Cloud collaboration services: the top 10 for SMBs

From Google Apps and SocialCast to Box, Huddle and Yammer

People under cloud

Collaboration in a business used to involve telephone calls, emails, and possibly an instant message exchanged between employees.

These days, the advent of cloud computing and all the benefits that come with it have paved the way for collaborative cloud-based services that are reshaping how employees work together over the internet, whether its's a trio of founders at a startup or a midsized company with 500 staff.

Many collaborative offerings serve a particular business need, such as storage, social networking, productivity apps, or email. Analyst house Gartner predicts that cloud office systems, which are of an increasingly collaborative nature, will account for 33% of the overall office market by 2017.

To help you decide which collaborative cloud service best fits your needs, here are TRPro's top 10 services, in no particular order.

Citrix Sharefile

Web: www.sharefile.com

Price: Starts at $29.95 (around £18.70, or AU$32) per month

Citrix ShareFile

Citrix doesn't bill its ShareFile cloud service as a collaboration platform as such, but it does come with features designed to help employees work together and stands out by offering customized solutions for over 30 industries.

As the name suggests, ShareFile is all about exchanging large files with individuals or groups of colleagues.The basic version provides 5GB of storage and bandwidth, along with two employee accounts for accessing and transferring files (this rises to $59.95 per month for the Professional package, which provides 10GB of storage and bandwidth and 10 employee accounts).

ShareFile can be hooked up with Citrix Podio, a social collaboration tool that allows users to set up places in the cloud dubbed Workspaces, where employees can post statuses, make comments, "like" posts and share files. It also features extensive mobile support with apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone for collaborating and sharing files on the go.

Huddle

Web: www.huddle.com

Price: US$20 (about AU$21, £13.50) / user / month (Free for 14 days)

Huddle screenshot

Huddle is a cloud-based collaboration platform that pits itself as a rival to Microsoft's SharePoint service (see our Office365 entry below). Used by more than 100,000 businesses globally, it offers features based around file sharing and management, content collaboration, people management and tasks. Accessed through a browser, it can be customised, branded and provides support for mobile devices.

Additionally, Huddle offers version control management, which lets employees roll back files to previous versions to view and make changes. 'Workspaces' can also help businesses work on projects, with the ability to control a dashboard view for each one through a menu at the top of the screen.

Huddle prides itself on its security features. Its primary data centre has ISO 27001 certification, and the service is used by numerous US and UK government agencies.

Google Apps for Business

Web: www.google.com/intx/en_uk/enterprise/apps/business/

Price: £3.30 (about US$5, AU$5.40) plus taxes / user / month, or £33 (about US$49, AU$54) plus taxes / user / year (Free for 30 days)

Google Apps

Having first arrived in 2006, Google Apps for Business has been around longer than most other services on our list. Now used by over 5 million businesses, it offers access to Gmail in addition to calendars, documents and Drive (Google's cloud storage service).

All of the services allow users to collaborate in real time, whether it's editing a spreadsheet in Docs, adding dates to a calendar or uploading files to a directory. Google places a premium on simplicity, with features such as sharing documents through a single click, or setting up videoconferencing sessions through its Hangouts feature.

It could also provide employees with a degree of familiarity, as many of the services are near identical to Google's standard consumer Gmail and Calendar products. Head of Google Enterprise Thomas Davies recently told us in an interview that the platform has been allowing businesses to reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO) and is used to drive creativity.