Cloud storage provider Dropbox has been working feverishly to address persistent criticisms that its service isn't robust enough or secure enough to really be a viable alternative in the small-business world. Its recent global outage on May 30 probably had some companies thinking twice about whether or not to use public cloud services to share or store documents, photos and other content.
To counter the nay-sayers, Dropbox has made business users far more of a priority over the last 12 months than in the past. Some examples of that commitment include the introduction of the Admin Console in February 2013, which lets administrators monitor account activity, and the rebranding of the Dropbox for Teams service: it is now called Dropbox for Business, and it includes single sign-on features that offer owners and managers much more control than in the past. There's even a conference planned for Dropbox developers in early July, as more cloud service providers integrate their applications with Dropbox features.
Still, I wondered what motivates a small company to use the cloud versus, for example, on-site storage server hardware that might be perceived as more secure. For Centric Projects, a commercial general contractor based in Kansas City, Miss., the choice to use the cloud was prompted when the company started to grow quickly, said Richard Wetzel, co-founder of the company. It now employs 35 people, who are almost never in one physical office all at once.
For Centric Projects, the information management debate came down to this primary question: "Is an on-premises storage server safer and more scalable than the cloud?" For this company, at least, the answer was "No." Here are Wetzel's three reasons:
- It is currently the most cost-effective option. One of the biggest concerns that Centric Projects had about using Dropbox was that it might not be able to accommodate all of its information management needs — the company currently has about 630 gigabytes of data in the form of contracts, documents, photos, and other content. "[It] spends under $1,000 per year to store and manage up to 1 terabyte of data in Dropbox," Wetzel said. "There might be a point of diminishing returns, but I don't see it."
- It's easy to set account access and synchronization parameters. For Centric Projects, the emergence of Dropbox's authentication and sign-on features has been hugely important for improving security. With this feature, the management team can prevent project managers, for example, from accessing the company's confidential financial or human resources information. For those concerned about the amount of data that is synchronized (which can bog down systems), the company has created a non-sync folder. "Each of us could sync everything all the time, but we don't," Wetzel said. "Over time, we have discovered that, for the most part, different people aren't working on the safe file." For those concerned about revision control, Dropbox has added a restoration feature.
- Remote access trumps pretty much everything else. Considering all of the different devices that the Centric Projects team uses to conduct their business (ranging from notebook computers to smartphones to tablets), the company has moved to the cloud for many of its application needs. In large part, that's because it needs its staff to have access to virtually everything. In addition, it doesn't have the internal wherewithal to manage servers or software licenses. "We started to look for solutions that would keep people with information at their fingertips," said Wetzel. "We look to cloud solutions for almost everything."
Does Centric Projects' situation mean that cloud storage is right for everyone? It's just as simple to find arguments on the other side; earlier this year, I wrote about Carmel Hearing Aids, which essentially made the opposite decision that Centric Projects made, opting for an on-site solution from ioSafe.
It all comes down to asking the right questions.