Data backup, storage and protection are crucial to many businesses. Take away the computers – and their data – and your business may go limp. Cloud computing may have the answer to keeping your data, and your business, afloat.
Computers are incomplete business technology until you do myriad other things with them: install software, set up shared systems like Microsoft Exchange, ensure proper data backup, and so forth.To minimize both setup and maintenance, many businesses are turning to cloud computing (aka software as a service, or SaaS), in which software and data dwell on remote servers. Clients pay a monthly fee to “rent” these data storage systems.
Data Management 101: The benefits of cloud computing for data backup, storage and protection
Proponents tout several advantages of “renting versus owning.” For instance, businesses may still need a fast Internet connection, but they can do with less expensive computers since servers in the cloud do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, small businesses access enterprise-grade systems and an “IT department” that they normally couldn’t afford. SaaS providers will likely better maintain client systems than clients could in-house, taking care of data backup, data storage and all-round data protection.
Staff can reach vital business systems anywhere they can connect to the Internet. This “anywhere access” better enables mobility and helps ensure business continuity – the office could burn down overnight, but staff can continue to use business data as soon as they get new computers.
Critics warn of data security fears, stating business data exists "outside the firewall." But consider this: the threat of a security breach hitting the media hangs over a SaaS vendor’s business like the sword of Damocles. So reputable vendors back up client information, beef up data security, ensure data gets transmitted using bank-grade encryption, and do everything else they can to protect their clients’ interests (and, by extension, their own).
Shopping for the right vendor
Check a SaaS vendor’s service level agreement (SLA) for answers to questions like these:
US-based vendors, while offering competitive data storage or data hosting services, aren’t always used by Canadians for highly confidential information, since the American Patriot Act allows for data breaches that certain Canadian law societies, among other organizations, won’t tolerate.
Canadian PIPEDA regulations are more respectful of data privacy. For instance, Canadians must still authorize the disclosure of personal information to third parties. Check this article for an in-depth comparison of PIPEDA to the Patriot Act.
Data recovery time
How long does it take to retrieve any data you back up over the Internet? The only delay should be the speed of your Internet connection.
Many online services occasionally shut down their services for maintenance activities. During downtime, client information might not be readily available. That’s why businesses need “four nines” (99.99 per cent) uptime or better.
Data centre tours
Upon request, certain providers show clients their data centres, a policy that implies confidence in their operations. During a tour, clients might be able to speak with technicians, view the makes and models of servers and ask questions galore.
If you choose to switch away from the SaaS vendor to a different system, how do you transport your business data to that system? What happens to your data should the SaaS vendor go out of business? Whatever else happens, the vendor must ensure any “service termination event” does not interrupt your business.
Keep your workflow in mind
Make sure the provider's services fit your needs. You should not need to fit the provider's way of doing business.
Can the provider accompany your business as it grows?
Data protection: data backup and information security policies
Perfect information security is impossible, but the vendor must adhere to universally recognized best practices like making data backups in several locations, encrypting data transfers using bank-grade encryption and securing all sites holding client data using proper physical security measures, again akin to those used by banks.
Are you happy handling issues via email, or will you need phone support? How fast must a provider respond to your questions? While there are no industry standards for support, better support packages often cost more.
If you have Microsoft Office 2007 and want to upgrade to 2010, Microsoft charges an upgrade fee. In this respect, Microsoft is like most other software vendors. Many SaaS providers include upgrades in their monthly fees, but check with them to make sure.
Total cost of ownership
Sometimes SaaS costs you less, and sometimes it costs more. For an apples-to-apples comparison, calculate the total cost of ownership over five years for each service you're considering.
In five years, placing all kinds of information on the Internet – true cloud computing – will be closer to the norm than it is today. Personal information already abounds on sites like Facebook. Media of all kinds maintain digital presences. And increasing numbers of business software providers sell their wares via the web. So check out cloud computing for your business. Chances are you’ll deal with it sooner than you think.