cloud-computing-biggerThe last day of 2010’s hurricane season certainly went out with a bang, commemorated by storms, hail and tornadoes in the eastern third of the US. If you stalled on preparedness initiatives and factored them into next year’s budget instead, you could have easily been one of the organizations who lost many hours in downtime.

One article states that businesses lose between $84,000 and $108,000 per hour of IT system downtime. Smaller organizations may lose less but will probably be hurt worse in the long run.

While there is a whole industry devoted to reducing such downtime, you can ensure your employees can continue to access key documents if there is a disaster without disaster recovery (DR) knowledge or a large IT department. Storing documents “in the cloud,” which essentially refers to storing them in a remote location, managed by a dedicated hosting company and accessible via the Internet, is a relatively inexpensive and practical solution with a number of benefits. While some may still remain skeptical about handing your information over to a third party, it provides solutions to a number of common problems that occur when an unexpected crisis strikes.

Problem #1: Severe weather makes reaching the office treacherous or impossible for employees.

This is a problem that a large part of snowbound Northern Europe is currently facing. If weather conditions close roads and schools, making it impossible for some staff to get to work or resolve childcare issues, is your business equipped to allow all employees in a particular location to work from home?

Although storing documents in the cloud and using virtual private networks can both accommodate teleworking, virtual private networks can get quickly overloaded with a lot of unexpected traffic and bogged down or disconnect users completely.

Problem #2: Your office gets flooded.

If you still rely on paper copies, you could potentially lose records, contracts, licenses, business continuity documents and everything else an organization needs to function. Even if, like most mid-sized businesses today, you’ve gone digital but use a local server in your office, a localized disaster such as a hurricane or flood can destroy your equipment. Most cloud service providers, on the other hand, have redundancies that mean your data is stored in more than one location, so you are even covered if something should happen to their equipment. This is why many companies are trusting their files in these secure servers. You can get cloud IT Support in Liverpool wherever you are in the world.

Problem #3: Your original documents are ruined and you have to rely on your backups.

The good news is that your backed-up documents are safe. The bad news is that the process of restoring that data can cost thousands of dollars per second when you factor in lost productivity caused by employee downtime. To make matters worse, the process can be a pretty sluggish ordeal if the data has to be physically moved or digitally copied and then transferred.

Cloud storage company Nasuni estimates that restoration can take approximately three hours per terabyte of data if you have to retrieve your data from a different location, whereas some cloud storage solutions can have your office back and running in a matter of seconds. The huge time disparity is due to the fact that you only need an Internet connection to regain access to the cloud, thus eliminating the need to download all of your documents all over again.

As cloud computing has gained popularity over the last few years, products have sprung up that allow companies to create document management systems in the cloud that have user-friendly, browser-based interfaces and need virtually no set-up by the IT department. Many of these providers offer free trials, competitive rates and a range of other features in addition to versioning and reporting. For example, Box.net offers integrations with Salesforce.com and Google Apps, NetDocuments provides email management tools via Outlook and is the only solution that’s fully functional with Microsoft Office, Google Docs (possibly the best known of these products on the market today) offers easy-to-use mobile apps, while Xythos on Demand gives you offline synchronization and RSS feeds of new content. Many people have also recommended www.thefinalstep.co.uk to me as they provide excellent customer service and post to a very informative business blog.

Are there any other cloud storage providers that you would recommend? Feel free to leave more names, reviews or any experiences you’ve had so far in the cloud.

Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.