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Cloud Alternatives: Going Beyond The Obvious Applications

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Are you in the clouds trying to keep up with all the new and improved cloud-based technologies? Whether you’re relying on a third-party managed-services company for some or all of your company technology, cloud computing’s future growth is inevitable. Companies worldwide are planning cloud-based migrations, or they’ve already migrated their IT functions to the cloud, since many of the issues holding them back are being resolved. The “old cloud” concerns are the next-generation “new cloud” innovations.

Tried and True Cloud Functions

Cloud technology over recent years has allowed businesses to upgrade their IT processes, components and services and gain new efficiencies in the process. Certain Internet services, such as Web-based email, are good examples of what the cloud can do, in that you can send and receive messages anytime, from any location, and you rely on a service provider to do so. To gain the same kinds of benefits, companies around the world have migrated to hosted service providers for the management and support of some or certain IT activities:

· Application hosting

· Cloud data backup and storage

· Customer relationship management (CRM)

· Database services

· Document collaboration and sharing

· Office software applications

· Servers

If your company is not yet using cloud computing for these aspects of the business, it’s time to get up to speed. Much like upgrading to new computers and software, if companies don’t get on board with technology as it advances, the next generation of advances will leave you behind.

Cloud Alternatives: Going Beyond The Obvious Applications

The New Cloud

With new cloud concepts being implemented and other cloud trends well on their way into the marketplace, companies will not want to miss an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. In this online mobile and social atmosphere where users have high expectations for their online experiences, and ecommerce companies are flooding the Internet, it will pay to be prepared. Some cloud trends for 2014 are already coming to fruition:

· You may have the ability to access personal data and information in non-mobile electronic devices such as smart TVs and Internet-equipped automobiles — not just cell phones and tablets.

· Cloud analytics will become more readily available, enhancing research and industry opportunities for broader efficiencies of every kind, including the use of cloud-based applications for data gathering and response.

· New cloud trends will allow companies to reach their clients in unprecedented ways, from online performances to media-based training and education sources.

· Speed and security improvements are changing how companies who use online data to identify and engage their customers.

Cloud computing is being embraced by more companies, but the issues of security and stability are still ongoing concerns for those who are already implementing cloud-based strategies. Now more than ever, the concerns are getting a lot of attention and with the right plans in place cloud databases and storage are likely to be safer than on-premise solutions. Online Cloud Storage computing is being embraced by more companies, but the issues of security and stability are still ongoing concerns for those who are already implementing cloud-based strategies.

Cloud Transformation

With the Internet, cloud technology and mobile and social architecture driving changes in ecommerce and business models across the world, exciting global opportunities exist for both cloud providers and enterprises leveraging cloud computing. The cloud transformation is changing the IT industry and businesses in many different industries are taking advantage of the efficiencies that it offers.

Migrating To A New Cloud: Tips For Minimizing Your Downtime

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At some point in the current era of technology, it will become inevitable for your company to migrate its cloud system from one server to another, or to adopt a cloud strategy for the first time. That may entail moving completely to an external cloud, migrating from old to new hardware, or anywhere in between. Cloud migration is an essential part of keeping a business or company competitive, since migrating to better and more efficient systems can lead to faster and more convenient processes, among many other benefits. However, migrating a cloud system may still prove problematic, as an incorrect installation could lead to lengthy downtime and less reliability.

Knowing when a Migration is Needed

It’s important to recognize when it’s time to migrate to a new server, as migrating too early will not yield enough benefits to make the move worthwhile. One of the biggest reasons for migration is to replace legacy or otherwise old hardware with a state-of-the-art infrastructure. You’ll know it’s time for you to migrate to newer software if one of these situations occurs:

  • Your cloud has progressively gotten slower as a result of increased load due to newer, more resource-intensive software
  • Your cloud is struggling to keep up to date as a result of a lack of new features
  • It’s become too expensive to maintain legacy hardware
  • Security has improved and your business needs to ensure that only authorized agents can access the cloud

Migrating To A New Cloud: Tips For Minimizing Your Downtime

Being Aware of the Tasks Ahead and Possible Pitfalls

With the knowledge of why you would migrate a server, it’s important to balance the potential gains with the amount of work that will be required. As mentioned earlier, a server migration will usually involve a move to better-equipped or more suitable hardware, which would cut costs, help with scalability or both. Additionally, newer servers usually have stronger security features that are important for keeping your company’s information secure and private.

However, migrating your cloud involves a possibly long period of downtime while data and services are transferred to new hardware or a new location. During this time, your company won’t be able to access information, which would critically hamper company activity. In the current IT era, it’s critical for your company to be working at maximum efficiency for as long as possible, and a migration, despite the benefits, may ultimately be too detrimental for your business.

Beginning the Migration Process

To start a cloud migration, the first thing to take do is to keep backups and double-check processes. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing data was lost or deleted in a transfer. Taking some time to make backups and prepare the system thoroughly will save much more time and money in the long run as you maintain the new system, such as a hosted Windows cloud service. After the files are migrated to the new server, don’t immediately cancel or shut down the previous server until the new server is up and running. This will ensure that if problems occur, you’ll still be able to revert back to the working model.

Keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be well equipped to migrate your server to new and better hardware. In this day and age, it’s more important than ever to stay current on technology, and migrating your cloud will likely help your company maintain standards of efficiency.

