How does cloud security measure up?

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In the days before “cloud”, most businesses would have their servers, data and computers all local and managed through a consultant or internal IT teams.

Today with the cloud, often the business owners cannot see, touch or ‘feel’ their computer data, hence its natural to be more cautious about security when you feel that you don’t have it in your own possession.

Which brings us to cloud security. How does it compare to the traditional methods of storing everything in a server you control in your office?

Well lets begin by identifying the challenges most businesses face when their servers and data remain within their office:

  1. Flood, fire & theft risks – all the physical aspects of data loss must be managed by the business themselves when your server is onsite in your office. During the Brisbane floods of 2011, we saw many businesses who were not using the cloud or related data centre hosting, suffer from downtime and data loss.
  2. Internet firewall security – most businesses do not realise that the only line of defence between a hacker entering their system is their modem router device, with its inbuilt firewall, which is often never updated. This is in comparison to a proper cloud environment, which has multiple levels of firewalls across the data centres, constant around-the-cloud monitoring, plus the defence mechanisms are kept up to date with new firewall rules updated as such become available.
  3. Backups and Disaster Recovery – by leveraging the cloud smarts, its often much quicker, cheaper and easier to take an entire business ‘snapshot’ of the data. This means in the event of a security breach, it is often possible to restore quickly to a recent snapshot to mitigate downtime and data loss.
  4. External device data control – items such as USB drives, CD’s, etc, can easily be used to copy data and export information away from your office when you have servers onsite. Whereas with cloud, it is possible to disable USB access and due to the physical limitations of not being able to physically access the server (unless a client of course asks for such), the risk of rogue employees ‘stealing data’ is heavily mitigated.

5 Hot business technology trends to watch this year

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Mobile Cloud - work anytime, anywhere, any device!

Each year I’m often asked what my predictions are for the business technology scene in Australia. Thus, below is a quick summary of where I believe things will be hot in 2014:

  1. Mobile – everyone is saying it, but mobile will continue to be the platform all business owners MUST adopt. This means, from your website being completely mobile friendly, to being able to conduct all business functions from your mobile (communications, transactions, CRM, finance, HR, BI, etc) and ultimately being able to run your entire business from your mobile device – anytime, anywhere!
  2. eCommerce – will become much easier to embrace thanks to the likes of Stripe.com & Amazon.com, both who provide great platforms to enable businesses to launch the best online shopping experiences possible for their consumers. This includes breaking down the barriers to setting up online merchant facilities, which Stripe has mastered quite well.
  3. File sharing consolidation in the cloud – this will occur relatively quickly I feel, as more small business users fall out of fashion with the likes of Dropbox, due to the lack of security and control over shared data. We’ve recently seen a number of small businesses rely too much upon such platforms and in turn be burnt as a result of this lack of true file security across users.
  4. Custom apps – as businesses look for ways to make it easier to engage with their clients, simple apps that work across multiple devices continues to seek high demand from businesses across the nation. Thanks to the cloud, its become cheaper and easier for these apps to come to life.
  5. Bespoke business app stores - as more users adopt their own devices (BYOD) and subsequently need to know what apps your business has chosen as the keys to business success, there will be a growing need for businesses to define what systems and software one must use to work with their business data. Without these business apps stores specific to your firm, staff will likely install and use many of their own apps to simply get the job done, risking sharing your data to 3rd parties across the globe, whom you often don’t have any control over!

What to consider when deciding whether to keep your cloud data local or offshore?

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I’m often asked if I should keep my data local and choose a cloud service provider who will keep my data local in Australia, OR should I go with an internationally hosted cloud provider (eg, Microsoft Office365 for Australia is hosted in Singapore)?

To answer this, I’ve listed some item you must consider before you decide whether overseas cloud data centres OR a local Australian based cloud data centres is best for your business:

  1. If you need physical access to your data, maybe due to the large data size or frequent changes necessary, unique access methods (health), etc, then local is your preferred choice.
  2. If you run software that is latency critical, eg, virtual desktops, video editing, CAD work, etc, then local is again preferred, as going offshore simply slows the experience, making it near unusable for your team.
  3. Do you need to upload/download large quantities of data in a short period of time? If so, then local again is your preferred choice, purely due to the data limits carriers can provide. Yet as bandwidth becomes faster and cheaper, this helps cut this barrier down.
  4. If a high level of uptime is what your business demands, then local is preferred, purely due to the maintenance windows introduced overseas, eg, their downtime scheduled at night their  time, which is often our day time. We have seen new clients with offshore cloud data come to us for help after experiencing outages for small periods of time during Australian business hours. Naturally this is not ideal and often frustrating to say the least.
  5. If you’re a government agency or a business with mandated regulatory requirements to maintain data onshore, then of course you have no choice but to remain local.

Finally, when the chips are down and you need help, make sure you can contact your service provider’s support team. Even though international providers are often cheaper and sometimes offer more capacity for a lower price, their 24/7 support offerings can be less desirable, especially when you need that immediate help. Best to align yourself with a business that matches your working hours to respond and assist when you need the help in real time.

Smart technology leads to happier staff

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What’s the biggest cost to most business? Staff right? Well that should be the number one focus for most businesses……ie, finding ways to get the most out of their human resources capital!

Over the recent months I’ve met with a number of business owners who continue to dismiss technology as a way to genuinely help their people and in turn their businesses succeed.

Here’s two quick wins you can implement in your business to help offer more to your staff and in return expect positive results for your business:

1. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

Many staff are used to their own smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc, and often would rather continue to use what they know and are proficient in. Thus embracing BYOD will enable you to let them use what they know best and in turn, get more out of their chosen device. Some of our clients have reduced capex hardware investment and instead now offer a tech fund to each employee each year, so they can buy whatever they like……so long as its compatible with the office technology ecosystem of course. As a business owner, you then don’t have to worry about investing into costly technology hardware that is constantly ageing and not looked after as well as someone would if it was their own!

2. Remote Access (virtual cloud desktops) – work anytime, anywhere, with any device!

By offering your staff the ability to work from home (or anywhere with an internet connection in fact), they can manage the work/life balance if the right technology is in place to monitor, control the data and ensure correct security is maintained. With the right upload speeds, secure platforms and software (all achieved quite easily and quickly through a genuine cloud service provider), you too can offer the ability for your staff to work anytime, anywhere and not be restricted by sick family members, etc, taking time away from your people having to be in the office to remain productive.

AppsUnite – control your data, your apps and your users

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I’m proud to announce that my fantastic software development team has just launched  a new cloud service designed for small businesses with between 1 and 30 users. Its called AppsUnite!

www.appsunite.com.au

Do have a look at the AppsUnite website here for more information. For only $4.95 per user per month you can get your business onto the cloud!

Essentially we created this cloud file storage and app delivery service out of feedback from current clients and the many requests we’ve had from people this year, asking about what apps they should be using for their business and more importantly how they can control their precious business data in a controlled environment (unlike DropBox which does not allow a business owner to completely control their data across a number of devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc).

We’re evolving this product every week, so please provide feedback to our developers so they can continue to enhance AppsUnite for you.