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Cloud Computing and Cloud Storage Explained

Cloud storage provides businesses the ability to access, share and secure their data. Most business owners and managers like yourself have neither the capacity nor the ability to manage on-site tech components.

Instead, you’re focused on building an ideal storage option to cut down on time spent organizing data. And you know that implementing an effective cloud storage solution will decrease unnecessary work and increase production. The advantages of storing your work in the cloud are innumerable, but if you’re still on the fence, here’s a quick guide to get you going.

The definition of cloud storage

Cloud hosting typically involves a third party that hosts your data using multiple servers in another location. This gives you access to data from any place that extends Internet access. Cloud storage offers greater flexibility for those last-minute changes. Opting for cloud storage also provides a more secure place to keep your files that isn’t dependent on hardware.

Citrix ShareFile provides cloud-based storage designed specifically to accommodate your business needs. These include having a great system that enables your business to upload, store and send business files to both clients and employees, as well as being secure.

The importance of secure file storage

Michael Osterman, president and founder of Osterman Research, outlines these reasons why data security is so essential:

“File transfer is so integral to the proper flow of business processes and corporate communication that it must be a high priority for any company. Yet, there are numerous problems with existing file transfer processes including the following:

  • Many files are sent without encryption
  • IT cannot control the lifecycle of the transferred files
  • Lack of auditability for the file transfer process
  • Some content is not archived in accordance with corporate policies
  • Chain-of-custody cannot be maintained for some content
  • Transferred files cannot be inspected by Data Loss Prevention systems

This lack of control results in a greater likelihood of data breaches and a breakdown of business process efficiency.”

You might be curious about the options to help manage your data in the cloud. Not all services are created equal nor do they offer the same privacy or access. In fact, a report by Skyhigh Networks shows that 89 percent of cloud services do not encrypt their data, adding:

“Cloud adoption is inexorably moving forward, the genie has left the bottle and cloud will be the default way of delivering technology in the future. But this report shows us once again that cloud adoption isn’t a case of ‘set and forget.’ Customers need to be continually reviewing the tools they use, how employees are using them and the changing security landscape within which they operate. Cloud can absolutely be a safe choice but isn’t automatically so — enterprises need to make decisions and take actions to ensure that security.”

You should opt for a provider that uses industry-standard (AES 256-bit) encryption protocol for data — both in transfer and at rest. In addition, you should look for firewalls and virus scanners to ward off possible external and internal threats.

Also, seek cloud storage security features that let you:

  1. Set expirations for any links and data shared with mobile devices.
  2. Secure your data with off-site backups. This means your data is secure if there is an unanticipated failure. Recover your data with ease, and get your staff back up and running quickly.
  3. Track and log file activity, keep tabs on which files are being downloaded and at what time. Your IT department can even restrict a third party from creating copies that aren’t secure.
  4. Use a remote wipe tool to erase any stored data without that device in hand.

But sometimes it isn’t enough to just secure your data. Often that data needs to be compliant. If you are in industries such as healthcare or finance, you know the great caution you must take whenever handling sensitive data.

Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed in 1996, industries affected have been in dire need of cloud storage that supports HIPAA compliance. Ultimately, compliance is your responsibility — not that of the software — but a cloud storage service should make complying with this act as easy as possible for you.

Supporting your data's HIPAA compliance

“New HIPAA regulations require healthcare organizations to report any loss or accidental sharing of information about 500 or more individuals, with potential fines as high as $1.5 million, plus civil liabilities. Even losing a single patient record is a HIPAA breach that exposes you to legal liability. More than 60 percent of HIPAA violations are the result of lost or stolen devices, so this isn’t a threat that even small family therapy practices can afford to take lightly.”

— Asaf Cidon, CEO and co-founder of Sookasa

When choosing a cloud provider, opt for a service that offers an added layer of security. Here are some quick facts about HIPAA compliance and what you can do to protect your business against violations.

HIPAA compliance and your business at a glance

  1. More than 60 percent of HIPAA violations are because of lost or stolen devices.
  2. Weak encryption may also lead to HIPAA violations.
  3. Items are lost and found everyday; it’s part of life. Misplace a patient file? You’re not in HIPAA compliance.

ShareFile is a cloud storage provider that addresses all of these potential issues to help support your HIPAA compliance. Quickly erase data from lost or stolen devices, because all data is backed up in multiple secure locations. Protect your data transfer and storage phases with AES 256-bit encryption. ShareFile uses the same exact protocol that the U.S government employs for highly sensitive files.

Protect yourself against the all-too-common error of misplacing a file. ShareFile regularly backs up to various server locations throughout the country. Those locations are bulletproof with hurricane-rated roofs and cage-locked servers.

Learn more about the full parameters of supporting HIPAA compliance in the cloud and what features you need to look for in your search. Look for a service like ShareFile that will even sign a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement for you.

“HIPAA defines those people we hire to handle personally-identifying client information — e.g., billing services, online data backup services, etc. — as ‘Business Associates.’ The law states that we can work with such services if we ‘…obtain satisfactory assurances that the business associate will appropriately safeguard [personally identifying client information.]’ That ‘satisfactory assurance,’ as a standard, takes the form of a contract called a Business Associate Agreement, or ‘BAA’ for short.”

— Roy Huggins, professional counselor and author

Although some might argue that security is at the forefront of importance when shopping for a cloud provider, there are many other features that are essential.

