We’re quickly moving into the “post-PC” world where what is actually installed or stored on your computer, tablet, or smartphone is going to be much less important than the applications and data you work with from the “cloud” — a.k.a. “the Internet.” Email is, of course, by far the most common “cloud” application, and you may be using cloud-based backup or synchronization services such as Carbonite or Dropbox. Many of you use Google Docs to create and store all types of documents without ever installing any software on your computer — and then there are the all-in-one services such as Co-Construct and BuilderTrend that provide cloud-based applications and data storage specifically geared to the needs of builders and remodelers.

Cloud applications save you time and hassle because the service provider, not you, is responsible for keeping everything up-to-date and spyware/virus free. The greatest benefit of all may be “rapid recovery”; even if you drop your laptop in the mud and run over it with a truck, you can buy almost any device that can connect to the Internet and be back at work in minutes.

Reach for the Cloud

“Cloud computing” has a lot of advantages for remodelers. It’s secure, easy to manage, and it can help keep your technology costs in check. But Web-based applications aren’t for everyone. What if you’re happy with all the software you already use and have installed on either your small-business network or your stand-alone computer? Maybe you use a CAD application that has no “cloud” equivalent, or an older estimating or scheduling program you’re not ready to ditch for something Web-based, but you still want to make your systems more hassle-free. There’s another way that you can take advantage of “cloud computing.” It’s called “desktop virtualization.”

After setting up an account with a hosting provider that specializes in hosting virtual desktops (find one by typing “virtual desktop hosting” into Google search) you set up an exact copy of your current computer, including all the applications you want to use and any of the data you want to access, on a “virtual desktop” located at your hosting provider.

Your Office Everywhere

There are a number of advantages to desktop virtualization, the main ones being greatly decreased maintenance hassles, predictable monthly costs, data safety and security, and the ability to access your familiar desktop environment from practically any kind of device. Your virtual desktop is accessed using one of many secure remote access protocols — you basically log on as you would to any Windows session.

Additionally, most virtual PC set-ups can be accessed from Macs, tablets, and even smartphones with good results. No matter where you log on from, you see the same familiar desktop.

The Internet connection has to be reliable, but not particularly fast, because for the most part you are “transmitting” only mouse movements and keystrokes — not much data actually crosses the wire. All of the computer processing is done at the server, and your screen is updated instantly with the results, making it seem like you’re working directly on the local computer.

If you’ve ever attended a webinar where the presenter shows his or her screen or used a screen-sharing product like “GoToMyPC,” you’ve done something similar. But in true virtualization, Windows computers can be set up so that the log-on process goes straight to your remote desktop. If you have multiple computers in your company, as well as some kind of server in your office – all of them can be set up as “virtual machines” and accessed the same way.

Bottom Line

Virtual hosted desktop accounts start at around $25 per user per month and go up in price depending on the storage space needed, the amount of management you contract for, and other factors.

Desktop virtualization is a great tool, but it’s not a cure-all. For example, if you rely on specialized peripheral equipment in your office (scanners, external drives, some printers) you may face challenges.

For more detail on the pros and cons visit our business technology forum and click on the “business technology library” link under “subforums” where I’ve posted an e-book and other more in-depth information.

Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology twitter.com/moucon;jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com

This is a longer version of an article appearing in the November 2012 issue of REMODELING.

More REMODELING articles about office technology:

Remote Access Options

Host With the Most: Web hosting explained

Setting up Your Virtual Office: Hosted Internet services can do it all