Many small-business owners may not realize that the cloud plays a big role in their business operations, and its importance is growing every day. I’m often asked, “What exactly is the cloud, and why does my company need it?” Simply put, the cloud hosts resources and applications that are accessed through the Internet, and it now offers small businesses access to powerful capabilities that once were only within reach of larger corporations.
From a small-business perspective, the cloud provides the opportunity to leverage outsourced hardware and scalable infrastructure, rather than requiring small businesses to make large in-house IT investments. Without the cloud, hardware and software purchases could significantly eat into profitability — as would the management and maintenance required to keep the technology running — not to mention the additional real estate investment required to house the hardware on-site. By investing in a cloud service, small businesses can manage technology in a cost-effective way while staying technologically competitive.
Always On, Always There
The cloud is increasing the effectiveness of small businesses in a number of ways. For example, companies are calling on efficient Web-based services and applications to manage such critical tasks as accounting, customer relationship management, document creation and communication.
One reason the cloud has worked so well for small business is that it’s always just a click away. The cloud is on-demand, available to employees anywhere that they can connect to the Internet. The cloud also provides extremely cost-effective storage, allowing businesses to easily store as much data as they need without purchasing any hardware. That’s why one of the most efficient ways for a business to use the cloud is to back up and store its critical documents.
Cloud-based files are always available to business owners. Some small businesses are backing up their entire databases the old-fashioned way, with external hard drives, USB drives, or even CDs. To a point, these manually driven external methods will get the job done, but relying on physical devices as the sole backup strategy still leaves a business vulnerable to data loss.
Here are several ways that cloud storage can simplify a company’s data-protection process:
- Automatic Backup:Most small-business owners are faced with an exhausting work schedule, often finishing a significant business project at the end of a week and simply saving it to their computer’s hard drive. Once in a while, Monday morning arrives and they discover their computer won’t boot up, or it crashes while checking a weekend’s worth of emails. Now they’ve lost their business data and deliverables, just because they didn’t want to go through the hassle of manually backing it up before heading home for the weekend.
Unlike an external hard drive, USB drive or CD, a cloud-based service will automatically keep an up-to-date copy of each employee’s data securely backed up and readily accessible off-site. This automated service enables small business owners to focus on running a business, rather than running backup.
- Secure and Offsite: A big concern for new cloud-users is data security. Many cloud backup or storage companies encrypt every piece of data — just as banks do — before uploading to, or downloading from, the cloud.
Another perk of the cloud is protection from physical loss of data backed up to devices that are stored on-site. If an on-premises disaster like a fire, flood or theft strikes, small businesses that backup to the cloud can rest assured that their data is protected in a secure, offsite location.
- Easy to Access and Restore: With remote access capabilities, never again will business owners leave the office only to realize while pulling into the driveway that they left an important file sitting on their computer desktop. Since their files already have been backed up automatically, they have the luxury of securely logging into their account from a Smartphone or any other Internet-enabled device to access any file that they need.
In the event of a hard drive crash, cloud backup users can easily restore backed-up files to a new computer. This functionality enables small-business owners to restore the files they need immediately to keep their business up and running after a crash. They can then conduct a complete restore once the new computer is acquired.
- Competitive Pricing: A number of quality options are available in the market, but one of the biggest deciding factors for small businesses to purchase cloud-based backup services is the price. Owners like to know what’s coming so they don’t have to deal with an unexpectedly high bill for an influx of use they didn’t anticipate.
Mozy, for example, provides pay-as-you-go backup services as a standard price per gigabyte (GB) used paired with monthly license fees for each computer attached to the account. DropBox offers flat monthly rates for the entire business at capped GB amounts. Carbonite offers tiered usage and pricing structures with no per computer licensing fees. Other major players such as SOS Online Backup and Backblaze also offer small business-specific services with competitive rates.
Data storage is extremely important to every small business, but it shouldn’t be a stressful process. The cloud offers a simple yet invaluable service that can be the difference between disaster and disaster recovery.
A number of companies offer cloud solutions. It is important to note that, when researching these products, most of which offer some form of a free trial, ensure that they have encryption technology, have earned a positive track record over an extended period of time and offer 24/7, individualized customer service.