Debunking Cloud Concerns

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Cloud computing models offer businesses a cost-effective way to outsource IT applications and infrastructure services to a third-party service provider. It allows them to use applications and store data hosted on servers and databases that are owned, managed and supported by the service provider. A company simply pays for the cost of using the on-demand service and leaves the management, upgrades, maintenance and support tasks to the cloud vendor.

Over the past few years, a growing number of large, medium and small companies have moved to the cloud to reduce the complexity and costs of their on-site IT infrastructure. Technology consulting firm Gartner Inc. expects that a majority of firms will have their IT applications delivered as a cloud service over the next few years. According to the International Data Corporation, spending on cloud computing in 2014 will be over $100 billion.

Popular Misconceptions

Despite the tangible benefits of the cloud, several misconceptions have persisted in the industry over the viability of cloud computing. One of the biggest concerns involves data security and data availability. Cloud vendors typically use a shared infrastructure to host and deliver their services. Applications and data from multiple companies are often hosted on the same server, prompting some to raise questions about data leakage, improper access, data theft and loss of confidentiality. Many also worry about catastrophic service disruptions as the result of cloud hardware and network failures.

Debunking Cloud Concerns

Another popular misconception involves data residency. Many organizations in regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare have strict requirements about how their data is handled and where it’s stored. Large cloud vendors typically have highly distributed architectures and many of them use servers located around the world to host customer applications and data. As a result, companies that have data residency requirements have been reluctant to use cloud services for fear of transgressing regulations.

Perhaps the biggest misconception involves a loss of control. Many believe that outsourcing to the cloud results in an automatic loss of control over IT functions. Since enterprise data is hosted on servers owned and managed by a third party, companies often fear they have less control, or even no control over their critical data assets.

Vendor Investments

Although such concerns may have been valid a few years ago, they certainly are not true these days. Cloud vendors are acutely aware of how such issues can affect adoption decisions. Most cloud providers offer secure access control, user authentication, intrusion detection and encryption tools for protecting information in hosted cloud databases. Many have highly redundant architectures for handling server and network failures. Though vendors may use a shared infrastructure to host data, most have technologies and procedures in place to ensure proper data segregation and access control. Many vendors also offer contractual guarantees and service level agreements to ensure that data residency requirements are met. Plus, a plethora of hosting options is available for companies concerned about a loss of control.

Planning for the Cloud

As a small business owner, you should certainly be aware of all these issues, but you shouldn’t let them deter you from taking advantage of the cloud. The best way to move to the cloud is to do it in small steps. Cloud vendors allow you to outsource as little or as much of your IT operations as you want. Many companies start by migrating common applications such as e-mail and office productivity to the cloud.

Most large cloud vendors also offer a choice between a hosted and a fully managed model. With a hosted model, the vendor will let you use its infrastructure to run your applications, but you’re ultimately responsible for managing the application. With a cloud-managed IT service, the vendor assumes full responsibility for hosting and managing your IT applications and services. If security is a primary concern, vendors offer a dedicated hosting model under which your applications and data will be hosted on a server reserved exclusively for your use.

The key to a successful cloud deployment lies in knowing what questions to ask. Before you embark on a journey to the cloud, ask why you are doing it. Is it for the cost savings, for the flexibility or the reduction in complexity? Make sure you have a realistic idea of the return on investment. If you already have a large IT infrastructure in place, your real ROI may lie in the reduced complexity and not necessarily in reduced costs. Make sure you understand the operational and technical issues you’ll need to overcome for cloud computing to work in your environment. Most importantly, vet your vendor thoroughly. Before you hand over your corporate jewels to a cloud vendor, make sure the company has the technical and professional resources to handle your data in a safe and responsible manner.

Cloud computing is here to stay. The benefits are real and tangible for companies that take the time to understand cloud computing and how to take advantage of its innovations.

CMS Options: How To Choose The Right One For Your Business

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Selecting the right content management system (CMS) for your business requires a little introspection. You’ll need to consider how your business will be using this CMS, how visitors to your website will interact with your content and what you future growth plans include. Take a close look at your business to find the answers to these questions. Once you know what you need, you can begin looking for the right CMS to meet those needs. Here’s a guide to help you find the right CMS to match your business needs.

Content Management System

A content management system is the software that helps you organize and present information on the web. This can be a blog, ecommerce site, traditional website or something else. A good CMS helps you create a cohesive front-end to present your content to the world.

WordPress

The most popular CMS on the web, WordPress is used by more than 19 percent of all websites. Using plugins and themes, it’s possible to modify WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine. It can be a regular website or blog, but it can also become a social network, video blog, photography portfolio, ecommerce site, classified ad site, blog network and much more.

Drupal

Another community-supported open-source project, Drupal offers a very robust CMS. These sites are commonly operated by organizations and groups that want a front-end to share with the world and a back-end that will help with group organization. It’s great for complex sites with lots of users.

CMS Options: How To Choose The Right One For Your Business

Magento

One of the best ecommerce content management systems is Magento. It’s very easy to set up a site, add products and start selling online. While other systems can do ecommerce, they don’t do it as well as Magento.

