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TechnologyAdvice Guide to Cloud Backup and Storage
The cloud storage and backup industry has taken the world by storm.
In 2010, IT analysts reported "Business Users Are Not Ready For Cloud Storage," citing low adoption rates due to barriers such as service levels, security, and long term pricing.
By 2012, demand for instant storage and access to content and data on multiple devices was steadily increasing. Gartner predicted consumers would store more than a third of their digital content in the cloud by 2016. Further research indicated that 96 percent of people were using cloud services, yet half of respondents were not familiar with terms like "cloud storage" or "cloud computing".
But, despite low overall awareness of cloud-related terminology, consumer preferences finally filtered into businesses. In 2013, Forbes reported that more than half of U.S. businesses were using cloud computing. Eighteen months later, 69 percent of enterprises had services running in the cloud.
In 2015, approximately 24 percent of IT budgets will be allocated to cloud solutions.
Vendors have taken special care to address pressing privacy and security concerns over the last five years. Many business owners that once feared entrusting their files to a third-party have embraced the trend to alleviate the cost, space, or administrative burden of maintaining a full backup system on-premise. Additionally, many vendors have split their offerings to appeal to both businesses and consumers. As a result, the cloud storage industry has evolved into a highly competitive market, with a projected worth of over $56 billion by 2019.
Defining Cloud Backup and Storage Software
The term "Cloud computing" is nebulous because it can mean different things to different people. In the simplest terms, the cloud is a metaphor for the Internet. It's a way to describe the paradigm shift in which servers, software, and files are delivered to an organization's computers and devices via the Web instead of on local servers and desktops.
That said, cloud backup and storage is the practice of moving data off-site to a service provider for management, access, and protection. It can either replace or complement existing on-premise storage or backup systems.
Think of it this way: cloud backup for business gives IT a way to increase capacity or extend recovery capabilities as needed— without investing in new infrastructure, personnel, or hardware.
Historically, vendors haven't always offered cloud backup and cloud storage synchronously. The former was just a digital archive of information, stored away in case of disaster. And while the latter does back up files, it also provides working access to them. However, since the demand for both services has increased, leading vendors tend to offer both in order to stay competitive. When it comes to cloud backup and storage, sync is the new save.
How to Compare Cloud Backup and Storage Software
The cloud offers a nearly infinite space to store data. Initially, the best backup software will safely and economically send your files to the cloud. Then, it will continue to back up your organization's work, as well as scale with your business as it grows.
Business cloud storage software helps businesses stay organized and productive while protecting the integrity of sensitive information. For example, you can exchange documents online, track changes with version history, and search documents, files, and PDFs based on their content. Real time syncing, sharing, and storage simplifies communication and increases collaboration among employees and clients that need access to files. Additionally, cloud backup software offers offsite protection in the case of disasters, such as fires, storms, or theft.
Standard features include:
- Scalable storage
- Disaster recovery
- Document editing
- Mobile phone access or native application
- Portal white-labeling
- File recovery and versioning
- Archive folder
- Edit in cloud
- Deleted file retention
- External drive backup
- Server backup
- Idle backup
Business information is a precious asset, so it's no surprise that protecting it is paramount. At minimum, vendors should offer encryption so that only those inside your company can see your information. The functionality below is designed to help keep your sensitive data safe, and will vary among vendors— your company's goals and needs will dictate which are most important:
- Multi-level encryption
- Client-side encryption key
- Multi-factor authentication/verification process
- Mobile passcodes
- Control over sharing permissions
- Audit trails
- Password-protected sharing
- Password expiration dates
- Remote wipe
- Device and location tracking
- Login tracking
- User management settings for administrators
Additional Vendor Considerations
Though every cloud backup and storage solution is generally meant to do the same job, they're not all created equally. It can be difficult to differentiate between vendors, especially if you only examine functionality. However, when choosing the best backup and storage vendor for your business, there are many additional considerations to make. Be sure to vet potential vendors by examining the criteria below.
The cost of cloud backup and storage software is straightforward, and usually billed annually or monthly. Service cost is proportional to the amount of storage, users, and/or features you need, so you must estimate how much data you'll need to backup and store in order to stay within budget. To determine costs, your vendor will need to know the following:
- How many users will you have?
- How much data do you want to back up?
- What sort of information will you be backing up?
- How long do you need your data to be retained?
- Which operating systems will you be backing up?
