It's an enticing proposition. For a little money each month you can bask in file storage, data sync, file sharing and data backup without investing in pricey storage hardware and software.
To sweeten the deal, increased competition in the cloud storage market is causing prices plummeting. For example, Box.com's Starter plan, which is suitable for teams of up to 10 employees, costs a mere $5 per month per user for the basics and 100 GB of online storage (as of this writing).
Box.com isn't the only game in town. Other popular cloud file storage choices include Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, SugarSync and Carbonite, to name a few. While large enterprises typically shun them, these "consumer-grade" offerings typically have all the features and storage management capabilities that most small business need to get work done.
The downside is that a network outage or a problem at your cloud service provider's data center can cut you off from your files unless you keep local copies. In some cases, particularly on overloaded cell networks, don't expect file performance to be as snappy as your hard drive.
The benefits generally outweigh the blemishes, however. A stolen laptop no longer means weeks or months of lost work, for instance.
Here are some ways you can make the most out of your cloud storage.
4 Cloud Storage Tips
1. Get to know your admin screen
When you subscribe to a cloud storage business plan, you can kiss the simplicity of your individual account good-bye.
It's a little daunting, but don't let it scare you away. While the default options may work splendidly for you at the outset, chances are that you'll soon need to start tweaking settings and actively managing users.
Did an employee leave under sketchy circumstances? You'll be able to kick them (and their devices) from your company's Dropbox account from the admin screen. Likewise, it's only a matter of time before you have to add new users or reset a password. Fortunately, most cloud storage providers adhere to a consumer-friendly ethos that demands easy-to-use, plain-English interfaces.
2. Think built-in backup
Your cloud storage account can be a great backup target.
Some services let you assign a folder or folders that sync with the cloud and with your PCs. Others require that you save files in a certain location. Either way, get in the habit of saving to those locations. If an ill-placed cup of coffee kills your notebook PC, at least that PowerPoint presentation you've been working on will be waiting for you when you get back to the office.
3. Use strong passwords
Most every cloud storage company employs strong encryption. But that won’t do you a bit of good if a weak password grants a hacker access to your account via the Web. Your business data is valuable, take the same precautions as you do with your online banking account.
For an extra layer of security, use two-factor authentication if possible. Two-factor authentication requires users to enter a code delivered via text message or generated by authenticator app after an access attempt. This greatly reduces the chances that prying eyes can get to the data in your account, since it's unlikely that they also enjoy access to your smartphone.
4. Upgrade or stabilize your network
This last tip has less to do with online storage services and more to do with improving the cloud computing experience on your end.
If you're smitten by the convenience of parking your files in the cloud, you'll likely start using more cloud applications to fulfill your other business software needs. When you're at the limits of what your network can handle —evidenced by glacially slow file downloads— consider ditching that household Wi-Fi router and grab a prosumer or small business unit. Contact your cable or telephone providers to explore your Internet bandwidth options if your network is up to snuff.
When fetching files from the cloud, you don't want to compete against the latest cute kitten video for network resources. Cute kittens will always win.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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