Business needs

Begin by looking at your own business needs. Start with your current needs and think about how the company will grow in the next few years. Do you need a blog? Social network? Ecommerce solution? After carefully considering your current and future needs, you can take a look at the features of any CMS under consideration to see if it meets your requirements. Keep in mind that WordPress, Drupal, and Magento are only three of the more popular CMS options available. There are lots of other CMSs to choose from when finding the right one for your business needs. Determine how you’ll host the site. Running your own server and maintaining a CMS can take a lot of time and effort that could be spent elsewhere. You might benefit from a hosted Magento, WordPress or Drupal solution, allowing you to focus on your content and user experience rather than the underlying technology.

CMS Checklist

Here’s a list of common features people look for when selecting a CMS. Tick off the features you want and count how many times WordPress, Drupal or Magento shows up on your list. The one that shows up the most is probably the right choice for your needs.

· Photography portfolio – WordPress

· Video blog – WordPress

· Classified ads – Other

· Social network – Other

· Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integration – Drupal & Magento

Some common features of WordPress, Drupal, and Magento include:

· Blogging

· Easy to edit (WYSIWYG)

· Asset management

· Search engine optimization (SEO)

· Customization

· Budget-friendly open-source option

· Open-source community support

· Premium hosting and support options

· Multilingual design and support

· Roles and permissions

· Support for multiple websites

The right content management system for your business is the one matches your business needs. Three of the most popular options are WordPress, Drupal and Magento. However, these are only a small fraction of the options available to you. The process of finding the right CMS begins with careful consideration of your own business needs and ends with a comparison of the features included with a wide range of solutions.

Tips For Site Migration

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Site migration can be a difficult process on both a technical and marketing level, but it can sometimes be necessary to further grow your company and your brand. Site migration that isn’t handled in the right way can have devastating effects on a company’s online marketing and lasting effects on a company’s growth.

What is Site Migration?

Site migration occurs any time a website is moved from one URL to another or from one host to another. It’s important to understand that site migration could occur on either a user level or a server level. A URL can change from one URL or another without any physical change to the location of the website’s files. At the same time, the physical location of the website’s files could also change without a change to the URL. Before committing to a site migration, you should properly understand the type of migration you require.

Tips For Site Migration

Why would you need to Migrate your Site?

Site migration can become necessary for a few reasons. You may be changing your company’s branding or you could be merging with another company. Both could necessitate the adoption of different domain names and a change in the structure of your website.

If you’re not changing the URL of your website, you may simply be changing hosts. Changing hosts can become necessary if your prior host no longer suits your needs. When changing hosts, many will offer seamless transitions that occur during your website’s slowest hours and do not affect your users at all.

How does Site Migration Affect your Company?

If you are abandoning your old domain, you may find that much of your search engine optimization will be lost. This can be extraordinarily detrimental to your online marketing strategy. To minimize this loss, ensure that all of your URLs from your old website redirect appropriately and make sure that everything on your website is functioning as it should.

When keeping your domain and simply migrating your files, your task is much easier. You simply need to ensure that you transfer your files correctly. If you don’t test your new website thoroughly, you could find unexpected issues that could cost you customers. You might even lose some data permanently if you didn’t backup your data from your old host properly.

The DNS transition from your old server to your new server may take as much as 72 hours, so you shouldn’t take down your old site immediately. Instead, you should transfer your old site to your new server and then thoroughly test the site on the new server. Once you are certain that all of the data transferred correctly, you can start the process that will send users to your new site.

How can you make your Site Migration Easier?

External hosting services can make the entire process of site migration much easier. External hosting services often offer features that will automatically transfer your website from host to host. This takes the burden off of you and your IT department and ensures that everything will transfer correctly, no data will be lost and your users may never even realize that there was a change. An external hosting service will be able to mirror your website from server to server, eliminating the potential for costly mistakes.

If you’re transitioning to a cloud server, make life easier for you and your IT team by switching to the same or similar operating system. For instance, if your servers all run Windows right now, find a Windows cloud host that has baked-in support for your platform so you don’t have to worry about compatibility issues.

Site migration is best done early on in a company’s online development. Once you begin to feel that you are outgrowing your current host or that you will eventually need more than your host can give, you should begin your migration. A preemptive migration will save you from larger costs down the line.

The When and Why Of Cloud Database Migration

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Your business is filled with server racks hosting everything from your email to your website, so you may be looking into cloud strategies to cut down on costs and improve your servers’ performance. A cloud database migration allows you to shift all or part of your servers off-site into a distributed hardware configuration that prevents you from being held hostage to a single point of hardware failure. The practical, day-to-day administration of a cloud database doesn’t differ greatly from an on-site setup, so your network administrators won’t be dealing with extensive retraining or a large learning curve.

Why Migrate to the Cloud?

When you use public cloud providers for your databases, you receive direct and indirect cost savings. The direct cost savings come from only paying for the database resources you need, when you need it. It also cuts down on the amount of software licenses you need to purchase, as the cloud database provider has bulk pricing on this. The indirect costs come from outsourcing the responsibility of maintenance, a majority of monitoring and troubleshooting, so you don’t have to put network resources to these tasks. The scalability of the cloud database servers is especially good if you have varying needs throughout the year or if you’re a business in the middle of a rapid expansion.