- What is your current storage and backup environment like? Physical? Virtual?
You want to select a vendor with storage that grows as your business grows. If you're considering an "unlimited" plan, keep in mind that many vendors may have bandwidth throttling in place.
How often is your data saved? Does the service back up the entire file again, or simply sync the changes you made? How often you need backups depends on the type of data to be backed up. For example, if you're storing critical data, then daily backups may not be enough.
The main purpose of cloud storage for business is to make sure your information is available whenever you need it. In the data industry, there are varying levels of uptime that indicate how much of the time a data center is fully operational. A vendor's uptime depends on their tier; Tier 1 services offer 99.671 percent availability, and Tier 4 offers 99.995 percent availability. Though the percentages seem close, it's the difference between experiencing 28.8 hours of downtime a year, versus less than one. Remember that downtime can severely hamper employee productivity and brand perception.
It's true that downtime isn't always preventable. This is why it's important that your vendor has an effective and efficient disaster-recovery plan. Ask potential vendors how long it would take to recover data in an emergency. Don't be afraid to be inquisitive— go beyond a simple checklist or yes and no questions. Ask open-ended questions, such as: "What are the defined recovery objectives for your services?"
Help and Support
If you do experience emergencies or issues, your vendor is your knight in shining armor. Look for a provider that offers comprehensive support and troubleshooting through multiple channels such as phone, email, live chat, and even social media.
Your customers' privacy should be a top priority. Cloud backup and storage vendors should offer regular compliance that ensures high levels of protection, such as Payment Card Industry Standards. If you store sensitive information, your provider should be compliant with industry regulations. For example, a medical practice storing electronic protected health information (PHI) should look for a vendor that's HIPAA-compliant.
Don't skip the fine print before signing a service level agreement. Vendor contracts can prevent you from switching providers should you outgrow their current services. There may also be additional costs aside from the basic cost of per gigabyte storage, such as charges for data transfer or copying files. Beware of hidden costs and familiarize yourself with the terms of service.
Common Cloud Storage / Backup Applications
The number of enterprise vendors entering the cloud storage market is growing. However, recent research suggests consumer-focused offerings account for the bulk of solutions used in businesses today. Since cloud services are scalable by nature, this means businesses can have their pick of the litter.
The workforce is now accustomed to on-demand cloud services, and the enterprise has a long way to go to bring those tools into the office. Of the employees using file sync and share tools at work, 89 percent use consumer products, and just nine percent of them are satisfied with the commercial, enterprise-focused offerings given to them by their corporate IT department.
But does it matter if your employees like your storage solutions?
It does if your technology results in unsafe business practices and shadow IT.
Today's workforce uses consumer tools to share documents and access them primarily from their mobile devices. If your current setup isn't mobile friendly, employees will result to methods outside IT knowledge and control in order to get their own jobs done.
Would you rather have your workforce happily (and safely) working in the cloud, or relying on a combination of unapproved services, email, and thumb drives to move sensitive and valuable corporate data around?
Increasingly popular offerings like Google Drive for Work and Dropbox demonstrate the effects that mobile devices and the consumerisation of IT can have on the enterprise. Large businesses don't have to worry so much about whether or not their vendor is enterprise-specific, but if their vendor supports their employees' habits and work needs.
Cloud computing is an attractive option for small and midsize businesses that need critical IT upgrades, yet lack the cash for a large capital investment. For example, 67 percent of small and 81 percent of medium businesses say that technology solutions significantly improve business outcomes or help them run their businesses better. But 45 percent of small businesses and 35 percent of medium businesses don't plan on increasing their IT spend. If you don't have a large technology support staff, cloud storage allows you to only pay for the features and functionality you use, rather than shelling out for hardware, software, staff, and maintenance.
Some companies may need an industry-specific cloud storage provider— such as healthcare or financial services organizations. Others may only need durable, low-cost storage to archive data and meet backup needs. Niche players like Amazon Glacier offer storage optimized for data that is infrequently accessed, making it suitable for times when data retrieval time of a few hours is acceptable. Be sure to outline the goals of switching to a cloud service provider, so that you know at the start of your journey what kind of vendor you need.
