Small businesses and startups alike are increasingly moving to the cloud for data storage and work processes. But what exactly is this cloud that you’ve been hearing so much about? The “cloud” is just a metaphor for the internet and refers to anything web-based. Simply put, cloud storage is the storage of data online, so if you save documents on Google Drive or Dropbox, then you’re already taking advantage of cloud storage. Instead of saving your data on the hard drive of your computer, an external hard drive or a server (all of which have limited storage capacity), you’re storing data on a cloud hosting company’s server, while still having 24/7 access to your data.
As a consumer, you probably use cloud-based applications (which falls into the realm of “cloud computing”) like Netflix, Instagram, Gmail or Facebook. But as a business owner and entrepreneur, you might need cloud-based applications like Freshbooks for accounting or Google Docs for editing files. All of these applications are accessible online because the data is stored in the cloud.
It’s true that much of the world is already connecting in the cloud, but is moving to the cloud the right solution for your business? Read on for our beginner’s guide to cloud storage to help you understand the benefits and risks of shifting your business into the cloud.
What are the benefits of cloud storage?
The benefits of cloud storage are abundant, and they all come down to saving your business time and money. For example:
- With the cloud, you won’t have to invest in expensive hardware to keep up with the increasing amount of data you need to store. The cloud service provider also takes care of server maintenance, which frees you up from being responsible for a physical server that you keep in your office.
- Documents and data are easily shared and accessible to all employees, and to clients or vendors if you grant them permission to access. This allows for real-time collaboration, such as editing of documents, which will get your team to its end goal more efficiently.
- With the cloud, you can access files from anywhere at any time and from any device — as long as you have an internet connection, that is. If you have a remote team or are always on the go, this is a huge advantage.
- Reduced risk. Keeping data on a flash drive means it could get lost; keeping it on a hard drive can put you at risk of software or hardware failure, theft or natural disaster, like fire or flooding. Be confident your data is always accessible when it’s stored on the cloud.
- Data security. Rest assured that your data is protected if you use a reputable service. As an entrepreneur, you should use an established cloud storage provider, so your data will have the same high level of cybersecurity as the data of a national or global company.
Related: StartupNation Business Services
What are the risks and areas of concern?
While cloud storage has much to offer to a startup, there are some risks to consider before making this transition, much of which depends on the kind of business you’re running:
- Cybersecurity. Hacking is a real issue, and like any other technology, nothing is 100 percent secure. However, cloud storage can provide greater security for a startup with little to no investment in cybersecurity.
- Outages. If the servers at your cloud hosting company go down, you and your clients will also experience an outage. And if you don’t have a reliable and speedy internet connection in your office, you won’t be able to easily access data that is stored in the cloud.
- Costs. Moving your data to the cloud (an inbound data transfer) is free, which is great, especially if you are storing a large amount of data frequently. However, downloading stored data (an outbound data transfer) is charged per GB, per month, with fees varying by provider. If you’re constantly having to work on large files, like videos, for example, then uploading to the cloud and downloading them again will cost you more than simply storing the video files on a local server. Usually, the outbound data transfer fee goes down as the amount of data you download goes up.
- Ownership. This is a big point of debate. Who owns your data once you upload it to the cloud or if you perform work in the cloud — you or the cloud service provider? Carefully read the terms of service before you sign up with any provider and hand over your data.
What kind of data should be stored in the cloud?
Sensitive data, like credit card and bank account details, should never be stored in the cloud. However, there are specific cloud service providers that offer heightened security (at a cost) for companies storing sensitive data. The majority of small businesses use cloud storage for keeping client and vendor data, computer and mobile phone data backups, websites, videos, content, inventory and financial records.
How do I get started?
Search for a well-reputed cloud service provider that can answer all of your questions before you sign up. Read reviews and ask fellow business owners for recommendations. Remember, you don’t have to go “full cloud” if your business doesn’t require it. You can try out a mix of local servers and cloud servers to find the solution that works best for you and your business.