The When and Why Of Cloud Database Migration

Risks of Migration

One of the primary risks of cloud database migration is losing data during the migration process. This risk is mitigated by locking down the database or taking it down entirely during the process, so new data is not written to the server while the migration process occurs. It’s also essential to deduplicate as much of the database as possible so you aren’t copying over redundant records. The smaller the database, the easier it is to get it transferred over. In addition, clearing out the log files and caches of the databases also helps to reduce the size. Before making the cloud databases live to the public or your business at large, test it out for problems.

Application Checking

When you transfer your databases, you need to make sure that all of your applications work in the cloud environment. If you’ve been running on older hardware, the applications may not work well or at all in the cloud environment. It’s possible that you may need to use a combination of older servers with cloud-based servers in order to avoid switching over applications along with databases or look into Software as a Service (SaaS) to fill in the gaps.

The types of databases that really benefit from a transfer to the cloud are those that are hardware intensive. Instead of purchasing servers every time you have a new influx of traffic or users, you can scale up the amount of cloud resources you’re using. This also helps to avoid downtime due to the configuration, giving you a high availability option that keeps things going strong for you.

Develop A Data Strategy Before Moving To The Cloud

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Taking advantage of the cloud is a smart business move. It reduces reliance on physical storage, leaves valuable data under the protection of professionals, and increases employees’ ability to work remotely. Each business will have its own reasons for moving to cloud storage, yet it’s critical that those in charge understand the advantages of a cloud database for their business, not just business in general. The following are the major issues to examine when building a data strategy to ensure you get the right price and package.

What do you already have?

In order to find the best solutions, it’s important to understand both the failings and achievements of your current system. Look into what you may still be able to support internally. Does it make sense to maintain your contact lists or move them to the cloud? What about page backups? Consider the people running the servers. You may need to do some retraining for the entire staff shortly after the new system is in place. Instead of daily system administration, the IT department will now take on the role of informed buyers, looking for the best vendor partnership. Take some time determining how equipped they are to handle that task and if they have the skills required for today’s IT responsibilities.

Develop A Data Strategy Before Moving To The Cloud

What do you need?

For some businesses, cloud solutions directly impact the customer. (For an obvious example, think DropBox.) In other cases, the cloud serves as a virtual server room, providing more space for internal storage as a priority. Your data strategy may also include running analytics on the database. For instance, you could compare a current database against historical trends to evaluate the likelihood of certain outcomes through a cloud computing tool known as predictive analytics, something four out of five businesses are planning to implement. By having a plan before the move, you’ll be more able to adapt as your needs grow.

Who do you need?

Once you have a team equipped to make a decision and a strategic plan for moving forward, the last step is to choose a vendor. There is no best provider; rather, the choice depends on your business needs. High-tech businesses may just want someone who can set them up and leave them alone, while a smaller, independent may prefer the convenience and ease of 24-7 support. A startup should look for a lot of flexibility, while an established company may just look at the bottom line. Be sure to ask a few questions, including a few in regards to security and safety no matter your business needs.

Creating a data strategy in advance is important, but ultimately you’ll only know the full extent of your needs once you’re working in the cloud. You may find you’re hardly using certain services or that competitors are leveraging a strategy you passed by. To improve your chances of success, discuss scaling with your cloud database provider. By adding storage or removing certain abilities to accommodate peak periods and new staff, you can design a custom solution that works for the long term.

The Hosting Question: Cloud Server or Dedicated Server?

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Cloud servers are great, but dedicated servers are still hanging on. If you’re considering which would be the best choice for your company’s needs, it’s tough to find information on cloud servers that isn’t glowing, but that’s for good reason. Virtual storage and virtual computing power are a huge step forward. In the last few years, companies of all sizes have been able to realize new efficiencies while saving money, and team members can now collaborate and share data on projects, regardless of where individuals are located.

If you do a comparison of cloud services versus dedicated servers, you could reach the conclusion that taking the cloud route can offer many more options, such as more choices for operating systems and faster provisioning speeds. So is the dedicated server on the way out? Is our future going only “to the cloud!” as the Microsoft commercials shout at us? Not necessarily, or at least not necessarily right now.

Dedicated servers definitely have appropriate uses, especially for newer, smaller companies that may not want everything that public or private clouds have to offer. Also, clouds aren’t perfect, and concerns still exist when it comes to access, security, and the challenges of downtime. Here we’ll examine a couple of snapshots of each option and discuss what works and what concerns exist.

The Hosting Question: Cloud Server or Dedicated Server?

Dedicated Server Breakdown

If you love control and don’t have traffic concerns, then a managed dedicated server will be best for you. All the hardware is right where you need it to be. You don’t have to worry about your system resources slowing because of other people’s traffic. You’re also the only one to access your server, a big plus for security fans. Plus, it’s also easy to upgrade physical hardware, such as memory and disk space, and to customize software to work exactly for your company’s needs, rather than a uniform upgrade through the cloud that needs to be tinkered with later.

Cloud Server Breakdown

Security is definitely a big reason why we can’t conclude that the cloud is the end-all, be-all. No matter how much encryption exists for your data, it may still have some vulnerabilities when it leaves your possession. Hackers also could try to access your system, actively steal or alter your customer’s data as well or just monitor your process.

On the other hand, companies going the cloud route can find it to be a definite cost-effective IT solution. You have a lot of redundancy, and you don’t have to pay for a lot of hardware and maintenance, although you will have to pay for extra bandwidth and hosting costs. For special projects, you may even find ways to access a virtual system and pay by the month.

