When you hear "cloud," you probably think of file storage and email, with three big names coming to mind first: Amazon, Microsoft, Google. Smaller players with successful consumer cloud offerings, like Apple and Dropbox, might also hit your radar screen.
But for businesses, the universe of cloud services is far more expansive, with some of the most innovative offerings coming from names that aren't so familiar.
Over the past few months, I've checked in with three firms offering cloud-based services designed to tackle common business problems that aren't so readily solved with off-the-shelf services. All three companies are well established, with a strong track record and a solid customer base.
The problem: You wake up at 3:00 AM worrying over how you'll recover if ransomware successfully attacks one or more of your business PCs.
This year's WannaCry outbreak was a wake-up call for a lot of big and small organizations, which found themselves effectively out of business for days as they tried to recover from ransomware attacks that wiped out their data.
Preventing employees from running this insidious type of malware is Plan A, of course, but Plan B is having an effective backup and recovery plan. And Intermedia's SecuriSync cloud storage offers one of the best remediation features I've ever seen.
Conceptually, the administrative interface of SecuriSync works much like Apple's Time Machine, except you as the enterprise admin have the ability to restore cloud files to any PC in your organization. All you have to do is roll back to a date and time before data files were overwritten, deleted, or forcibly encrypted by ransomware. Employees have instant access to restored files from the web and can begin syncing the recovered files immediately.
I've used SecuriSync for years, and consider it one of the best-kept secrets in business computing. Its cloud storage and file sharing feature set matches up favorably with any of its business competitors. It allows selective syncing, supports file sharing links to eliminate the need to share large attachments, and integrates well with Microsoft Office.
It has superb cross-device support, with sync clients for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry, in addition to a solid web-based interface.
SecuriSync pricing starts at $4.99 per user per month, with unlimited storage (including options to back up local data folders) for $14.99 per user per month. The best deals are available if you bundle the service with Intermedia's hosted Exchange and other cloud offerings.
The problem: You want your employees to be able to store files in the cloud and share them with trusted partners, but you can't afford to have sensitive information leak.
Every business has secrets it needs to protect. Even if you're not in a regulated industry, you have confidential files you'd rather not share with competitors, as well as legal and financial information that should be properly managed in house. The worst leaks, of course, are those that occur either accidentally or because a well-intentioned employee shares information inappropriately.
If your files are on Microsoft servers, you can use Azure Information Protection to restrict access to documents. Google shops have a selection of enterprise add-ons for Google Drive. In either case, expect to spend a lot of money and time getting things properly set up, with no protection for files stored elsewhere.
Egnyte Protect offers an alternative that doesn't restrict an organization to a single repository of information but instead can work with any cloud-based or on-premises storage. As a pure cloud service, it also doesn't require any hardware purchases.
The heart of the service is a set of content classification rules that the customer controls. When the service scans files in protected locations, those rules can identify local and cloud-based content that contains sensitive and confidential information, including data like Social Security numbers and credit-card data as well as keywords such as code names for confidential projects.
A web-based dashboard lets nontechnical business owners see problems with files, users, and permissions at a glance and remediate them quickly by deactivating links or resetting access controls. The service also supports compliance standards such as HIPAA and PCI.
BuzzFeed, which knows a thing or two about breaking stories based on leaks, uses Egnyte Protect across its network of more than 1000 employees. Reporters and editors get to collaborate with the tools they're used to, without IT having to micromanage their activities.
The Egnyte Protect roadmap includes expansion to other data repositories, including SharePoint Online, later this year.
The problem: You're desperate to go completely virtual and get rid of the headaches of managing on-premises infrastructure, but you're overwhelmed by the Microsoft Azure portal.
The combination of Office 365 and Microsoft Azure lets you accomplish amazing things, but at a price in administrative complexity. To put it bluntly, Azure isn't for amateurs.
Nerdio takes away that complexity with a fully automated IT platform that lives completely in the cloud, with virtual servers, Office 365, security, backup, and disaster recovery. At its center is a hosted virtual desktop infrastructure that runs entirely in Microsoft Azure and can be accessed from anywhere.
When you onboard a new employee, Nerdio can add a new user in Azure AD, assign an Office 365 license, create a virtual desktop, install the Office apps, and send an email to the new employee with full instructions for getting started.
The Nerdio Admin Portal takes care of all that complexity, using a management layer that Nerdio's founders estimate would take you several weeks to set up on your own (assuming you have the Azure tech skills required). And the system is smart enough to scale Azure resources intelligently, shutting down remote desktops during normal downtime so that you're not overpaying.
This all comes at a cost, priced at $18 per user, plus actual consumption of Azure resources. On average, I'm told, you can expect to pay a total of about $100-200 per month for each desktop, on a secure network with dramatically lower support costs than your old infrastructure. (There's a nifty cost calculator that can help you estimate how much your installation will cost.)
If the company name alone isn't enough to win you over, maybe the free trial will. (The first 10 users are free.) You'll need some basic knowledge of how Azure works, along with an existing Office 365 E3 subscription, an empty Azure subscription, and a willingness to let go of all that physical infrastructure.