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File Storage Options for Business – In the Cloud, On-Premise, or Both?

Historically, businesses had only one option to store their digital files: a server or computer that was located on-premise in their office.

Today, there are Cloud-based and hybrid (both on-premise and Cloud-based) file Storage Systems available – but how do you know which solution is right for your business?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each type of file storage solution.

On-Premise Servers

An on-premise file server is still a viable solution for companies with dozens or hundreds of office workers because it is more cost-effective than cost-per-user Cloud solutions.

Additionally, a server can perform other functions that a business may need – like hosting business management software. So, it can also make financial sense for a business to use a server if it will perform more than one task.

It also eliminates the primary draw-back of Cloud file storage: the time it takes to upload, download and synchronize files.

Companies like accounting firms, financial services companies, law practices, corporations with multiple departments, and health care providers typically benefit from on-site servers.

There are multiple options to finance the cost of a server based on a company’s cash flow and tax position: common financial vehicles include an upfront capital expense, or over time through a lease or loan.

Benefits of On-Premise Servers

• All users in the office who are connected to the server can quickly and easily access and share files, making intra-office collaboration seamless.

• There’s no reliance on Internet service so if the company’s Internet is down, employees can still access company files.

• You may opt to set up a virtual private network (VPN) to securely access files via the Internet to provide easy access to company data for employees who telecommute or for mobile staff.

• Files stored on a server don’t need to be synchronized across multiple devices, so employees always see the same version of a file.

• Company data is only accessible to people who have access to your office – important for sensitive or confidential information.

• Servers should be scalable if purchased and setup correctly. As your company grows, you can expand your server’s storage and processing capacity.

Drawbacks of On-Premise Servers

• An on-premise server creates a perception of security – you think that you have control of the server because it is physically located in your office. However, servers that are in a data center (in the Cloud) are usually much more secure. Offices can have a lot of foot traffic and the potential for many people to gain access to the server; cleaning crews, office visitors, even employees can inadvertently cause harm. Businesses often install their servers in a closet, back room, or even under a table. These are easily accessible to anyone who enters your office.

• On-site servers usually lack multiple redundancies that protect against power failures, vandalism, or hardware failures. Files at off-site data centers (in the Cloud) are usually stored on virtual servers that have redundant hardware, which means that a single hardware failure won’t bring your files crashing down. For health care companies, there are even HIPAA-compliant servers available; electronic medical records may be safely stored on the Cloud.

• As we’ve discussed in a previous article, you will need a reliable backup solution in case your server crashes, is stolen, or should your office become unusable due to fire, flood, or other natural disaster.

Cloud-Based File Storage

“The Cloud” refers to third-party servers that are located in data centers located around the US and around the world. Many different companies share space on these servers.

Files stored in the Cloud are accessed over the Internet a number of different ways, based on the type of Cloud storage service that you are using. Some Cloud file services require that you use a Web browser to get to your files, and some support folder-level access so you can get to your files through Windows Explorer or Mac Finder, the same way that you find files on your computer or on-premise server. Some even have apps to make getting to your files easy on a mobile device.

Many people have grown accustomed to consumer-level Cloud-based file storage services such as Dropbox (the #1 service), Box, Google Docs, and Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive).

These types of services work great for individuals, but can have significant drawbacks for businesses, especially those with more than about 10 active users.

For smaller organizations with 10 or less users, storing your files in the Cloud can be very economical because Cloud services charge monthly user-based fees; the number of users, number of accounts and amount of total data determine the price.

Also, if you choose to store all or some of your company’s data in the Cloud it is important to download an archive of that data at least twice a year to protect against loss should the Cloud provider go out of business or lose your data.

Benefits of Cloud-Based File Storage

• Low cost of purchase and maintenance – low or no upfront costs, and no hardware to purchase, install or maintain.

• Convenient monthly subscription-based service makes it easier to switch providers.

• Quick and easy to setup compared to on-premise servers, and fairly easy to migrate from another file storage solution.

• Much more secure than storing servers in a typical business office.

• Easily accessible from any Internet-connected computer, tablet or smart phone.

• Built-in redundancies – most Cloud providers have robust fail-over protocols and protection against business disruptions due to local power failures, natural disasters, or Internet connectivity downtime.

• Employees can synchronize files across multiple computers/devices.

Drawbacks of Storing Files in the Cloud

• Employees must have Internet access to get to their files. No Internet = no files (unless the file was previously downloaded to the employee’s computer). We recommend businesses that use any type of Cloud service install a second (redundant) Internet line from another Internet service provider as a fail-over option.

• Upload and download speeds can bog down with large files like PowerPoint presentations, CAD files, or other multi-media files.

• May not integrate easily, or at all, with your company’s other software systems.

• The monthly fees get very expensive for organizations with dozens or hundreds of employees or with large amounts of data.

