Protect yourself against data loss, security blunders, and--that real productivity killer--inefficiency.
Bring up the cloud and you're likely to find people who either love it or don't trust it—no matter how secure and reliable you tell them it is.
It's easy to see it both ways.
For small businesses, cloud storage is affordable and frees you up from maintaining expensive physical servers that need upkeep. And it also makes accessing, updating, and sharing files—usually from any device—simple and fast.
Yet it's not without risk. High-profile outage incidents have shown that no entity is completely immune from hackers or downtime, regardless of what cloud service providers would have you believe.
If you're willing to give it a try, here are three services worth checking out:
File Backup: CrashPlan
Unlike other cloud storage providers that swear secondary backup isn't necessary, Minneapolis-based Code 42 Software advocates backing up important data to more than one place and makes it simple to do so as a complement to its cloud storage.
"Our Midwest ethos here is that you shouldn't really trust either method 100% and that's why we make it really easy to use more than one," says Code 42 CMO Mike Evangelist. "If you don't care about being able to get your data back of course just put all those eggs in one basket."
And unlike Dropbox or SugarSync that back up only the files you tell them to, Code 42's CrashPlan software automatically backs up everything on your hard drive—as much as once a minute—and encrypts it all before it leaves your computer. It also lets you back up to other computers and attached external hard drives as well as access, update, and share your files from mobile devices.
Another useful feature is that CrashPlan keeps copies of all versions of your files and even those you have deleted. This means, for example, that you can go back and retrieve a version of a PowerPoint presentation you were using last year if you decide you liked it better than a more recent one. And if you've ever accidentally deleted or lost a file you know how aggravating and time-consuming it is to recreate it. That's not a worry with CrashPlan.
Cost: Unlimited online storage for a single computer is just $7.49 a month. Alternately, you can buy a certain amount of online storage and share it across computers—plans range from 50GB for $17.49 a month all the way up to 4 terabytes for $999 a month. A 1 terabyte plan is probably enough for 30-40 computers. You can also check out CrashPlan's calculator widget which can give you a more precise estimate.
Online Collaboration: Mindjet Connect
Many cloud storage services claim to offer online collaboration features but Mindjet Connect is different because helping people get work done together regardless of their locations is its forte, not some add-on function.
While Mindjet Connect lets you share files, communicate with business partners, and manage projects, it also helps teams do research, collect ideas and thoughts in a collaborative fashion, brainstorm issues and alternative paths, set goals, establish a plan, and coordinate team actions.
What's missing from some solutions that tout collaborative features is a method for encouraging and capturing ideas and collective thinking. That type of brainstorming in the traditional setting typically involves a conference room with a white board, possibly a video conference component, as well as people taking notes and that, according to Mindjet CEO Scott Raskin, doesn't exist in most other cloud solutions.
"With our product you can create an information map and lay out in a visual format all your ideas and thoughts [about the project], someone else can interact with that in real time and add comments the two of you can see. It's almost like you're working on the same white board but the whiteboard has structure," Raskin says.
Cost: Mindjet Connect is free for individual users. Business plans start at $12.75 per user per month (with volume discounts ).
Sync Devices: Huddle Sync
IT administrators aren't big fans of employees using for work some of the most popular cloud storage and syncing solutions. Why not? If one of your company's documents ends up in Google's index or on some peer-to-peer file sharing site they're the ones who have to do damage control.
Huddle Sync, Huddle's enterprise file synchronization platform, is different from consumer sync tools because it was built to meet enterprise security and compliance requirements and uses learning algorithms and predictive technology to fully sync only certain files. Not only that but it keeps track of where company data is stored and who has synced what files, as well as provides full audit trails for every single file.
Another interesting feature involves remote wiping of data. While plenty of tools are able to do this when a device is lost, stolen, or when an employee leaves a company, Huddle Sync is different because it can remove only business data and leave personal stuff intact. This is a great feature considering many people use their own devices for work.
Huddle Sync is currently in private beta but you can register at the site if you want to try it out.
Cost: Free when it's part of a Huddle subscription, which begins at $20 per user per month.
CHRISTINA DESMARAIS is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech startup community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com. @salubriousdish