cloud storage image
Cloud storage provides flexible options and security levels. — Getty Images/metamorworks

Long gone are the days when all of a small business’s documents and records could be found in filing cabinets. Today, many small business owners have employees who work remotely, clients around the globe and the need to access files and records from anywhere at any time. Speed and accuracy are imperative and loss of data too costly and risky to rely on solely on onsite servers and paper records.

The rise of the internet has brought unique tools for helping small businesses manage a new landscape that now includes cloud backup and storage for data and information.

The potential for data loss is no joke. Cloud storage company Carbonite surveyed IT professionals in 2018 to get a handle on what they do in the event of a data loss. Sixty four percent of those surveyed said data loss was a “life or death” situation for their small business. With that being said, 48% of respondents dealt with a situation that required data recovery in the past year. That means this potentially paralyzing modern business event is really quite common. Cloud storage and backing up your business data is one way to protect against data loss.

To help you understand what to look for in cloud backup and cloud computing, this guide will:

  1. Explain what the cloud is
  2. Explain the benefits of using the cloud for your business data
  3. Explain the types of cloud computing
  4. Walk through what to consider when shopping for cloud storage

What does it mean to back up to the cloud?

Cloud storage is when data is stored on remote servers and accessed via the internet. It is usually maintained and operated by a cloud storage service provider. Cloud backup could be manual or automatic depending on your business preferences as well as the service provider.

Why use cloud backup?

Many small businesses have already adopted the cloud in some form to help run their business. In a survey conducted by Clutch, a B2B research firm, 63% of businesses who use cloud storage have been using the service since 2015. However, cloud storage is still growing and there are plenty of reasons for small businesses to turn to the cloud or expand their usage.

Physical disasters to your business, such as a storm or flood, no longer need to be detrimental for your company’s data because of cloud storage. According to the 2018 Carbonite survey, man-made disasters account for 65% of data loss instances. Ensuring you keep records safe and accessible may mean keeping them in the cloud is the best option as opposed to an on-site backup server.

This hasn’t been lost on businesses in recent years. According to a survey done by McAfee, a cybersecurity company, the data storage strategy for a majority of organizations is cloud first. In 2017, 65% of respondents reported a cloud-first approach in data storage in 2017, which was down from 82% in 2016. The change indicates that more companies are considering hybrid solutions in data storage. A hybrid model typically means a combination of private and public storage. A business might store their data onsite in a private or public cloud and use offsite cloud storage for backup and archiving.

Cloud storage security

Cloud storage is not without risks. Because it is internet-based, it is vulnerable to hacks and security-related issues. However, confidence in cloud-based systems is actually continuing to grow. In the McAfee survey, 90% of respondents trusted the cloud more than they did a year prior despite publicized breaches in cloud systems.

One of the main reasons that businesses are turning to cloud-based computing systems is the access. According to the Clutch survey, 29% of the small business respondents said the primary benefit of using cloud storage was access to data. The ability for employees to pull data and information at any time is a huge upside to cloud data storage.

Small businesses also seem to use cloud storage for two different and distinct reasons: access and archive. According to the Clutch survey, 38% of small businesses use their cloud system for both daily access as well as archiving, closely followed by 35% of respondents who used the service for daily access. Only 27% of respondents used their cloud systems for archiving.

Cloud storage is not without risks, but confidence in cloud-based systems is continuing to grow.

Types of cloud computing

There are three main types of cloud computing to consider.

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) — These applications run in the cloud, but they are not the same as the cloud. Think of SaaS as web-based software. That means instead of installing and maintaining software downloaded to a device, you simply access this software on the internet. Popular brands of this type of cloud computing are Google Apps, Dropbox, Salesforce, Box and Office 365.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) — This system offers computing resources over the internet. These resources can include networking hardware, servers, storage and a data center. Popular examples of this type of cloud computing are Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) — This allows customers to develop, run, and manage applications without building the necessary infrastructure to maintain an app. Examples of this type of cloud computing are the Google App Engine, Red Hat OpenShift, Force.com, AWS PaaS and Azure PaaS.

What to consider when shopping for cloud storage

Are you going to be locked in? According to research being done by Cornell University, one of the main issues with using cloud storage is “vendor lock-in.” This simply means it’s very difficult to transfer data between cloud storage services if you are no longer happy with the company you selected. Understanding how to remove data from the cloud is important when considering different services. You don’t want to get locked into contracts that no longer work for you or will get expensive to maintain. Which leads to the next point.

What is this going to cost? Small businesses don’t always stay small so if you’re going to be tied to one company because it’s difficult to transfer data, make sure you understand what this could cost in the long run if you need more data storage. It is also imperative that the provider you choose for cloud backup or cloud access can handle an increase in data if your company grows. Make sure it can scale up with you. According to the Clutch survey, 81% of small businesses that use cloud storage now pay for the service as opposed to using the free available services. So how much is it costing them? That 38% that pay for cloud storage pay between $51 and $250 per month to their cloud storage provider. Beyond that, 18% of respondents pay between $1 and $50, 23% pay between $250 and $1,000 a month and just 9% pay more than $1,000 a month for cloud services.

How can I make this system secure? Make security a priority on all fronts when thinking about how your company uses the cloud. This is crucial for a successful cloud setup. Deciding who has access to what documents and setting up a consistent system will make sure your business runs smoothly. Choose a cloud storage company that has a good security record and make sure you assign the proper access levels to your employees. If you work with clients, they’ll want to know their information is safe with you.

Archiving, accessing and protecting your business data is a necessity these days. Do some research before you choose a cloud storage backup company. Check out their security reputation and to ensure they can handle your potential growth. Don't chuck the filing cabinet entirely, though. It’s a good idea to keep paper copies of certain legal documents such as employee or client contracts. For most things, though, cloud backup should be more than sufficient to store and protect your records.

CO— does not review or recommend products or services. For more information on choosing the best cloud backup and storage providers, visit our friends at business.com.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019