You probably already use cloud storage in your personal life — perhaps to store family photos or to access your music library. However, choosing a cloud storage provider for your business involves different issues.

Here are some factors to consider when picking cloud storage for your small business:

What features do you need?

While personal versions of cloud storage services just provide storage, business versions usually offer collaboration, communication and project management features as well.  Box, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive are popular cloud storage services whose business versions offer these productivity features. If your industry demands strict security standards, you may need a specialized cloud storage provider that's in compliance with those requirements. Search for a provider that focuses on your industry.  

How easy is it to learn and use?

Cloud storage won't help your business if your employees don't use it. Therefore, look for a solution that is simple to learn, with a look and feel similar to the programs you already use.

Does it play nicely with your existing operating system, software and devices?

Any cloud storage program you choose should integrate easily with the software your business relies on. For example, Microsoft OneDrive is designed to work closely with Microsoft Office programs. Also, make sure mobile applications cloud work well with your mobile devices and platforms.

How well can you organize and manage your data?

Look for a cloud storage provider that enables you to categorize, organize and find information in a way that makes sense for your business. For example, can you search by date or keywords in addition to file names? How many versions of a document can the system handle?

Can you restrict and monitor access?

You may want to restrict certain information to specific employees — for example, allowing only accounting staff to access financial data. Being able to restrict access is especially important if you intend to let customers or suppliers access any part of the data stored in the cloud. How easy is it to set and change permissions? Can you monitor who has accessed what file and when? Can you set different levels of access (such as who can view a file vs. who can edit it?).

How much does it cost?

Different cloud storage providers price their services differently — per user, or per group of users; per month or per year; based on the amount of storage space; or based on the features selected. When comparing costs, be sure to compare apples to apples.

Can it grow with your business?

Can you add more users, access more features or buy more storage space as needed? Find out how much these changes will cost. You don't want a provider that starts out affordable, but becomes prohibitively expensive as your business expands.

How good is the customer support?

If you lose access to mission-critical data, you don't want to find out customer service is only available until 5 PM Eastern time. Look for 24/7 customer assistance, and find out whether service is provided by email, phone, live chat or all three. Read online reviews to see how satisfied other business owners are with the services you’re considering.

How does the cloud storage provider secure your data?

Robust encryption, the highest level of encryption, means files are encrypted not only when they are stored in the provider's data center, but also during transmission. Personal key encryption, generally offered by business-level cloud storage providers, means that only the administrator (you) has the code to unencrypt your data—no one at the cloud storage provider can “unlock” it.

How does the cloud storage provider back up your data?

A good provider not only backs up your data on their site, but also backs it up to one or more geographically distant data centers. In the event of an outage at the provider, how quickly can they restore your data?

Does the provider meet your industry standards?

In some industries, such as financial services or healthcare, your business must comply with strict regulations regarding securing sensitive data. If you collect customer payment card or bank account information, for example, you need to be PCI compliant—and your cloud storage provider must comply with this standard as well. Outsourcing your storage does not outsource your responsibility for meeting regulatory standards.

By getting answers to these questions from every provider you are considering, and carefully weighing your options, you can feel confident of making the right choice in selecting a cloud storage provider.

Cloud Storage