By now, almost everyone has heard about “The Cloud” or cloud computing. Some of you may even have your business data stored there. But do you really understand what it is or if it’s a good idea??
What is it?
Cloud computing is an alternative to desktop computing. In very basic technical terms, the cloud allows lots of people to share computing resources like storage, services and applications.
Remember when personal computing was new? If you wanted to save something, you had to save it to your hard drive or a floppy disk. If you wanted that information on another computer, you used the sneaker net and physically took your floppy disk to the second computer, inserted it and accessed your data. You created data in programs installed on your machine—every so often a new version of the program would come out and you’d need to upgrade and re-install a newer version of the software. Software was a product, and the data you generated with it was shuffled around physically even though it was in digital form. That was then.
Now companies are offering computing as a service, rather than a product. You can use software programs on the Web instead of installing them on a particular machine—and the provider handles updates on their end. Any data you create can now be stored online and accessed from many Internet-enabled devices—like smart phones, laptops, tablets, or desktops—and you can share that data with other people very easily by allowing them to access it “in the cloud” rather than giving it to them directly.
Many people use the cloud and don’t even realize it. Web-based email (such as Gmail), online photo storage, and Facebook all use the cloud.
If I put my business files in the cloud, where are they?
The cloud is just an updated version of network computing—during the 1990’s Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems’ popularized the phrase “The Network is the Computer.” Now people talk about “the Cloud” which further blurs the lines between computer and network. In the cloud, your data is technically on another server computer—or network of servers. Cloud servers are very fast computers with large storage capacity that are dedicated to storing information for many different people. Each of those people access their own information through an Internet connection.
Is the cloud a good solution for my computing or storage needs?
- You want to store lots of data like photos, videos, documents, and emails
- You have a fast, consistent Internet connection
- You need to access the most recent version of your data from several different devices
- You want to share files frequently or work collaboratively
- You don’t want to invest in more expensive desktop software and maintenance
Not really, if:
- You don’t have regular Internet access
- Your connection is slow
- You need to store highly sensitive information and are uncomfortable with it being out of your direct control
- Cloud-based software services do not have the right features to meet your needs
Is my data safe?
There are many excellent cloud data storage companies out there that can keep your data secure. Do your research before choosing one, and make sure that you are comfortable with their security measures. We recommend paying for services that you rely on to keep your important data secure because “free is not always good for business.” As you evaluate providers, consider the following questions:
- Is the provider well known with good recommendations?
- How long have they been in business?
- Do they have support if I need help? What kind of support (phone, email, chat, etc.)?
- Will it be easy for me to use? (Many companies offer free trials—take them for a test run!)
- Do they back up my data?
- How much will it cost me to get what I need?
In the end, your decision will come down to your business needs and circumstance. Most of us have some things in the cloud, and by making some smart decisions about the companies you use and the information you share, the cloud can be a valuable time and space-saving resource.