Data Backup & The Cloud: What Small Businesses Need To Know

Small businesses are searching for new ways to increase productivity and decrease costs in a tough economic downturn, so it’s no surprise that the use of the Cloud has skyrocketed. The rise of cloud-computing services and applications opens a number of doors for small business owners looking to increase productivity and security throughout their companies.

What is the cloud?

Let’s start with the basics: “The cloud” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, and with little explanation. Simply put, the cloud allows you and your business to access increased computing power without the need for physical infrastructure and software on your side. By using cloud systems, businesses can reduce the need for top-of-the-line computers, software and training because much of the processing and data storage are on virtual servers which you connect to through the Internet.

Online Cloud services can take a number of shapes from email clients like Gmail to storage solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive. They have the ability to connect to data or services from any location, which allows for greater efficiency and flexibility in business practices, letting multiple employees work on a project from different locations or letting you quickly access important files anywhere you have an internet connection.

Why is it good business?

There are four distinct characteristics that make using the cloud attractive to small businesses.

  • Efficiency: Cloud computing is efficient and (usually) worry-free. Most cloud services do not require lengthy downloads or software installation. In fact, most can be managed through your browser or a simple client.
  • Availability: Because it’s Internet based, it’s always available. Wherever you are, you can always access your stored information.
  • Equality: Corporations and larger companies have the resources to buy enterprise-level systems and high-powered computers. The cloud drastically reduces the cost of entry for similar systems, allowing small business owners to compete at a fraction of the cost.
  • Cost: Cloud applications follow the pay-as-you-go model. Again, you only buy what you need, or use the many free applications on the market.

Productivity Goes Up, Costs Go Down

The biggest advantage of cloud services is the lack of physical infrastructure in your office. IT services can quickly become a headache that distracts you from the day-to-day operations. Managing a network, email servers and data storage can require a dedicated employee and daily maintenance. Cloud-based infrastructure can manage firewalls and networks to ease the headache.

Cloud software applications are probably the most attractive element of the cloud. Programs like Intuit’s Quickbase can let you work with a bookkeeper you trust who lives in another state. Skype and Join.Me can allow for fast, free teleconferencing and screen sharing. Google Docs offers robust document and spreadsheet options without the need for costly software.

Basics of Backup

Data storage and backup is probably the best known use of the cloud. Compared to traditional physical storage, cloud storage is reliable, easier to use and can be more effective, since users only pay for what they need.

Many small businesses are using the cloud to eliminate the lengthy process of disk copying and the feeling of anxiety wondering if the daily backup saved properly. Cloud storage offloads a lot of the responsibility of storage to a service provider, allowing business owners to focus on daily business.

Backup and Storage Space

The Cloud has an obvious advantage over the traditional external storage devices. You don’t have to carry around or worry about losing your thumb drive anymore and you can retrieve your information wherever there’s Internet access. In addition, you can password protect your stored data allowing other authorized users to access and retrieve the information, possibly turning that personal effort into a group project. This type of flexibility is amazing and sought after by business owners.

Google Drive is a perfect example of the flexibility offered by cloud services. Google Drive allows multiple users to edit the same document or presentation at the same time. The edits appear in real time allowing for a collaborative effort on the project. Any changes to the project are saved automatically and can be tracked. With functionality that was recently limited to enterprise solutions, small businesses can act like large corporations with this type of cloud computing.

A Hybrid Approach

Cloud computing is truly in its infancy, so although there is potentially unlimited application for the cloud, there are a number of issues to be aware of before you switch. For small businesses, security and stability should always be foremost in your mind – cloud services have a few weaknesses in both areas. To mitigate some of these challenges, combining physical data storage and cloud services can help protect your business from the following pitfalls.

  • Protect your sensitive information. Many clients and employees may be rightfully wary of storage sensitive information in the cloud. It may be safer to keep those functions on a database on a private server.
  • It may be rare, but cloud service providers like Amazon and Salesforce can go down for periods of minutes to hours, causing blackouts to your data and cloud services. Having a physical backup can protect against outages.
  • One of the main benefits of the cloud is that it can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection. Though Wi-Fi hotspots are cropping up everywhere, we are far from being constantly connected. Physical storage can keep you going even without a connection.

For those of you really interested take a look at this presentation about what the Cloud will do for you.

About the Author

Erin Leigh is an Internet enthusiast and freelance writer for iGLASS Networks, a network monitoring provider that provides application, network and server monitoring services for small business, corporations, and cable and telecom companies.

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