The ups and downs of cloud storage for SMEs

There is huge interest among businesses in cloud storage at the moment because of the advantages claimed for a streamlined process that sees data stored on and accessed by the Internet, without the need for expensive software and applications on in-house hard-drives.

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The ups and downs of cloud storage for SMEs

Cloud storage providers claim they offer flexibility, portability and security to customers who place data on their remote servers. While it can be centralised and stored in one location, it is accessible anywhere via PCs, laptops, iPads, netbooks and mobile phones. Crucially, data backup and recovery should be automatic, which means that users should never have to worry about losing anything placed on the cloud.

However, businesses must also be aware that there are pitfalls and dangers to cloud services.

Don’t assume high security thresholds that will protect from hacking and attacks; you must ensure that the provider has these in place and that data is encrypted so that only authorised parties can read it. This is vital to comply with data protection legislation, especially the new EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Due to come into force in May 2018, penalties for violations could run to €20m and UK companies must prepare for and adhere to them for some time, despite the Brexit vote.

Users may be charged for unwanted additional features, while they have no control over updates and software releases – and can also have limited control over how their data is hosted, stored and backed up, depending on which type of cloud system is used.

Some storage services have set bandwidth allowances and additional charges may be levied if a client goes over allowance. Even with high bandwidth, network speeds can affect access and performance, while cloud connection can be impaired if too many people are online. Remember, should you be without Internet access for any reason, you cannot access your data.

Businesses may find that the costs of cloud computing are not as competitive as they thought, especially for small amounts of data or over limited periods.

It all means that you must ensure you know what your business does and doesn’t need from cloud storage – and understand fully whether there is a fit with what the vendor is selling you.

Consider which type of cloud system is best for you – public cloud on third parties’ shared physical hardware, private cloud for greater levels of control and security, or a hybrid of the two, where the public cloud is used for non-critical information and the private for sensitive material?

Get guarantees on levels of security, performance, allowances, bandwidth, what services you will be paying for and the backup systems in place to protect data from being lost.

It is critical that you read and understand the service level agreements (SLAs) before signing up. And if there are areas you don’t understand, seek professional advice before making a commitment; invariably, this will be a far smaller outlay than being stuck with the wrong choice.

There is no doubt that cloud storage offers many advantages in terms of cost savings, efficiencies and convenience. However, it is a complex, fast-changing field and it is important that you have somebody who knows the landscape to guide you through it.

 

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