If you're tapped into cloud networks to offload--and scale--some of your computing needs, you probably think that you're paying for only what you use. But just like your cell phone plan and attorney's rate might charge you for a full increment of time when you roll over the billing period, you might save money by nibbling at cloud services on an hourly basis.

SoftLayer's CloudLayer is great for short bursts of cloud computing needs, scaling to about $.20 to $.80 per hour, depending on your storage and processor requirements. You can initially tap into a virtual server in about 5 minutes, and you can run typical cloud services, with support for SQL Server and access to storage from any platform.

If you'd rather be billed on a monthly plan--no long-term commitment needed--you can choose dedicated hardware instead of virtual machines. Visit the CloudLayer overview to see if its other specifications fit your needs. But if you only need cloud systems once in a while, savings could add up with hourly billing.

Zack Stern is building a new business from San Francisco, where he frequently contributes to PC World.

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