Questions to ask when shopping for a cloud-service provider

Can my business afford it?
When you’re shopping for anything, it’s important to consider affordability. First, you should have a budget in mind that meets your business objections. From there, you can decide which features are most important in your search.

How easy is it to use?
You’re investing in the cloud to simplify your workflow, not complicate it. Investigate whether the software is easy to install with added support throughout subscription.

Is it adaptable?
One thing you can rely on in any business is the need to constantly improve and differentiate yourself. You need a provider that will evolve with you and provide flexible options as your business grows. In addition, you need software that’s customizable to your unique industry and business needs.

Todd Benjamin, vice president of hosted services at Hostway, expands upon this idea providing several pointers to consider for IT firms looking to partner with a cloud provider. This advice is generally applicable for any industry in the market.

Enterprise-class capabilities: A provider should be able to scale with your organization as demand increases. Make sure this process is seamless. Look for features such as firewalls, load balancing, IP address management, image cloning and snapshots and managed backup.

Portfolio compatibility: Benjamin notes that “As the trend toward a partnership-based delivery model suggests, next-generation IT service delivery is about focusing on what IT firms do best. To find the right cloud services partner, IT companies must evaluate prospective partners’ portfolios and compare them to their company's capabilities.”

Customer ownership: Regarding this, Benjamin writes, “When working with a partner to deliver services to customers, it's important to establish up front who owns the customer relationships. Some companies prefer to make the partnership as transparent as possible, while others would rather own the customer relationship, presenting branded cloud services to their clients. IT firms should make sure they understand partner expectations and look for partners that allow automation and customization.”

Industry experience: The market for cloud services is pretty saturated. You want to make sure you’re choosing a provider with a proven track record. Ask for references from companies with a variety of sized companies.

Perhaps the best road to take when shopping for anything is to ask for references, in addition to checking out consumer reviews, which is a great way to compare for yourself.

Cloud storage reviews: find the perfect fit

ShareFile is one of the top reviewed file-sharing services, but don’t just take our word for it. Here are some examples of what customers are saying about us.

Dave Mitchell, author of PC Pro:

“Unlike rivals that have evolved from a consumer product, ShareFile is built from the ground up for business. As a result, it also offers many features you won’t find elsewhere; for example, the range-topping Enterprise plan ... adds the option to use on-premises or cloud storage zones for file sharing. We also like that all the ShareFile plans include a branding service for portal and email customization. This adds essential authenticity to emails, so they look professional and don’t get binned as spam.”

Mitchell goes on to say that although the ShareFile price point may be a little higher than some cloud providers, it outshines other providers innumerably in features.

Coloradogeek via Spiceworks:

“Downside is that licenses are a bit pricy, and takes a star from the final verdict from me — but if you’re not worried about the per-user licensing costs, by all means stop reading this and get your setup ASAP. The on-site setup was straightforward and only took about an hour to finish for everything.” This user gave ShareFile four out of five stars.

If you’re concerned about price, don’t make the mistake of opting for a service promising free subscription. The old adage is very true: you might get exactly what you pay for.

Free cloud storage: fact or fiction?

The true value of free file-sharing services in the cloud

File size
Most free services offer a very limited allowance in file-size upload. Often these services also limit the amount that can be stored and transferred. If you’re a business, it’s likely you have larger file sizes and will end up paying for the added feature.

Online storage
Free services will often cap storage capacity at around a few gigabytes. This is about the equivalent of a couple of full-length movies — not very much, in other words.

Many free cloud storage providers opt out of performing routine backups. It is also very rare that they use multiple power sources at their datacenters. This could result in severe loss for your business.

As mentioned above, skimping on security will only result in added headaches down the line. Free subscription services are likely to forego personal encryption or secure key management features.

Tech support
In a world of automation, human tech support comes at a price often not included with a free service.

Mobile capabilities
The world is becoming decidedly mobile, and it’s no different for your business. Most free services do not offer mobile sync and will only grant desktop access.

As a business owner, you understand investment better than anyone. If you want a better outcome tomorrow, you need to invest in a reputable product today. If you still aren’t convinced, let’s break down some of the storage options available and learn about the drawbacks for each.

Compare and contrast cloud storage services

View and open older or original versions of files.
This option is only available for the last five versions. This may cause critical information to be erased or limit your ability to compare originals with revised versions of content.

Free 14-day trial.
This is a fairly limited trial period to truly see projects all the way through and utilize the different features of the service.

Google Drive
Support section with various forums and helpful tips in a searchable format.
Only those with an upgraded account can gain access to technical support 24/7.

Offers methods to “earn” additional storage.
The highest level plan offered is capped at 1 terabyte of storage space.

Unlimited data storage
● Access to all document versions created within the last 30 days
● 24/7 phone or email technical support
● File sharing capabilities up to 100 GB
● IT options designed to assist your operation in any requirements for compliance, costs, performance and data sovereignty

ShareFile: A complete file-sharing and cloud storage solution for your business

External and internal storage components won’t last forever. And the loss of either can be a debilitating blow to your organization. Calculated risks are critical to a successful business, but you don’t want to take a gamble with your data.

Let us help you build a secure foundation to support your next leap into growth and a safety net beneath you. Choose ShareFile and unlock four levels of cloud-based plans and select from data storage options from 100 GB to unlimited for Enterprise.

Make your move. Try us free for 30 days today and get started on tomorrow.

Ready to try ShareFile? It's free for 30 days. No credit card required.

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