Saved! Cloud data storage to the rescue?

Data access, security and space are becoming big issues for small and medium businesses. So how do you figure out the best solution?

When Jamie Warner, CEO of eNerds, first meets a new client he runs them through a process to determine their entire IT and networking requirements. He and his team review the client’s existing systems including their email platform, line of business applications, file storage requirements and internet and network requirements.

The eNerds team also looks at historical data growth and considers, with their client, how data and usage will continue to grow over the next three to five years. Only then can they determine the most suitable IT solution for the business’s data needs.

“We look at how they are storing their data on-premises,” Warner says. “Then we discuss their backup and data recovery requirements, and whether or not they want to do that in the cloud. You have to look at each situation on its merits as there is no single approach that’s always better than another. It has to fit the specific business requirements in terms of data storage.”

Doing the Dropbox thing

There are several offerings such as DropboxOneDrive for Business and Google Drive that offer an affordable cloud file storage solution; however, each solution presents potential business issues.

“The first obvious issue is data sovereignty,” Warner says. “If the provider is hosting your data in the US, the US Government may have the ability to access said data under the provisions of their Patriot Act. While it’s highly unlikely, businesses should check their privacy compliance regulations or obligations.

“These cloud file storage solutions also don’t take local storage capacity or bandwidth utilisation into account. While most now offer selective syncing capabilities, most users synchronise the entire company data set to their computers, which can create performance-related issues syncing back to the cloud.”

Worst of all is the very real threat of ransomware – malicious software that encrypts data and changes the file extension, then demands a sum of money to restore access. If you’re syncing with a cloud system, those file encryption changes will be synced to all computers, eventually locking everybody out. There is also no guarantee of restoring your data unless the vendor has a service level agreement to offer backup and restoration services and/or you implement a third party cloud-to-cloud backup solution.

Many options

There are many good things about cloud-based data solutions, but they’re best as one part of the whole, Warner says. A mix of data storage solutions helps to cover all needs and eventualities. Data storage options are split into two main types – cloud syncing and physical hard drive data management. Here is how Warner summarises the situation.

Cloud syncing (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc)

  • Pros: It’s affordable, can be set up quickly and some systems can be fully integrated with email.
  • Cons: Each computer receives the data, which creates potential storage and security issues. Only some systems offer centralised management of data. Ransomware infections may also be synced to every computer.

File server (physical server)

  • Pros: Offers full power and flexibility of a Windows server as well as choice of hard drive speed (higher speeds/lower rates of failure for important data). Can be set up to image data (regular, independent backups), which can then be kept locally and synced to the cloud, creating immunity from ransomware attacks. Allows greater management of what’s going on in your system.
  • Cons: More expensive and requires greater knowledge or professional assistance to get the set-up right.

So what’s the answer?

The solution is most often a combination of technologies, Warner says.

“It’s inevitably a mix,” he says. “If you only sync to the cloud then you can be stuck because of ransomware. But if you have some form of cloud-to-cloud backup or server imaging software that writes backups of data and applications to disk, such as network attached storage (NAS), and also to the cloud, you’ll be way ahead of most businesses.

“I’ve had businesses approach me after being crippled for days due to data loss or corruption, asking what they can do. If you get your data storage and backup plans right in the first place, you’ll no longer need to worry about such an event.”

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