How to Create Executive Buy-In
To ensure successful adoption and long-term ROI, it's important to get buy-in from stakeholders in the company, especially leadership. They should agree with the need for cloud backup and storage and understand the value it will add. Luckily, as we covered in the beginning of the guide, cloud computing is becoming the standard. Concerns that previously prevented businesses from moving to the cloud just a few years ago no longer hold up under scrutiny. For most businesses, it's not a matter of if they'll use cloud backup and storage, but when. Below are some talking points for making the case with key executives:
The purpose of CIOs and IT managers is to identify the solution that best meets the organization's current and future requirements, while considering a broad set of employee roles and business use cases. CIOs know moving to the cloud brings innovation and agility, and they're likely eager to discuss the cloud with you.
Your IT department can help you create a shortlist of providers to evaluate for long-term viability. They'll likely be concerned primarily with the logistics, like whether a hybrid storage solution or multiple vendors is necessary. CIOs will also be interested in platforms that store data locally, offer robust security guarantees, and integrate with existing systems. Additional benefits include increased capabilities without required investment in new infrastructure or hardware.
While IT directors believe the main reason for moving to the cloud is that it brings innovation and agility, senior business executives cite cost-cutting as the main driver. Your chief financial officer will want to know how much cloud backup and storage will cost on the front-end and long-term, how it can reduce costs and grow revenue, and when your business can expect to see measurable returns. In addition to those factors, mention cost-saving from reduced infrastructure and redirected IT personnel resources, as well as the productivity benefits from easier collaboration and integrations with existing systems. They may also be interested to know about eliminated shadow IT occurrences that could prevent valuable information from leakage.
Your CEO needs to know how a cloud backup and storage can improve your core business model and help you gain a competitive edge. The once "risky" cloud has modernized business as we know it, and is now a profitable and advantageous strategy. Your CEO is likely already familiar with the cloud, but if not, highlight how improved collaboration for remote employees, lower operational costs, and secure data backups will be beneficial— especially if you already have your CIO backing you up.
Case Study: Centric Project
Central Project is a commercial construction company with retail, healthcare, and institutional experience. Centric differentiates itself from competitors through unique design, creative thinking, and emerging technology.
When the company began, the three partners simply sat side-by-side and collaboration was as simple as peeking at the others' laptop screen or passing a flash drive around. Then a colleague suggested they start using Dropbox, and they used it so frequently they had to get more storage space by the end of the first two weeks.
As the company grew, so did the need for additional file storage. After exploring a few alternatives, so Centric Project moved everyone to Dropbox for Business.
"Dropbox for Business acts as our server. All of our company data is on it, and we can very quickly and easily use it to share a lot of information with a lot of people." —Steve Swanson, Centric Projects Partner
Centric Projects has been able to avoid the strained document collaboration and high overhead costs for which the construction industry is infamous. When project change orders are logged, they get stored in Dropbox, ensuring everyone can access them wherever they may be, even simultaneously. The Centric staff also relies on shared links to send important input drawings to subcontractors, and to share bids and proposals with prospective clients.
Remote employees can open their Dropbox account and it's as if they're sitting right there in the office with the rest of the team. No one has to worry about logging in through a server, and the company's files are always up-to-date.
"In construction, the best way to maintain profitability is to keep overhead costs really low. Our overhead structure is one-half to one-third that of our competitors', in part because of Dropbox for Business." —Richard Wetzel, Centric Projects Partner
Results and Competitive Advantages:
- Avoided hiring an IT professional or investing in costly servers
- Avoided legacy systems that drag down efficiency and increase costs
- Employees in the field and in the office communicate, share, and connect instantaneously
- Swift access to data from jobsite, increasing employees' ability to work quickly and effectively
- Can easily share large files with subcontractors, and everyone has access to submissions as soon as they are uploaded.
- Ability to be up and running in a remote location in 30 minutes or less in case of office disaster
Other Market-Leading Solutions
Dropbox is one of the top cloud backup and storage solutions on the market and can be customized to meet the needs of any-sized business. They're the right provider for Centric Project, but you may need a different cloud backup and storage solution that offers industry-specific features or additional services. To find the best software for your business, compare cloud storage providers by using our Cloud Backup and Storage Product Selection Tool. You can also check out our comparison post on two of the most popular cloud backup and storage vendors: Box vs Dropbox
How to Choose the Best Cloud Backup and Storage Software
At TechnologyAdvice, we connect businesses with the technology that best meets their needs. We provide product information, side by side comparisons, reviews, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, to take the headache out of the buying process for you. To learn more about any of the products or features listed in this guide, call one of our in-house specialists, or use the Product Selection Tool on our website to get a free personalized recommendation.