It seems that it was only a few years ago when virtually no one except your most advanced techie had even an inkling of what “the cloud” was.

Today, it’s essentially a staple in our daily vocabulary. “My contacts have automatically synced to the cloud” or “I’ve backed up my photos to the cloud” are now commonplace.

The advent of cloud technology has completely shifted the way that we conduct business as well as our personal matters, and as a result, even the largest of technology providers have taken heed and revamped their service offerings. Their primary goal? To become more enticing and more of a viable option for businesses large and small, which are increasingly opening up to new technology.

One of those large, traditional, market-leading organizations that has drastically shifted its service model to become more inclusive of small businesses is Microsoft. Best known for developing computer software and equipment for consumers and enterprises alike, Microsoft has recently begun to market its cloud services differently.

The changes began in early 2014 when longtime Microsoft executive Satya Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer as the CEO of the company. Nadella was very instrumental in the development of Microsoft’s cloud services to begin with. During his tenure as CEO, Ballmer employed a strategy centered around selling devices and service licenses, which most of us are familiar with. Essentially, Microsoft generated a large portion of its revenue from the sale of computer hardware and Windows and Microsoft Office software licenses.

Today, the industry has changed dramatically, forcing the company to do the same. SaaS companies have created a new service model whereby consumers can opt for services now, but pay for it gradually with a monthly subscription vs. a contract and upfront payment. As a result, Microsoft began to see a drop in market share due to large competitors like Google offering some cloud services for free. To counter that, Nadella recently shifted the company’s strategic focus to growing its user base by offering limited versions of its service – i.e. online versions of Microsoft Office – for free. Higher-end users such as some small businesses and large enterprises that need more data or advanced features, can opt for a monthly subscription instead.

Cloud Services for SMBs: Google or Microsoft?

Now that several of these big players are offering cloud services at significantly lower price points, the question is, which is the better choice for small businesses? One size probably won’t fit all here as your preference will likely depend on what you’ve used in the past and which services you’re looking for.

Microsoft has a massive user base for its Microsoft Office suite with popular programs like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Because so many business owners are already familiar with these products, you can bet your bottom dollar that many will opt for Microsoft’s cloud-based business offering, OneDrive for Business. At only $5.00 per user per month, they’ve entered the market at the exact same price and with many of the same features as the popular Google Apps offering. The OneDrive homepage tells you that price will get you access to Office Online, which is free anyway but it does give you a massive 1TB of storage per user. Note: Office Online is not full access to Office 365 Business which is an additional $10 per user per month. Where the need for the full Office 365 suite becomes necessary is a matter for debate and there are a number of reports that the interaction between documents in 365 and Online isn’t exactly seamless. Microsoft has embraced the cloud but it’s definitely not rushing to give away the farm in the process, as they clearly want to attract younger users with their free cloud-based product and then upgrade them to the more expensive full Office suite.

Google in contrast embraced the cloud early with services such as “Docs” and “Sheets” that are essentially cloud-based versions of the Office suite, but also allow for more seamless collaboration amongst many users remotely. Most small businesses are just fine with Google’s core Google Apps offering, which includes: their signature email and calendar clients Gmail and Calendar, their productivity tools including Docs, Sheets, Forms, and Slides; their online chat and video tool, Google Hangouts; and their cloud-based storage solution, Google Drive. This solution also comes in at only $5 per user per month.

The Verdict

Google’s advantage to small business owners is really about ease of use and availability. If you’re an ardent Microsoft aficionado, you’re probably better sticking with them, but otherwise the friendly UI, the simple functionality, the range of free smartphone apps, and the fact that you’re not going to be asked to upgrade for more functionality make Google the better choice. We use Google’s cloud services here at ShopKeep and we love the flexible functionality – and we’ve not outgrown them yet.

Regardless of which service you opt for, one thing’s for certain: the giant tech companies have finally started listening and have shifted their models to accommodate small businesses just like yours. Think of it this way: you can now build a company intranet, send email, run analysis on your financials, and build a presentation to help secure capital from virtually anywhere, on your smartphone or your computer, for only $5 per month. It was virtually impossible for small businesses to afford services like these just a few years ago.

At ShopKeep, we believe in keeping you on top of your business, which is why we built ShopKeep Pocket) and it’s also why our Founder and co-CEO has created this Cloud-Based Business Guide to help you select the best cloud-based tools for your business. We hope you enjoy.

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate who uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.