Overall, do the advantages of the cloud outweigh the concerns, especially if you have active security protocols in place? As long as they match up with your business requirements. Clouds of any kind can connect with physical servers, and there isn’t a single point of failure as there might be with a dedicated server. Yet if your business wants to avoid any security uncertainties and ensure that your server is being monitored around the clock, a dedicated server may be the best choice to make.

What’s The Difference Between VPS and The Cloud?

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Private clouds, virtual private servers and other forms of hosting have become very important in the business world today. Those who are not in the know may think virtual private servers and private clouds are the same thing. While they are similar services, there are differences and the terms are not interchangeable. Understanding what each of these products actually is and the differences between them can help a company decide what would be the best hosting solution for them.

What's The Difference Between VPS and The Cloud?

Private Clouds

Private clouds are a scalable and secure type of server ideal for larger firms. Unlike a VPS, there is some set-up and maintenance required — since the server is generally located in a firm’s data center or other private location. As such, a private cloud is within a company’s personal firewall which makes it extremely secure. Choosing a private cloud is a big decision. However, since it does have future scalability options, it can serve a firm well for the long term.

There are cloud hosts that provide private cloud hosting. In that case, the company using the servers doesn’t physically maintain anything, the host does. The client’s servers are kept separate from other clients’ servers, often requiring different security credentials to access physically. This type of private cloud hosting is nearly as secure as in-house private cloud hosting, but it requires no direct investment in server hardware.

Virtual Private Servers

This type of server offers much flexibility in terms of hosting at a lower price point than a private cloud. One physical server is divided among several users. This gives virtual private server hosting the benefits of a private server, but does cuts down on maintenance, tech-support and up-front costs. While security is a concern, there is no overlap of data from one firm to another — even if the data is stored on the same server. The Green House Data website notes that a VPS operates very similar to a virtual server environment at a price that is much less expensive than other private options.

The Differences

An interesting article by Club Cloud Computing names four distinct differences between private clouds and virtual private servers. These differences include:

· Setup:

In general, clouds use many servers to divide storage and computing tasks. A VPS is one physical server that’s split among several virtual servers, but all of one client’s information is kept together — giving the user more flexibility with how the space is used.

· Location:

A VPS is hosted off-site at a third party provider. A private cloud is situated either in a data center that you own or in a host’s data enter; either way, the physical machines are separate from other companies’.

· Scalability:

Both solutions are scalable; however, there is a bit more effort involved with scaling a VPS. In this respect a private cloud may be easier, but as infrequently as upgrades may occur it shouldn’t be a major factor.

· Cost:

An in-house private cloud does have a higher upfront cost as a firm shoulders the cost of installation, set-up and maintenance. A VPS generally has a monthly or yearly fee. If cost is the main issue, VPS normally wins every time.

As you can see, there are distinct, if small, differences between a private cloud and a virtual private server. Both types of servers are useful and can help with the growth of a firm. A company should evaluate its needs to determine which of these will work best for both current needs and those that may occur in the future.

What Plugins Are Helpful For Business?

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WordPress is a valuable tool that businesses can use to create a blog or even a website. However, the most basic version of WordPress doesn’t provide all of the features a business needs to create a fully functional website. In order to create a more advanced website, businesses can install some of the many plugins WordPress offers to increase functionality.

What Plugins Are Helpful For Business?

Beneficial WordPress Plugins

Some of the WordPress plugins that are most helpful for businesses include:

· Broken Link Checker: Checks the website for broken links and images.

· WordPress Live Chat: Adds a live chat box to the site that the business can use to communicate with users.

· WPtouch: Transforms a desktop website into a mobile version in a matter of minutes.

· 404 Redirected: Eliminates 404 pages from the website by redirecting users elsewhere when a page isn’t functioning properly or doesn’t exist.

· ShareBar: Incorporates a toolbar on the page that allows users to share content via social media websites.

· Contact Form 7: Allows users to contact the business using a simple online form.

· Ninja Pop-Ups: Allows a business to create its own pop-ups that will appear to users at times the business designates.

· Google Analytics: Keeps track of search traffic, page views and other valuable information the business can use to gauge the effectiveness of its website.

· Related Posts by Zementa: Places a footer on the webpage that directs users to related articles or pages on the site.

Are these Plugins Necessary?

The plugins listed above may not be appropriate for every business website. However, by incorporating a selection of these plugins, a business can transform a basic WordPress blog into a full-service website with a professional appeal. For example, the incorporation of WordPress Live Chat and Contact Form 7 make the site more engaging to users by encouraging them to connect directly with the company. Likewise, social plugins like ShareBar encourage users to share website content with friends, which increases their level of involvement and invites other users to visit the site. Furthermore, adding other plugins like Google Analytics allows the business to evaluate and increase its website traffic, while plugins like 404 Redirect and the Broken Link Checker can be used to prevent malfunctions and keep the site running smoothly.

The importance of a Good Foundation

Although adding these plugins to a website can increase its appeal to users, the site won’t be a success unless it’s built on a solid foundation. Websites that malfunction frequently become inaccessible on a regular basis or load slowly will drive users away before they have a chance to enjoy the benefits of any installed plugins. For this reason, it’s essential for businesses to choose a reputable Web hosting company capable of managing all of the site’s traffic with minimal downtime.

