When selecting the right software for your business, one of the most important decisions you'll have to make is whether to choose a cloud-based solution, or a locally hosted option. Many business owners are most familiar with locally hosted software since this is how software has traditionally been hosted. However, it's important to understand the many benefits that the cloud has to offer.
What is the cloud?
The cloud is a buzzword that has been floating around a lot recently, but it simply means that the software and your data are stored on a network of computers in a secure remote data center, as opposed to being stored locally on a computer in your office. Typically, data is replicated across several locations, so that you don't have to backup your data in the event that servers in one location go down.
There has been a recent trend in the software industry towards cloud-based solutions. Many of the oldest players have historically offered only locally hosted options, but have also recently begun to offer cloud-based versions of their software. The medical field is a prime example of this, as hospitals and private practices have been using practice management software for decades and have grown accustomed to locally hosted software. However, even in the medical industry, the shift to the cloud is very noticeable, with some of the newest players having made the conscious decision to only have cloud-based offerings, because they believe that this is the way of the future.
Data backups and encryption
Transitioning your data to the cloud offers many benefits, including automatically securing data and backing it up. With many high-profile security breaches in the medical field, for example, even amongst top software vendors, securing your customers’ data should be one of the most important considerations when selecting the appropriate software. By hosting software on the cloud, the software vendor becomes responsible for storing and securing your data, which can save you from having to do this yourself, or from having to hire additional IT staff. The software provider will also ensure that your data is backed up (typically across several locations simultaneously, to guard against the event of a natural disaster or outage), which can save you substantially on hardware costs. It’s also safer to store your data remotely in a secure data center, whereas your hardware can physically get stolen from your office. If your data is stored and backed up remotely, then you also won't have to worry about losing the data if, for example, your hard drive crashes or if you get a virus on your computer.
It’s also important to check with the software vendor to ensure that your data will be encrypted. In the medical field, it's particularly important that the software is HIPAA compliant. If your data is not encrypted, and a security breach occurs in your medical practice, then you would be obligated to notify all of your patients, which would damage your practice’s reputation and could lose your patients’ trust.
Automatic software upgrades
An additional benefit to cloud-based software is that software upgrades will typically happen seamlessly behind the scenes, without any additional effort on your part. This is because the software vendor will typically deploy their upgrades to their servers automatically. In contrast with locally installed options, you'll have to manage software upgrades yourself, which can require substantial effort and often results in downtime.
Access software on the go
Many cloud-based software vendors design their products to work like any other website you access in your browser. This means that you will be able to access the software from any device that has an Internet connection, instead of having to run into the office to access your locally hosted software. Cloud-based software gives you and your employees more flexibility to complete important tasks anywhere you have an Internet connection. Some businesses fear that if their Internet goes down, then their business will shut down, if they're using a cloud-based solution. This is a valid concern, but it can easily be mitigated by having a backup Internet connection. With a good backup connection, this should be a non-issue, and the benefits would definitely outweigh this risk.