If you are a new startup that requires several people to work together, just how cheaply can you set up your IT network? Very cheaply it turns out.
You will need computers – but just about any old computer will do. You can use the cast offs from other companies that are upgrading – they often pay to have them removed. The software on the machines is not important as long as they have a browser and a functioning Internet connection. Don’t go buy the latest machines loaded with expensive software. If you have to purchase computers, try to purchase used ones. If you really want a new one, get the cheapest model with the least software. Don`t get a laptop until you really need it.
Next you will need Internet access. Start-out with a dial-up connection – it may work with the other suggestions I’ll make below and it is cheaper than highspeed DSL. If you have wifi, find a free drop and work from there. (Note that two café lattés from Starbucks cost as much as a month of cut-rate DSL.)
If the other employees are also working at the same location, you will need a router to share the internet and some cables.
Don`t buy a server! You won`t need it.
For the software, use the web. There are fantastic services out there that can support a new company with collaborative tools and software that is free to use or extremely cheap. They are either web based (web2.0) or hosted desktops. Here is my short list of hosted desktops:
- Ghost (G.ho.st)– provides a web desktop via a browser with 5 gb storage and 3 gb of mail. It is a fully hosted solution aimed at personal users. It just released a version accessible from mobile devices. It includes a full suite of applications as well as Zoho and Google apps (see below). Very cool stuff and probably good enough for starting up.
- Ulteo– a open-source free personal desktop that can be shared with others. It is Linux based and comes pre-loaded with applications such as the Open Office suite. Desktop sharing is useful for collaboration and as a web conferencing application. The number of invites is limited and fees apply as more are added. There is no corporate shared storage. The desktop is hosted by Ulteo or can be downloaded and run locally. File synchronization is supported between local and server storage.
- (TBD) – there are other services coming. Stay tuned for more.
For web 2.0 solutions, check out the following list:
- Central Desktop– a web2.0 collection of team collaboration tools. While there is a free version, the memory available is limited to 25 MB – not alot. Fees increase with the number of users, projects and storage.
- Google– Google provides Google Docs and the more complete Google Apps which provides business e-mail, collaboration tools and on-line storage. Very popular. Has a 30 day free trial and then its $50 per user per year. If you can put up with advertisements, there is a free standard edition that is supported by ads.
- Jooce– an online system for nomadic computer users. Limited in scope and aimed at social networking from any Internet terminal. However, it is free and there are (currently) no storage limits.
- QTask – an web based project coordination tool. First 5 users are free for the first year, then it is $50/user/month.
- ThinkFree – a Korean company that provides on-line office software. There is a free office suite and a workspace edition (in beta) for corporate use. The applications are high quality and look very similar to Microsoft Office. Mobile devices are supported. While they support on-line access, their main target is self-hosted solutions.
- Zoho– a suite of web2.0 applications that provide most of what a small business needs. There are a wide number of generic applications that can support small businesses. Zoho is very similar to Google Apps but has a broader selection of applications. Collaborative document editing is possible making it an excellent choice for a micro business.
- Zooos – A web 2.0 office application suite. Looks to be still in development but the blog and other parts of the site appear inactive.
Other interesting solutions that require a server:
- EyeOS – EyeOS provides an open-source server solution that allows your company data to be accessible from everywhere. However, they do not host the server – you have to do that.
If these solutions don’t solve your problems then you may have to purchase a server and set up a LAN. Just beware of the costs and complexity involved. The above solutions can be up and running in minutes. A LAN will take days and cost you many hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Then add the software. By the time you get file servers, security and enterprise e-mail with MS Exchange Server installed, you can easily spend $30,000.
If you know of other web 2.0 or hosted business solutions out there, I’d like to hear from you.