April is Records and Information Management Month, which makes now an ideal time to take a close look at your company's data storage practices. If you're still storing company data onsite, it may be time to consider cloud storage.
"No matter what sort of business you're in, information and data are likely your most important resource," says Joshua Goldstein, founder of the Law Offices of Joshua L. Goldstein, PC, an immigration law firm. "Being able to organize, access and share your data and information is essential to your work and productivity."
Data Loss Can Put Your Company at Risk
Losing data could irreparably damage your business and its reputation, adds Patrick Hurley, vice president and general manager of Americas at Acronis, which provides cyber protection and hybrid cloud storage.
"Maintaining protection for business data is a matter of company survival, and that includes more than a backup," says Hurley. "Cyber criminals, malicious insiders and human error can all fatally damage your data and backups. Cloud storage provides cyber-protection countermeasures."
Goldstein found that having cloud storage saved his company.
"Thieves broke in and stole all of our computers, including our local server," he says. "The replacement costs for our computers was a big loss, but the real value was the data on our server. Had our data not also been stored in the cloud, I'm not sure how our business could have continued. The liability for losing client data would have also been staggering."
So What Are the Benefits of Using Cloud Storage?
There are several reasons to consider virtual storage for your company.
Improved Data Security
"Cloud providers enforce the strictest rules to protect business and consumer data from any possible loss," says Hurley. "Such companies have more resources and incentives to build a solid security system that ensures data remains safe and accessible."
The added security, redundancy and disaster recovery features that come with cloud storage make it highly desirable, believes Brent Thurman, president of Bear River Mutual Agent: Keystone Insurance Services.
Thurman also appreciates the ability to implement two-step authentication processes for his employees.
"This adds another layer of security and let's each person know if their account has been logged into," says Thurman.
"The cloud provider has the onus and expense of buying and maintaining the necessary real estate, hardware and software," says Hurley. "With cloud services, businesses simply pay for what they use as an operating expense and have no depreciation of capital assets."
"The benefit of cloud storage is maximum accessibility," says Ryan Orme, founder of RHYNO Networks, a managed IT support and service provider.
"With data in the cloud," Orme says, "your staff—and clients—can have access to important data from anywhere, such as home, while on vacation and traveling for business. Cloud-based access allows for increased productivity and networking."
The Disadvantages of Cloud Storage
"While cloud storage allows you to access information on the cloud from anywhere with any device, that advantage creates a vulnerability," says Chris Hoose, president of Choose Networks, an IT consulting firm for small businesses. "Confidential data could be accessed from unknown devices on unsecured networks."
"The downside of cloud storage is the risk that your data could be compromised through a hacking," Goldstein says. "However, it's generally much easier for hackers to gain access to a local server than a sophisticated cloud storage company."
Choose a vendor that provides access control —preferably with two factor authentication, remote wipe of mobile devices, data backup and revision rollback.
—Chris Hoose, president, Choose Networks
Your data could also be taken by law enforcement, Goldstein adds.
"Your cloud storage company could be served a subpoena requiring them to release your data for government examination under the search and seizure laws of the U.S.," he explains.
Choosing the Ideal Cloud Storage System
Not all cloud storage systems are the same, notes Alan Henson, principal at Pariveda Solutions, a technology consulting firm.
"While the cloud offers a variety of powerful benefits," Henson says, "using such a system requires a deliberate and well-thought-out strategy."
Consider the following factors when choosing the ideal cloud system for your company.
How secure is your data?
"Is your information protected from intrusion? Does the company encrypt your information during transmission to and from the cloud?" says Orme.
Additionally, check that the cloud storage company provides a "lock box" service, which means they don't have access to your information, suggests Jeff Lauria, vice president of technologies for iCorps Technologies, an IT consulting, managed services and cloud computing company.
"Also check if you can you provide your own encryption key," Lauria says.
Is it a paid service?
"It's not recommended to store intellectual property or confidential information on any free cloud storage platform," says Hoose. "Choose a vendor that provides access control —preferably with two factor authentication, remote wipe of mobile devices, data backup and revision rollback."
How accessible is it?
"Does everyone who needs access to the information in cloud storage have access to it? And how will they access it?" says Orme.
What type of data do I want to store?
"Do you want storage only, such as for archiving? Selective storage of some data? Limited access to specific users, such as teams out in the field?" says Orme. "These are all questions you want to ask prior to choosing a cloud system."
Does the system comply with requirements of your industry?
"Cloud storage providers that work well for some businesses might not meet your industry's regulatory guidelines," says Thurman.
"Is access HIPAA compliant? Is the storage method HIPAA compliant?" Orme asks.
"It's wise to consult with a professional in the IT space to confirm your final vendor candidates are approved for the use you're planning," he adds.
Where are the cloud provider's data centers?
"Are those locations suitable for the needs of your business?" says Henson. "This factor becomes more important on a global scale where location impacts performance and the legality of data storage and data movement."
What is the cloud storage provider's disaster recovery plan?
"What is the company's strategy in the event something happens?" says Lauria. "Their plan should be updated and reflective of your cloud services and storage.
"If data center A goes offline, what does their response look like?" he continues. "If your content is backed up in data center B, will you have immediate access to it?"
What is its bandwidth?
"The last thing a company wants is a huge bottleneck in data transfer, so check your bandwidth from both ends before pulling the trigger," says Thurman.
That said, don't forget to continue to physically backup your data.
"Just because your company data is stored in the cloud doesn't mean you don't need to back it up," says Hoose. "Deletion of data from a cloud service accidentally or maliciously is just like deleting a file off your PC. If there is no backup in another location, it could be gone forever, or expensive to retrieve."
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