To thrive in today’s world, businesses need a high quality, professional website capable of answering users’ questions and encouraging them to connect with the company. By building a WordPress site on a solid foundation and adding the right plugins, businesses can enjoy all of the advantages of a full-service website.

Is Your Website Costing You Online Sales?

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For many businesses, store management can be so time-consuming that the idea of spending time and energy creating an ecommerce website can feel overwhelming. Yet ecommerce is a vital and growing sector of the economy. Whether you’re considering adopting an ecommerce approach or tweaking an existing ecommerce site to increase sales, you can learn from the best practices of established retailers how to attract and retain customers.

Is Your Website Costing You Online Sales?

Presenting your Best Face

Just as you stock your physical storefront with knowledgeable employees and thoughtfully curate your inventory, so should you present your online store. An outdated, ugly or disorganized online store appearance can create high bounce rates as potential customers may take an instant dislike to your website. Browse your website as if you were a shopper. Is it easy to find the items you need using the navigation? When you search for particular items, can you find them using the search tool? Are questions about shipping and bulk orders found on a FAQ page? Use drop downs menus, clearly worded navigation terms and visible calls to action to help direct both new and returning customers around your online storefront.

Ensure that your server can handle the amount of traffic an ecommerce store will generate and provides enough space to store high-resolution product image for your full inventory. If your server crashes regularly, you’re missing out on sales and harming your bottom line. Consider choosing a dedicated ecommerce Web host to enjoy peace of mind that your server is helping you create a good store, and not working against you.

Engaging your Customers

An attractive storefront will get customers past your front door, and engagement will make sure they have a positive user experience, netting you repeat customers and brand fans. Several factors go into keeping your customers engaged. TOFU or top of funnel customers may arrive at your website via a shared link, search result or other page. When they arrive, they may not know who you’re and what you do. They may only be looking for a particular item. Help these customers gain insight into your brand through compelling Web copy, clear navigation and calls to action.

On the other hand, bottom of the funnel (BOFU) customers know exactly what they want. Your job is to help them get it faster, for a better user experience. If your website remembers what customers bought, saves shopping carts or allows users to see past viewed products, they can shop faster and may remember to put in that extra item they didn’t buy last time.

Social media allows you to engage all customers and help maintain top of mind awareness. You might advertise upcoming sales, highlight new product lines and connect with customers by demonstrating your products’ or services’ usefulness. An effective social presence engages with others and offers your customers value-added content.

When users feel that your store is attractive and user-friendly and that your ordering and checkout process is easy and meets their needs, they’re much more likely to return. These changes can help both new and old ecommerce sites grow business and increase ROI.

What Are The Cleanest Cities In The World?

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Those who saw the 2013 Matt Damon sci-fi film Elysium will know that it painted a grim picture of the future. The poor people of earth are forced to live in violent, horribly polluted cities where they build homes amongst decaying buildings and massive piles of garbage, while the rich and elite have all moved to a massive orbiting space station with an artificial atmosphere that allows them to live in beautiful homes, surrounded by pristine fields and lush greenery. The utopia of the Elysium space station makes it look like somewhere that most people would want to live, but since it’s a movie, its beauty is largely computer generated. There are many cities in the world that seem determined to make sure that they don’t become polluted wastelands, and so are doing amazing things in order to be clean and green, both now, and for generations to come. So what are these beautiful cities- which cities in the world are the cleanest?

Wellington, capital city of New Zealand - Shutterstock

The capital city of New Zealand experienced an influx of visitors who decided to tour the country after The Lord of the Rings films became immensely popular; after all, New Zealand is Middle Earth! Wellington is hardly a huge city, with a population of just over 395,000 people. The central city’s potential for growth is limited due to the fact that it’s nestled between the ocean and beautiful steep hills, and the wind that blows in over the water ensures that the air in the city is always crisp and fresh, even when you’re downtown. The wind can be slightly annoying on some days, and the city’s nickname is in fact Windy Wellington.

What Are The Cleanest Cities In The World?

Singapore, Republic of Singapore

The island city-state boasts some of the cleanest streets in the world, although this is largely due to an approach that some might find a bit extreme, like hefty fines being given to anyone caught littering, and the fact that chewing gum has been banned there since 2004. So in Singapore, there’s no chance of having a dirty sticky mess on the bottom of your shoe, since the only possible gum on offer is of the nicotine variety, and it requires a doctors prescription. There don’t seem to be any illegal underground gum clubs in the city, so it seems that citizens and visitors have simply learned to live without it.

What Are The Cleanest Cities In The World?

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

While the city is well known for its vice quarter, and its lenient marijuana laws, the city is also home to some of the fittest, cleanest lungs in the world. Amsterdam is a cycling paradise, and in the central city there are more bikes than cars. Not only is this healthy, but it’s also logical- it’s far easier to navigate the narrow cobbled streets on the back of a bike than it is by car. Visitors need to be mindful of all the bikes on the roads and listen out for the bells that cyclists will ring to tell pedestrians to get out of the way. The city might be healthy, but it won’t be for you, if you’re hit by a bike and end up falling into a canal.

What Are The Cleanest Cities In The World?

