So You Want To Get on The Cloud? Important Tips for Businesses Looking to Get on the Cloud: Part Three

Do you remember when the flash drive was like the coolest invention ever? Your files were portable, you could get rid of the things you didn’t want, edit the things you did, and keep it all on your key chain.  Not to mention the fact that it was truly cross platform, you could plug your flash drive into any computer with a USB drive and the files you saved on it would be available on this new machine.  It was easy and freaking revolutionary.  Many people still rely on their flash drive, especially as a backup for their most important files.  But what happens when a tornado comes through and knocks down your office and you can’t find your flash drive?  Whatever was so important you had it backed up on the flash drive is lost.  On a personal level it might be sad or frustrating; there might have been irreplaceable pictures or you have to contact your insurance company for a new copy of your policy.  However, on a business level the scenario I just suggested could completely destroy your livelihood.  One way enterprises combat the potential loss of important data is by something called remote file storage.  Meaning they store copies of their data on servers at different locations so that if there is a disaster of some sort, they have easy access to their information and will be able to restore the systems that their business relies upon (for more information on remote file storage and how the cloud works, you can check out part one of this series).  The latest version of remote file storage is what we call cloud file storage, it takes you files, stores them on remote servers, and you have access to them from any computer you choose.

There are many cloud storage services out there that offer a limited amount of storage for free.  These tools are great for personal use and sometimes very limited business use.  However, if you want to use the cloud more extensively, you are going to need to find a paid cloud service.  In this article, I will discuss some of the top services for Small to Medium size businesses, (I will be expanding this series to discuss enterprise level cloud solutions, so stay tuned for part four).  The major players in the Small to Medium Business cloud field are very similar to those in the free use field, covered in part two of this series.  I will provide some information on Dropbox for Teams, Box for Business, and SkyDrive.   While Google Drive is an excellent product, I have decided not to cover it here because until it has iOS apps, I do not consider it a serious competitor in the business marketplace.   Remember that before you make your decision, you should consult with an IT professional.  They can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each system, security issues and liabilities, help you implement the solution, and assist with integrating add-on productivity and collaboration tools.

Dropbox

Dropbox, is what I use for my personal file storage, because it is the easiest to use both on my desktop and my phone.  So, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the feature offered in its Dropbox for Teams services were equally awesome.  First of all, Dropbox gets an A+ for security, AES-256 encryption (also known as bank grade encryption) for both transfer and storage with the option to added your own third party encryption to files.  Furthermore, they offer security options for your mobile devices including a passcode that will automatically the Dropbox files from your device after multiple failed logins and a remote device wipe in the event that your phone is lost or stolen.  To ensure that your data is safe they also do regular third party testing to probe for weaknesses and patch them.  And finally, your data is stored reliably on an Amazon A3 server.

On top of excellent security features, Dropbox for Teams has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve.  The first is its admin tools that allow you to monitor the licenses being used, storage use, and it also allows you to get a single bill for your companies cloud service. You are also able to integrate your Google apps and other software add-ons through their SDK.  Another great feature is that you have access to deleted files, so if you inadvertently delete an important file, you still have a way to access.  The cost is also pretty reasonable, $795 a year for 5 licenses and 1000 GB of storage.

Box

Box has two business products, Box for Business and Box for Enterprise, for right now I am going to solely cover its business product.  While Box’s security isn’t as good (a 256-bit SSL encryption on transfer only) as Dropbox, Box does have some advanced collaboration features that make a good choice for businesses who rely heavily on team projects, especially with outside sources.  For instance their virtual data room is a place where people can collaborate on projects and files with ease, this virtual data room can even be branded so that when you are working with outside collaborators.  In addition, Box features commenting and task assignment features that help collaborators keep track of who is working on what, and when.

Other features of note are the role based access options.  What this means is that you don’t have to individually share files, you can grant people in certain roles access to certain versions of a file.  They also make files easy to find using full text search (this feature is not as complete as Google Drives search which integrates OCR to search your images as well).  Also, in their paid version they do feature desktop sync, a feature not available in the free version.  Like Dropbox, Box also has an API that will allow you to integrate your third party tools into the system.  The price is reasonable to,  $15/user/month up to 1000 gb of storage.  However you should know that you pay for the flexibility of going month to month, because you pay $900 for the same 5 users and 1000 GB storage that Dropbox offers for $795 a year.

Sky Drive

Sky Drive is an outstanding application, if you are working primarily on a desktop even if you are a Mac User (Skydrive has an app for the Mac OS).  It offers 7 GB of free storage and additional storage at a fairly low cost.  It integrates nearly seamlessly with Office apps and allows you to edit files in your web browser using the Office web apps.  This means that you can edit your files created in office even on computers that don’t have the office suite.  In addition its sharing features are top notch, it has all of the standard cloud app sharing features with two great bonuses, first you can share your files automatically on your social networks, which makes sharing all your new photos easy.  The other feature is that you can edit the permissions of each file you share. You can give people the power to edit the file or just look at it, and you can even require people to login into their Skydrive to access the file.  Skydrive also has an API which allow you to integrate third party plug-ins.

However, there are a few things that make Skydrive less than ideal.  First its mobile accessibility is only so-so, there is an app for Windows Phone and iPhone that have both gotten okay reviews, but I downloaded both available apps for Android and found myself epically disappointed. With other cloud storage programs the apps were easy to use, and any files opened up directly in my ThinkFree Office where I could start editing.  When I used one of the apps, Skydrive for Android, I had to download my file, go find where it was stored on my phone, open and edit it, and then re-upload to Skydrive. While none of this was particularly difficult it required about three more steps than Box and about 4 more than Dropbox. In another, Browser for Skydrive, there was no apparent way to log into my Skydrive, so I wasn’t even able to access my files.  Also, while you can open files in open source office suites, there is no app for Linux users, making last in line for cross platform functionality.

In the end, each of these applications has some fantastic things to offer.  As a business owner, you have to evaluate your needs and the needs of your employees to find a solution that will fit you.  Consult with an IT firm, they can help you with this analysis.  They can also help you with implementation, integration of the plugins you are already using, and managing your cloud storage resources effectively.

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