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Transitioning to the Cloud

Critical questions to ask when choosing a cloud provider

In the first quarter of 2012, FEMA reported 12 natural disasters throughout the country, including tornadoes, flooding, mudslides and severe storms from Florida to Alaska. The threats to your data are limitless - natural disasters, fires, water damage, equipment theft and hardware failure to name just a few. In the event of a disaster, if you don't have access to an offsite copy of your data, or if you are unable to replicate it, the chances are it will be gone forever.

Deciding on the Right Provider Should Be No Different Than Buying a Car
Many businesses are opting to move their data to the cloud, citing benefits in time savings/automation, cost, security and access; however, some SMBs still maintain reservations about keeping their valuable data offsite and beyond their control. A recent Information Week Report indicated that only 23 percent of business technology professionals use cloud computing services as part of their application and data recovery strategies. Many others are confused by the number of online cloud backup companies and "free storage" offerings that are flooding the market; while others are concerned about those data storage companies who have proven to be "fly-by-night" entities that are here today, gone tomorrow.

Choosing a backup provider should be no different than shopping for another major purchase. With so many storage options to choose from, selecting an online cloud backup solution can be overwhelming, but that doesn't need to be the case. Take it for a test drive, know the technology behind the offering and choose a company that has a sustainable business model, a proven track record and a stellar support staff within your organizational budget.

Cloud Storage vs. Cloud Backup
Apple's iCloud, Google's Drive and DropBox are examples of storage options that provide the business user with "free" storage for easy sharing of documents, photos and videos. However, these options and many others are not backup options. Cloud storage providers do just that, they provide you with a place to store your stuff. However, there is no guarantee, questionable security, no tech support and if a server goes down in one of their data centers, you may never see those documents again. Would you keep your important documents or jewels in a bus station locker? Of course not. These are great ways to share documents among friends and family and for a quick way to share a document among a team of people, for short periods of time; however, it isn't the place to backup your business-critical applications and documents.

Cloud backup should provide you with the ability to automatically backup your applications such as Word, Outlook, Photoshop, QuickBooks and their associated data files (pictures, documents, spreadsheets, financials and the ever important Outlook .PST files) to an offsite server or data center.

Top Six Research Questions When Moving to the Cloud
When shopping for a cloud backup solution, creating a comparative spreadsheet will help you to keep track of your different options. After all, your company data is the lifeblood of your business. These key questions should help you in making an informed decision.

1. How long has the cloud vendor been in business? Whose technology are they using?
As with any trending technology, there are many fly-by-night companies that promise the moon and fail to deliver. How long has the cloud provider been in business? Do they have references or case studies for review? Do they license somebody else's software or is it their own? Research competing software reviews and compare and contrast the feedback.

2. What security measures are in place to protect my data?
Just because an application runs in your office, doesn't mean it's secure. The question is what security measures and controls does the cloud service provider have in place.

  • Is its datacenter SSAE 16 certified?
  • Is its web portal scanned daily by a seal provider (e.g., McAfee)
  • How is the data encrypted?
  • Is there a master key and who has access to this master key?

All these are questions technical evaluators should ask when assessing cloud service options. Chances are that serious cloud application providers will be substantially more secure than any SMB could afford to implement internally.

3. Does the cloud provider offer both onsite and offsite protection?
The ideal cloud backup solution should provide you with an unlimited option to backup to a local server for immediate access to restore application files (Word/Outlook/QuickBooks) quickly and efficiently. It should also provide you with the option to back up your data (documents/spreadsheets/financials) to the cloud (an offsite server or data center.)

4. Are there affordable solutions for my business in this economy?
Absolutely. In this economy, SMBs should be very careful when making large purchases for hardware or software. Monthly pay-as-you go options have less risk attached to them and are offered by reputable online backup providers and should be strongly considered. If in doubt, do a three-year total cost of ownership analysis.

5. What are some of the most significant benefits cloud services bring to SMBs?
When evaluating a move to the cloud, SMBs should consider the advantages. Cloud backup and data recovery solutions don't require the purchase of internal hardware, alleviating capital cost expenditures. In addition, the technology has advanced to such a level today that small software tools can be downloaded to company machines that are user-friendly and easy to manage, keeping internal IT staff costs to a minimum.

6. What is unlimited backup, do I need it and is it real?
Today, many vendors who have offered unlimited backup have either stopped providing it or have a host of limitations attached to it (throttling of bandwidth, maximum files size, etc.). When searching for an ideal backup solution, take a look at the options that take into account your growth potential. Be aware of providers that require a long-term contract with fixed bandwidth, data capacity. If the maximum capacity of your data is 50gb, you shouldn't pay for 150gb of data, until you need it. When you do need it, what is the path for expansion?

The fact that your data can be backed up immediately and automatically is a huge benefit. Once the data has been moved to the cloud, via online uploads, or seeding options (copying of all data onto an encrypted USB and shipping it to the cloud provider is one of these options) your business will enjoy immediate protection of company assets.

Cloud service providers benefit from economy of scale and have the ability to pass these savings onto the consumer, something that an SMB could not produce alone.

Wrap Up
The ability to access files when computers or networks crash can make or break an SMB. Making the decision to move to the cloud can be the difference between keeping your business in good health when it comes to protecting your data or losing everything and starting over. Being well prepared, doing adequate software research, and finding answers to the questions above will prepare you to confidently transition to the Cloud.

More Stories By Jamie Brenzel

Jamie Brenzel brings over 15 years of experience in investment banking and entrepreneurial startups to his role as CEO of KineticD. His prior business accomplishments are long and varied. He was at Salomon Brothers in London, where he helped build the equity derivatives department into an important profit center. He then embarked on his future as an entrepreneur, acquiring Wood Printing & Graphics, and later co-founding integrated marketing communications company Sonar Group. Jamie then established a solid foundation for Truition, an eCommerce service company for clients such as Dell Financial Services, CompUSA and Sirius Satellite Radio. Jamie holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.

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