Zurich, Switzerland

The Swiss city looks like an illustration for a box of really expensive chocolates, and the city itself is full of sweet treasures. Well known as a banking city, Zurich is surrounded by amazing wilderness and has a film festival that is quickly growing in influence and popularity. Like many cities in Switzerland and nearby Austria, the Alps that dominate the skyline ensure that the air is fresh and invigorating, and the citizens of Zurich seem to truly take pride in their city, making sure that it stays clean and pristine.

What Are The Cleanest Cities In The World?Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki has a straightforward approach to keeping its air clean, in that they have a huge number of parks and green areas, all filled with plants and trees soaking up those nasty pollutants; and in fact, more than one third of the city is parkland. The city authorities have even introduced a fee for bringing a car into the central city, meaning that many residents opt for public transport or using a bike.

With all the smoke and smog that can be found in large cities, it’s a wonder that these large cities are able to keep everything as clean as they do. It may seem impossible, but you can keep your area just as clean with services from businesses such as the American Clean & Seal Roof Cleaning, bike to work, and throw away litter.

Why Investing In A Dedicated Server Makes Sense

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When it comes to web hosting, enterprises must make two major choices from the get-go. The first is the choice between a dedicated or shared server, and the second is whether to opt for a managed server or one handled by a firm’s own IT team. While selecting a shared server managed by an in-house IT team may appear to be the less costly choice at the onset, it can end up costing an enterprise far more in the end.

Why Investing In A Dedicated Server Makes Sense

Managed Dedicated Server Explained

Managed dedicated servers are servers devoted specifically to an individual firm. The company does not have to share its server with the any other companies, which automatically makes the server more secure, more effective and better able to handle large volumes of content. Adding a management team to the equation means someone else handles all the daily maintenance, operations and troubleshooting for the server, leaving the in-house IT team to attend to other tasks.

Top Strengths of Outsourcing Server Infrastructure

Business Intelligence

Outsourcing server infrastructure creates opportunities for business intelligence for any size firm. It gives smaller firms the same high-level data collection and analysis capabilities only enjoyed by firms with vaster resources, namely the IT labor to perform the collection and analysis.

Outsourcing ensures the team is in place without sacrificing any in-house staff and it ensures the team is always at the ready. Larger enterprises benefit by not having to wait until their own IT team is freed up from other duties to tackle business intelligence needs, providing rapid implementation to keep up with the smaller firms’ newfound capabilities.

Support

Outsourcing server infrastructure provides continuous IT attention and support for any infrastructure needs, Business2Community reports. A managed server offers technical support for any number of issues that can crop up any given time. It also means the troubleshooting headaches no longer fall on the shoulders of in-house IT staff. Ongoing support results in high network availability and less risk of downtime that can cripple a business.

Flexibility

Server management agreements come in a variety of flavors, so to speak, with various options available for companies of various sizes and requirements. This allows enterprises to handpick a plan that fits their needs as well as their budget without paying too much for excessive services they may neither need nor use.

What a Managed Dedicated Server Does for IT Efficiency

One of the greatest benefits of opting for a managed server is the boost it can give to IT efficiency. Instead of focusing on the daily duties of infrastructure management and maintenance, the IT team can instead focus its efforts on improving the overall efficiency and power of the enterprise.

The IT team can do this by using its freed-up time for the maintenance and updating of company software pieces. Software is what allows a company to stand out and thrive, and putting the IT team on software maintenance puts company resources where they matter most. With mundane infrastructure maintenance, troubleshooting and support no longer on the IT team’s agenda, the team can play a more vital role in growing the business rather spending all its energies maintaining it.

Free Up Your IT Team: The Benefits Of Managed Colocation

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It’s been said that one of the main leadership skills is the ability to delegate. When you assign tasks to other people, it allows you to tackle more important decisions, and for a business owner, this means spending more time handling business responsibilities, instead of being burdened by lesser tasks.

Free Up Your IT Team: The Benefits Of Managed ColocationWithin the frame of IT, this is what managed colocation allows a business to do. It provides a means for managing technology services, whether the client is an enterprise or start-up, without the need for the same level of IT requirements. The cloud storage team of a managed colocation service provides constant support and surveillance of a company’s website and data systems, allowing internal IT teams to be free from basic practices and refocus attention on enhancing a company’s infrastructure.

Moving to the Cloud

When you move your company’s data to cloud storage, a learning curve will definitely be involved. Transferring files, updating systems and backing up data will be slightly different than what your IT team is used to with an internal server. However, since managed colocation means that your servers are managed by the hosting provider, the issues of security, power delivery or other operational issues are no longer the responsibility of your in-house IT staff. Instead, the team at your cloud hosting company will handle these tasks properly and expeditiously.

Opportunities for Growth

When your IT team doesn’t need to focus on the everyday tasks of managing your server and data backups, your team is free to accomplish new projects. New opportunities to improve your business’ workflow arise now that your IT department has the time to focus on company needs and start building upon what’s already been established.

As an example, if your company runs on a custom application, your IT team could enhance and perfect it so that the application better integrates with other company software, or so that the application provides additional utility. If you’ve been meaning to get your company’s old records in order, your IT team could create a system for data input from old files. Or if your company website doesn’t bring in the traffic you’d like to see or it fails to meet all your customers’ or clients’ demands, your IT team could turn their focus to your Web presence. A variety of different opportunities open up when managed colocation is adopted.

