Let’s talk cloud storage advantages and disadvantages for SMBs, especially those in regulated industries. Using cloud-based infrastructure for data storage and/or backup has become nearly universal. Estimates of how many businesses of all sizes are using cloud storage today range from 50% to over 90%. But cloud storage is not right for all types of data.

Cloud Storage Advantages

Advantage #1: Lower total cost

Among cloud storage advantages and disadvantages, the top factor is usually cost savings. Cloud services are generally “pay as you go” and cloud storage is no exception. In the cloud, you pay only for the storage capacity you use. Meanwhile, the cloud service provider (CSP) is covering all the capital expenses and operational overhead associated with managing the infrastructure where your data resides. Foregoing the cost of servers, drives, power and cooling, administrative effort, etc. is a big win. 

Advantage #2: Improved disaster recovery and business continuity

While data protection controls (e.g., backup and recovery) can be hit-or-miss for some SMBs, CSPs have this down to a science—it’s their core business. Most cloud data is backed up frequently to multiple physical sites. How often and how frequently backups occur is a cost factor that varies with different vendors and service levels. Be sure you know how much data loss your business can tolerate between backups (one hour? one minute?) before choosing a cloud storage plan.

Storing data remotely in the cloud can also help reduce the risk of data loss from a natural disaster or exfiltration from a data breach that impacts your local facilities. Depending on how interfaces are configured, a cloud data storage scenario can also potentially protect your data from encryption or damage by ransomware. Though this is by no means “the default” and should be a topic of conversation with potential vendors.

Advantage #3: Anytime/anywhere access

Not every SMB is a born-on-the-cloud startup where everyone and everything is “virtual.” Some of us still have office space, local networks and local storage that isn’t remotely accessible or requires logging into a VAN or portal first. Besides hassles for users, this can lead to different people working with different versions of the data online and then needing to reconcile them later.

But when considering cloud storage advantages and disadvantages, a key factor is that your cloud-based data is accessible anytime/anywhere via the web, and often from a wide range of devices from laptops to tablets to phones. This can benefit collaboration as well as productivity. Further, the fact that changes are quickly and automatically propagated in the cloud means that everyone has access to the latest version of the data.

Advantage #4: Stronger security

Once the top concern when weighing cloud storage advantages and disadvantages, misgivings in the marketplace about cloud security have largely been put to rest. On the whole, it’s safe to say that CSPs can keep your data secure better than you can. This is their focus and they’ve made major investments to avoid the devastating competitive consequences of a data breach. It’s also a big saving in time and effort for your company if your IT staff doesn’t need to spend time parsing log dumps and other fun security stuff.

But configuration errors still routinely happen (almost always on the customer side), making cloud-based data a prime target for hackers that know how to search for those vulnerabilities. A “shared responsibility model” usually applies with cloud security, and this is something you’ll need to clarify with your CSP to ensure that all security bases are covered.

Advantage #5: Scalability

One thing most businesses can depend on is that their data storage requirements will grow over time. If your data is stored on-premises, this will mean proactively calculating your data growth, purchasing more disk arrays, upgrading current storage, and paying someone to keep it all shipshape.

In the cloud, your CSP will be only too happy to increase your storage footprint on-demand and simply charge you incrementally more per billing cycle. “Pay as you grow” is usually a lot cheaper and easier than maintaining your own physical storage infrastructure.

Cloud Storage Disadvantages

Disadvantage #1: Regulatory compliance challenges

When it comes to cloud storage advantages and disadvantages, regulatory noncompliance is perhaps the single biggest roadblock to moving your database to the cloud today. A central concern is that CSPs often run their services across multiple physical data centers, some of which may be outside the US and/or staffed by non-US citizens. Thus, such services do not comply with cybersecurity frameworks like the US Department of Defense Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), which mandates US-only data storage. Other US government contract requirements or markings on data, particularly “Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals” (NOFORN), can knock most cloud data storage options right out of the running. Check your customer contracts if you’re unsure whether this issue applies to your organization.

Another potential compliance problem with cloud data storage is a regulatory mandate for end-to-end encryption of sensitive data. If a CSP doesn’t encrypt your data on its servers or doesn’t support encryption of the data as it moves over networks to and from the cloud, using that service would put your company in noncompliance with any encryption requirements you may be subject to.  

Disadvantage #2: You need a working internet connection to access your data

These days it seems like everything we do involves the internet. When we lose connectivity, we lose productivity. But with cloud data storage, offline access isn’t universally available. If you need this capability there are CSPs that offer it, usually for an added cost.

A further concern within the spectrum of cloud storage advantages and disadvantages is the risk of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your CSP. When hackers flood a vendor’s service with service requests, they can cause system crashes and make the service unavailable to customers. If this is a concern, ask potential cloud storage vendors what contingencies they have in place to cope with DDoS attacks.

Disadvantage #3: Vendor lock-in

Once you’ve started a cloud data storage program with one CSP, it can be difficult to switch to a new provider. Simply moving your database “across the cloud” from one CSP to another is probably not going to happen. This is especially true if the migration involves sensitive data like customer data, financial data or controlled unclassified information (CUI) from a government contract.

In fact, some CSPs will intentionally make migration away from their service more difficult in hopes of keeping your business. Others will sign you up for fixed or inflexible contracts that keep you locked into certain payment plans or otherwise limit your freedom to switch to a different service. Read contracts carefully and check references to ensure your chosen vendor doesn’t employ these tactics.

Next steps

Cloud storage is an increasingly popular choice for organizations looking to save money and improve access to their databases. But every cloud migration scenario is different, and it’s critically important to know with certainty that you’ve considered all the risk factors and choice points that apply in your case.

Buda Consulting specializes in helping our clients move their databases to the cloud smoothly, securely, and cost-effectively.

Contact us to connect with an expert about whether moving your database to the cloud is right for your business, and how to ensure your move is successful.