to an external hard drive and then using this really cool space-age interface it allows you to roll back the version of the file you’re working on to any point in 15 minute intervals in the last day and then to any date before that since the file has been in existence (or since you started using time machine).  If you work with code it’s like a really nice simple version control that doesn’t require you to check in code… If you’re working in a rigid coding environment with other developers it’s not a substitute for proper subversion, but as a lone web designer or developer it’s perfect.

If you are in a position to use the setup above, Dropbox, with version control combined with Mac Time Machine on an external drive (which is obligatory) you have a near bomb proof backup setup with no single point of failure making potential data loss virtually impossible.

Telephone Systems

At the moment there are a lot of different phone options out there.   I’m going to outline what we use, this won’t be suitable for all companies but if you stick to the basic principals you should be able to find a similar solution that works for your business.

When talking about telephone systems you should be thinking in terms of VOIP.  VOIP stands for “Voice Over Internet Protocol” it basically means making calls over the Internet.  Most of you will have come into contact with Skype which is a VOIP service, but today there are many alternatives, which are better set up for larger corporate situations, having said that, Skype themselves are also doing a lot in this sector too.

I started using Skype and we’ve built on that and with some additional tools and we now have system that works really well for us.

Charles Brodeur
eCommerce Consultant
BigTurns Professional Services Ltd 
Vancouver, BC V6E 4R1

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