Clouds. Throughout the centuries, clouds have indicated power and mystery. The Greek gods lived on Mount Olympus above the clouds. The heavenly kingdom has always been imagined in the clouds above the earth. Thoughts of freedom are represented by birds soaring through the clouds.
When I travel, one of the things that always mesmerizes me is looking at the tops of clouds while flying in an airplane. I find it fascinating that something so delicate can look amazingly solid from above. Have you ever had the experience of being in the window seat and watching as the plane descends into a cloudbank? It's like entering the ocean. As you gradually drop, you see the clouds rising up toward you. Small wisps of vapor come off the surface like steam. As you continue in your descent, it looks like you're going to land on a surface covered with snow. The plane continues to fall and gradually, like the water rising in a bathtub, the cloud slowly engulfs the plane — rising above your window until all that is outside is white.
So, how did we come to associate clouds with computing? No doubt, you are familiar with terms like “storing it in the cloud” or “the software is in the cloud.” Cloud-based technology has become all the rage in helping companies maintain their data and support their business.
In case you're not familiar with the term, “cloud computing” basically means that instead of storing information on a hard drive in your office, you are using a hard drive located somewhere else. And because no one knows where that server is, we just say it's “in the cloud.”
Actually, I'm joking about that last part. The reason it is called a “cloud” is because there are millions of computer servers linked to each other around the world that share data and resources so that you have instant access to your information anytime you want it. Your information is everywhere — like a cloud.
As this technology continues to develop, it is becoming cheaper and easier to use. The cloud can be a big advantage for the small operator. Not only does using the cloud decrease your equipment cost, but it also can ensure that your computer security is up to date and that you constantly have a backup copy of your information located off your premises.
So, how can a small operator take advantage of cloud-based computer technology? Using the cloud breaks down into three components: software, storage and security. Let's have a look at each one of these to see how it can benefit your business.
Those of you who are old enough to remember the time before 2010 will know that back then, when you purchased a software program, you actually bought a physical box containing either a floppy disk or a CD-ROM. The software was contained on these physical objects; you inserted them into your computer and copied the software program onto your computer’s hard drive. This meant that if something happened to your computer, you lost your software. Having the software reside on your computer also took up a lot of space on your hard drive in order to store it. By today's standards, that is a lose-lose situation.
Today, you can buy a software program either by purchasing it online or through a subscription-based service and the software resides on a computer other than your own. Your computer communicates to the cloud computer and gets the information when it needs it. Anytime an update is required for security or quality reasons, the software company just updates the version that’s online and it automatically updates the version your computer is using. It has made computer software much easier to use and cheaper to provide since having physical media is no longer necessary.
For example, our company StrasGlobal has launched a new online service called Compliance Safe. The Compliance Safe software resides on our servers in a data warehouse somewhere in the world and when you pay for your annual subscription, your computer accesses the software in that warehouse. In our case, Compliance Safe provides a document management system to keep you updated on the status of your business permits and licenses. Nothing is stored on your computer.
Back in the day, all of your critical information would be placed on a hard drive either in your desktop computer or on a server located in your office. This meant that you had to spend money on hardware and servers in order to store your information and the more information you had, the more equipment you needed to buy. If something happened, such as a power surge or a fire in your building, your equipment — and therefore all of your information — could be lost, never to be retrieved. To avoid this, companies created a routine of backing up their computers or servers on a regular basis and taking those copies to a safe place at a different location.
This redundancy is now automatically done when you use a cloud storage system such as iCloud, Google Drive or One Drive. Your information is not necessarily kept on your computer, but in massive server farms owned by Apple, Google or Microsoft, respectively, or some other third party such as Amazon. Now, if your building burns down, all your information is safe and secure because it could be located on a server in a different state, Iceland, or even under the sea. The server farms are massive, which makes the cost of storage incredibly low.
A further advantage is that, unlike your desktop computer which was the only way you could access the information on that computer, with cloud storage you can access your information with any device that is connected to the internet.
With our Compliance Safe program, we store copies of your permits, licenses and other documents on a cloud server owned and operated by a third party. This way, we can ensure your information is secure and always accessible to you wherever you are and whenever you want it.
If you have not heard about all of the security concerns regarding your information, welcome to the 21st century. Every day, we hear reports about cybercrime, hacking, malicious software, and viruses attacking and invading people’s computers. It is a constant task to keep your computer and software upgraded to the highest security levels. In addition, it's expensive.
The advantage with cloud storage is that the servers are owned by large multinational companies that tend to specialize in software. It is their job to stay ahead of, and on top of, malicious software and security attacks. Since their businesses are so heavily dependent upon keeping their data safe, these companies spend huge amounts of money on software development and security.
That doesn't mean they are un-hackable, but it does typically mean that if a software attack happens, there is a very good chance your data will not be lost because it has been duplicated elsewhere, and that it would not be controlled by a third-party ransomware attack.
At Compliance Safe, in addition to our own security measures, we have the resources of our storage provider helping us make sure our vulnerability to a cyberattack is as low as possible.
So, this is all very cool. The question is: How can this help the small operator?
An initial suggestion is that you should back up all of the information on your computer to a cloud-based system. That way, if your computer stops working, gets stolen or is destroyed, you will have a workable copy of all your information. There are many online storage companies for you to choose from.
When you do decide to use an online service or storage program, be sure to research its security rating and customer reviews. If you find that customers are frequently complaining about security issues, downtime or not being able to access their information, don't use them. Security and reliability are the two main reasons you're using a service, so it needs to be a service that does well in both these areas.
The next step is to transfer all of the software products you currently use to a cloud-based version. If you have already purchased a software product, most companies will allow you to upgrade to a subscription version (because they make more money that way). Examples of cloud-based software are your email provider, your accounting programs, your grocery ordering programs, and any other type of software product you might use.
By going to a cloud-based service, you, too, can feel like one of those Greek gods. All of your information is at your control and you have the power over its destiny. Just be sure not to get the lightning bolts too close to your computer.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.