The Costs of Cloud Management

When it comes to the cost of managed colocation services, the old adage of you get what you pay for comes to mind. Despite its reputation for efficiencies in small business circles, the move to cloud storage isn’t cheap. Depending on the type of storage and services for which businesses opt, they may spend more on off-site technology than they would on the same services in-house. However, with the advantages of storing data on the cloud and utilizing cloud-based applications from anywhere, cloud storage makes sense for many companies, from start-ups to conglomerates. The real savings here is in time and energy, so you can focus your internal team on better operations and the expansion of your business.

According to Forbes, the reliance on cloud services for businesses is on the upswing, and it looks to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Even with an IT team on board, the cloud’s versatility and accessibility make it a worthwhile expense. Managed services make the transition to the cloud easy, keeping your internal team focused on your company’s future and profitability.

How Teaching Your Kids Budgeting Could Help Future Business and Personal Finances

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All parents show a great deal of concern over the future of their children and feel a need to help them prepare for it. This is usually done in a number of ways, including emphasising the importance of education, providing a healthy lifestyle and trying to instil good manners and behaviours.

With the announcement that personal finance lessons will be included in the National Curriculum for 11 – 16 year olds, it appears that the government is attempting to take some responsibility for future financial attitudes.

How Teaching Your Kids Budgeting Could Help Future Business and Personal Finances

Here we take a look at how parents’ involvement in teaching their children budgeting skills could have benefits in the future.

Many experts argue that it has never been more important for young people to develop a deeper understanding of personal financial responsibility and how the system around them works. As financial matters and national and international economic arrangements become ever more complicated, it can often feel as if this would be an impossible task.

However, by helping introduce basic budgeting skills and ideas at an early age, parents can begin to lay the foundations for financially responsible behaviour in the future.

As your children grow and develop into teenagers and adults that are fully responsible for their own money and that also need to enter into the world of work and business in order to support themselves, these lessons can often determine their level of success.

While the government hopes to implement a curriculum that emphasises lessons on taxes, debt, credit and financial products, the beauty of teaching your children at home is that you can impart the knowledge you feel important.

All of this is particularly true if your child ends up with an entrepreneurial spirit and starting up their own business. Many of the qualities required by business managers, particularly those running small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) will be self taught and rooted in those business principles learnt from previous experience.

For instance, a good understanding of how to budget efficiently will definitely give your child an advantage when it comes to using online small business accounting software like Cashbook from Sage One.

Alternatively, early lessons related to healthy borrowing will contribute to a much more developed understanding of how to finance a small business in the right way.

Teaching your children such important lessons at an early age will definitely decrease the possibility of them making big mistakes in the future and should give them an advantage over others when it comes to first making money out in the competitive world of work.

With a greater number of young adults severely lacking these skills, a good financial grounding could make all the difference.

National Holidays and The Business World

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Visitors to Berlin can be somewhat overwhelmed by the nightlife. The German capital is fairly laid back when it comes to licensing laws, which means that nightclubs are often open for days at a time. It’s possible to go to a club on a Friday evening, and you wouldn’t have to leave until Monday morning (or even the afternoon, with some places). This is perhaps why the city has developed a reputation for some of the best nightlife in the world. The city isn’t immune to licensing laws and regulations, since the vast majority of stores are closed on a Sunday, which is a result of the influence of the Church on the development of the city, over many generations. All countries and cities have their own little idiosyncrasies when it comes to the opening and closing hours of stores, and this is something that can confuse a visitor, who might have never heard of the national holiday that means they have nowhere to buy bread. While workers might appreciate having a day off, national and local holidays can greatly affect customer behaviour and profits.

National Holidays and The Business World

It’s Hardly a Surprise!

A national holiday is hardly something that’s introduced with regularity, much to the disappointment of students and workers all over the country. They have existed for generations, and the primary holidays (New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day) are deeply ingrained in the publics’ psyche. As they reach a certain age, the population becomes aware of the these holidays on their daily life and routines and so it’s not especially complicated to know that there will be closures when it comes to stores and other services, and to make arrangements accordingly. There are state-by-state variations, which can catch tourists off guard.

The Cost of a Holiday

A national or state holiday can quite logically impact on revenue, since no business is conducted on this day. Such a holiday isn’t as costly for US companies and organizations as they can be for other countries, since the US is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave. The European Union, Australia and New Zealand all legally require employees to be given a minimum of 20 paid leave days each year, plus additional paid public holidays, which can add anywhere between five and thirteen paid holidays each year.

Shopping and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has become the signifier of the major shopping period of the year. The lead up to Thanksgiving is taken over by preparation for the holiday itself, with the acquisition of all the necessary items to make a delicious feast for the family. As soon as the turkey bones have been stripped of meat, a new, more aggressive shopping instinct kicks in, courtesy of the impending Black Friday. Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, is now the more or less official kickoff for the Christmas shopping season, and retailers offer exceptional bargains on this day, leading to customer frenzy and even incidents of violence as people fight to get their hands on as many bargains as possible.

A day of extreme shopping following a national holiday seems quite logical- it allows consumers to rest up before the bargain-hunting season commences. Since a huge number of national retailers are now open 24 hours a day, it can almost be refreshing to have a handful of days each year when the credit card stays in your wallet. It probably needs the rest too…