Earlier this week, I had the privilege of debating the formidable and prolific ZDNet Commentator David Gewirtz over this central question: "Cloud storage and backup: Is it safe?"
Although David's "Not so fast" position prevailed in the moderator's decision, in reality, his position isn't all that different from my own "It's safe" conclusion.
That is because while there are definitely some pitfalls involved in cloud storage and backup, using the cloud to keep data managed and safeguarded is way safer than doing nothing at all. Which, frankly, has been the default position for many small and midsize businesses. My main argument is that it would be a shame for small businesses or SMBs to overlook cloud options if they finally get proactive about development a data management and archiving strategy.
So far, there is little evidence to suggest that cloud storage and backup services are any more or less reliable than local alternatives. David offers up plenty of horror stories, and I am sure there are just many tales of local backups that have failed or were drowned in the basement when the building flooded or melted in the room they were stashed.
Like another other technology investment -- whether it is on-premise or in the cloud -- a truly safe cloud storage and backup plan must be backed up by a real business strategy and commitment. That is what will dictate how "safe" it really can be considered.
So with that in mind, if your organization has neglected putting a comprehensive data management or backup plan in place, here are 7 ways you can make make sure cloud-hosted solution is as safe as possible.
- Do technical due diligence. Look for real security (including encryption) and serious bandwidth support. Make sure the cloud provider has its own backup and disaster recovery plan for its servers – the servers on which your data will be housed. You should also assess whether or not it will be easy to extricate and migrate your company's data if it decides to switch providers in the future.
- Study the provider's financial backing and revenue model. How is the company funded? Does it rely solely on venture capital or does it have real sales? If you are working with a managed services provider or IT services firm to set up your cloud storage or backup solution, what will happen if that business relationship is severed?
- Request and expect customer references. You would request them for pretty much every purchase you make for anything else that your company, so why would you rush into a cloud contract without running some basic background checks? The reality is that some people rush to commit to cloud services without considering the ramifications of that decision.
- Read the fine print. Know exactly what your contract does and doesn't cover. Are there safeguards in place if the company goes belly-up? What happens if your business needs change? Can you get out of the contract easily? Is the service really built with the needs of business customers in mind or is it too focused on consumers to be really "safe?"
- Be really selective about what data your company is archiving. Most effective data management plans are tiered. That is, the active items are kept where they are most accessible, which is a great application for cloud storage, which can often be shared with teams that need to work on certain documents. Items for backup should be regularly considered and reviewed. Ask yourself questions such as: Should this email list be purged of bad addresses? How long do contracts need to be kept? What are the rules for email archives? Most companies actually probably err on the side of saving too much data, which can be problem if they suffer a breach.
- Think hybrid with your strategy. David Gewirtz makes the point that cloud storage and backup should be part of small-business backup and data management plans, not an entire plan onto itself. A tiered plan that uses local, near-term storage for critical configuration, systems and data files and cloud storage for creating a disaster recovery backup as a safeguard is probably an ideal approach.
- Don't let your data management plan become static. How often do you review and purge archived data? Once every month? Once per year? The issue is that as your company grows and evolves what you save and need to save will probably also evolve. That is especially true in the world of social media, where "content" won't necessarily be in the form of easily organized spreadsheets, database records or documents. Visual and video informed will increasingly be part of your corporate record, carrying myriad implications for your indexing and archiving strategy.