• All of the company’s sensitive data is placed on Cloud server(s) outside of your direct control.

• You don’t know where the data is stored, exactly how has access to it, if it will be removed upon request, or even if it is being backed up properly.

• It takes time to synchronize files across multiple computers/devices, which means that updates that are made to a file by one employee will not be immediately visible to another employee until the file gets updates on their computer. Synch times can vary between 5 minutes to an hour or more based on the Cloud provider and on the size of the file that is being synchronized.

Hybrid File Storage

Hybrid file Storage Systems combine features of Cloud Storage Systems and on-premise file servers.

Most hybrid solutions include a NAS device (a smart hard-drive) or a light-weight server that is located on-premise at your office, as well as storage space in the Cloud. Files are synchronized between the NAS device and the Cloud server.

Hybrid solutions have most of the same pros and cons of the pure-bred Cloud-based and on-premise Storage Systems that are listed above.

With the right solution you can minimize, or eliminate the need for data backup. However, we still recommend regularly archiving data, especially for those businesses which are regulated.

How to Decide Which is Best?

There is no one solution that is best for every business, and with all the choices and with technology changing so quickly, it can be difficult to discern which file storage solution makes the most sense for you. We recommend comparing functionality, features and costs of each solution to decide which one is best for your business.

We can help your team assess and implement the best solution for your needs today-on-premise servers, Cloud solutions and hybrid Clouds- and develop a plan that makes good business sense for your organization in the future.

Business Success Through Strategic Planning and Market Research

Market research – Basics

The business startup process, especially drawing up the business plan correctly, are vitally important, part of which is the correct and accurate market research Whether it is a trading business, a retail business, a service providing business, or whatever, knowing the market and economic conditions, including the direct competition in your area, are crucial. Without this information you will be taking a shot in the dark, hoping to hit, but the chances are pretty big that you will miss, and you may lose a lot of money this way.

I’m sure that this is not what you want at all. Take this word of advice – don’t skip this step, but rather do it well and comprehensively from day one. You see, you will be basing most of your business and strategic decision on the facts that you will establish once you have completed the market research. These decisions will include:

  • Is there place for me in the market in my area or is there already too much competition?
  • Will my prices suite the economy of the area?
  • Can I afford to pay the rental in the area, and will I be able to keep my prices reasonable for the earning capacity of the people in the area?
  • What do I expect my monthly income to be? Or will I need to enlarge the area I cover in order to fully recover my costs and make a profit?
  • How many people live in, or do business in, my area?
  • What percentage of them may want my products or services?
  • How regularly will they want or need my products or services?
  • Is there due to be any economic expansion in my area, or is there an economic meltdown about to happen?
  • Over what period would I be able to sustain a business in the area in the present economic circumstances?
  • How long will it take to recover my initial capital outlay?

Once the above decisions have been made, based on data discovered through the research and decision-making process, you can tackle the following tasks.

Primary Market Research

Primary research involves gathering your own data. For example, you could do your own traffic count at a proposed location, use the yellow pages to identify competitors, and do surveys or focus-group interviews to learn about consumer preferences. Secondary or professional market research can be very costly, but there are many books that explain to small business owners how to do effective research themselves.

The Marketing Plan

In your marketing plan, be as specific as possible; use reliable statistics, numbers, and sources. The marketing plan will be the basis, later on, of the very important sales projection. This is very important as it will also determine purchases of raw materials and retail products, the storage of them, and their production and distribution plans.

Products and services

You need to clearly describe and define your products and services, in your terms. Be as descriptive and specific as possible, especially where multiple types and models of the same products exist.

Now describe the products and/or services from your prospective and your customers’ perspective. How do the customers perceive them to be, what would their expectations be, and how could you improve on your competitors’ products and services; not only bettering their up-front prices.

Features and Benefits

List all of your major products or services.

For each product or service:

  • Describe the most important features. What is special about it?
  • Describe the benefits. That is, what will the product do for the customer?
  • What after-sale services will you provide? Some examples are delivery, warranty, service contracts, support, follow-up, and refund policy.
  • Are there any other benefits or gifts that you can include in the supply of your products and services.

Customers

Identify your targeted customers, their characteristics, and their geographic locations, otherwise known as their demographics. You may have more than one customer group. Identify the most important groups. Then, for each customer group, construct what is called a demographic profile, which includes:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Income level
  • Social class and occupation
  • Education

Niche

Now that you have systematically analyzed your industry, your product, your customers, and the competition, you should have a clear picture of where your company fits into the world and, in a much narrower sense, the society that you intend to serve. In one short paragraph, define your niche, your unique corner of the market and your area of specialty.

The SWOT Analysis

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, as they relate directly to your business, your products and services, your marketing plan, your customer base and area, and other important factors.

The SWOT analysis is covered in a separate article and tutorial.