Off-site file storage in the cloud is ramping up to the mainstream, with major providers taking steps to familiarize consumers with online storage.
Google announced it is offering 15GB of Cloud storage for free and will sell increased storage for reasonable monthly rates. Of course Google is one of the big players in the field, getting a lot of press for their announcement, but other major names are busy with cloud storage services, as well. Amazon and Apple offer cloud storage, as do several dozen other large companies in that busy, competitive space.
One of the issues with off-site storage is that most users do not understand cloud computing and, as a result, have difficulty making informed decisions for its value. When managers don’t know what a solution provides for value, it’s tricky to decide to use a new service. Let’s review some of the challenges and opportunities that come with the territory:
The Business Paradigm
About 55 percent of U.S. companies expect to increase their use of cloud computing over the next year, writes Information Management. Many of these companies will use cloud storage simply to safeguard data, but using the cloud is more than just dropping a file onto someone else’s computer. One of the defining properties of cloud computing is that the cloud host company synchronizes files between the various users and the storage facility. Depending on the sophistication of the system, multiple users can work on one file at the same time. On the other end of the spectrum are simple file storage systems designed as a safeguard against data loss. With these systems, a user drops a file onto a remote server and can retrieve it if the user has a system crash. The different cloud storage systems (spotlighted at http://www.cloudstoragefinder.com) have different restrictions and perks and choosing one should match the business plan.
Apples and Oranges
Step one in choosing a cloud storage solution is a simple comparison of present needs with future projections.Most people analyze storage space versus price. Take a look at PC Magazine’s article entitled The Best Cloud Storage Solutions in which the author uses a chart to compare the best “solutions.” This type of comparison assumes that the business owner knows how much data storage is required and has a budget. It also assumes that what is happening with the data is the same from company to company. Of course, this is not true. The data usage for a medical office is very different than that for a real estate office. And many managers often have to reply on their tech teams for answers on storage requirements.
Let’s use three hypothetical businesses, each with its own set of data usage criteria, and look at how the cloud storage options would work for each.
A large high school’s data use is generally static and mostly comprised of quarterly updated school records. Long-term record storage would happen at the end of each school year. A storage provider could safely store school records off-site and free up critical storage areas within the school. Technically, this type of storage solution is not cloud storage. This is online backup storage. It has limited interaction with users. The school will ask for a large data batch if it ever needs the information but, barring this request, the data stays in the server untouched. Mozy and Carbonite made their mark as off-site, on-line backup solutions.
Instead of paper pamphlets and product samples, this hypothetical salesperson mostly needs access to data and files in the company cloud. Under this scenario, the data needs to be fluid. The salesperson needs to access this data via a mobile device, while also being able to give limited access to clients and home-base staff.
This is the classic cloud computing illustration, where the major providers like Google and Amazon are making it easier on a company’s productivity. Google, probably as a tee-up to its Chromebook promotions, has tripled the amount of free space it is offering. Shared between Google Drive, Gmail and Google + Photos, a user has 15GB of data storage, up from the 5 GB that was previously offered. Google drive is basically a hard drive floating in the cloud. A user can access it at will, share documents and allow file editing. Since it is all integrated, most users do not see the difference between the three separate Google service brands.
Photographers are a prime target for cloud based services. Photographers have high-resolution photos that take up a large amount of data space. Client-side users must be able to look at the pictures, but there is no need to allow them to edit the photos in any way. For about $10 per month, the photographer can get 200GB of Drive storage from Google. This allows the photographer the ability to send out a portfolio via email or show his work on any WiFi enabled laptop or tablet.
A similar example exists at competitor Apple, which made its name as being friendly for artists, musicians and graphic designers. Apple has its own version of cloud storage, called iCloud, for data storage and iTunes Match for music storage. iTunes Match allows a user to store up to 25,000 songs that are not purchased through iTunes for about $25 per year. Storage of iTunes songs is free.
The new cloud storage providers do more than just giving businesses much needed file space. These services bring about opportunities for business staffs to work in new and more productive ways. Indeed, cloud computing has allowed businesses to change the way they work, with new models of efficiency.
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