Don’t put all your faith in the cloud

Man lying under a cloud on tablet

There are many exciting, easy and cost effective ways to store and access data from multiple devices in public and private storage clouds.  Apple’s iCloud, Drop Box and wireless portable storage devices for smartphones and tables dramatically simplify the storage of large amounts of data and content with easy to use apps and devices. But consumers and small businesses still need to remain diligent and follow basic data backup practices if they want to keep their data safe and accessible.

In 2011 the idea of an SME, a sole operator or a consumer storing digital content in the cloud suddenly became a lot more viable. Consumer market favourites – Amazon and Google – entered the cloud storage market with music upload cloud services.  A few months later Apple shared its plans for a revamped cloud service catering for photos, books, music, documents and apps among other data. And within the next few months Google is expected to launch a broader cloud service that will allow users to store their photos, documents and videos on Google’s servers.

Cloud storage is beyond its infancy and these initiatives have highlighted that cloud storage isn’t only the province of large enterprises. Consumers and SME’s can choose to either rely on these cloud initiatives or set up their own private cloud.

Familiar plug and play portable storage devices are in many ways ideal for consumers and SMEs when set up as a personal cloud because of the accessibility, convenience and ease of use when accessing data with mobile devices.

What is cloud storage?

At its simplest, cloud storage involves placing your data on someone else’s servers and accessing that data via the internet. Documents, applications and other digital content are uploaded onto the storage company’s servers, ready for you to access via the Internet at any time.

The content could be stored on a single server in a single data centre, or it may be located on multiple servers in data centres across multiple countries. From a user perspective, it makes little difference. Whenever you want to edit, access or add to your data, you simply log on to the service and start typing.

Mobile devices help drive demand

Interest in cloud storage is being driven by several factors, not the least of which is the rise in mobile device ownership and changes in the way we work. People today don’t carry out all their work on a computer at their desk in their office between the hours of nine and five.  We’ve become mobile thanks to tools such as tablets and smartphones. We’re also more flexible in our hours. We expect to be able to check for emails, look up documents and review appointments at all hours of the day. Keeping information in the cloud supports this need for “anywhere any time” access.

Is it safe?

Cloud computing has great potential for SMEs. It offers optimised storage that isn’t connected to a specific infrastructure but it still relies on hardware components and that makes it is susceptible to failure, breakage and error. And for a business, any loss is likely to incur cost in both time and money. Therefore, before adopting cloud services talk to your provider to understand where risk may exist and what safeguards they’ve put in place in the event of data loss.

Here are four practical steps that every company engaging cloud services should take:

1. Ensure your cloud provider offers data recovery service options or commits to engaging an external data recovery expert. The faster a professional approach is applied to the problem, the more likely data will be recovered.

2. Always treat your data in the cloud with the same safety diligence as your in house data. Even if it relates to a temporary project or test data, it is your intellectual property and has value.  Back it up.  Frequently and regularly.

3. Although the data isn’t in house, it still needs to be managed. Document retention and deletion policies need to be applied if you don’t want to end up with a sizeable mess.

4. Verify where your data resides. There are numerous government acts relating to data management, storage and privacy.  Depending on the nature of your business, you may find these dictate where your data is physically stored.