Tips on Moving Your Small Business Safely Into ‘The Cloud’
As you upgrade your company’s software programs, or chat with clients who are the least bit techy, you probably keep hearing about “moving into the cloud.” But what is the cloud? And how can you use this new tech trend effectively – and safely – in your business? Here’s the lowdown on this lofty-sounding development.
What is the cloud?
Cloud computing generally means accessing computer files or software programs from a computer server that’s not in your physical office. (You access it through an online connection). The server can be in an urban warehouse not far from you, or it could be thousands of miles across the country.
If you think about it, very basic services — like your Gmail or Facebook account — are cloud-based. You can access them from any computer at any time.
But the term “the cloud” only really gained prominence when popular file storage services like Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Box arrived on the scene; these services let you store documents, photos, movies, scanned items, etc., on a remote server network – “the cloud” – rather than the hard drive of your computer or a server in your office. Over time, the cloud concept has been integrated into software programs, too.
Information anywhere, from any screen.
So, what’s so great about the cloud? Sharing company documents in a cloud-based program like Dropbox means your team can easily access them — even while traveling. Cloud programs are also ideal for small business owners who often work from mobile devices, because you can access your information from home, a hotel or anywhere you go. Another advantage is that the information you access and store on the cloud is automatically backed up. So, if your hard drive crashes, you still have a backup of all your files.
Cloud-based software is also popping up for every business need you can imagine: accounting (Quickbooks, Freshbooks), billing (Bill.com), general productivity (Microsoft Office 365) and even conference calls (Speek.com). Instead of investing in new software licenses or additional personnel, you can add capabilities or capacity by subscribing or paying per-use to a cloud-based version.
The cloud can also become part of your small business disaster planning, by letting you back up important files on the remove server in the cloud. In case of an emergency, you’ll be able to access critical data anywhere — from your mobile device or from a borrowed computer in a makeshift office (as long as your cloud provider is unaffected, of course; you should also consider backing up to an external hard drive in your office. That way, you have access to your data, even if your Internet connection — or that of your cloud provider — is temporarily down ).
Of course, not everyone is entirely comfortable storing files in the cloud. After all, security breaches do happen. That’s why, for starters, it’s important to entrust your cloud-based business to well-known companies, and to learn about their security measures. Do they transmit and store data with at least 128-bit encryption (the industry standard)? Do they perform regular third-party audits to ensure that their systems are safe and up to date?
Here are some additional tips from IDentityTheft 911 that may help protect your data in the cloud:
- Don’t put anything in the cloud that you wouldn’t want others to see (especially the government or a private litigant).
- Know exactly what happens when you remove your data from the cloud provider. Does the cloud provider still retain rights to your information? If so, consider whether that makes a difference to you.
Another good protective measure? Make sure your business insurance has data protection coverage, which may help with the financial and legal burden in the event that personal data held by your business in the cloud is ever compromised.
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