How Does Cloud Storage Work? Pros and Cons of Online File Storage

Cloud storage and cloud-based software programs have gone from being cutting edge to industry must-haves in just a few short years. But what does “in the cloud” really mean, and how does cloud storage work?

Cloud storage gives users the opportunity to save information to a remote database instead of saving it locally on a computer in the building.

by Caitlin DeWilde, DVM

Cloud storage and cloud-based software programs have gone from being cutting edge to industry must-haves in just a few short years. But what does “in the cloud” really mean, and how does cloud storage work?

Cloud storage gives users the opportunity to save information—client information, patient records, general photo and document files, and so on—to a remote database instead of saving it locally on a computer in the building. Your computer and the remote database communicate via the internet. Often, the data transmitted via the internet is stored on a huge server in a “server farm”—imagine a building with nothing more than hundreds of giant, whirring computer towers!

Any of the well-known cloud-based storage programs (think Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive) offer a great way to store client education materials, marketing assets, and practice policy documents so that they can be accessed online and from any device. You’ll never have to worry about what computer has a particular file, and when a computer or the practice server crashes, practice documents will remain safe.

Cloud-based software works similarly. The software is accessed over the internet. For instance, practice management software is either cloud based or server based. Cloud-based practice management systems (PMSs) access the software’s features over the internet, while server-based PMSs must have the software’s features downloaded and installed on every computer’s local hard drive.

Data saved in a cloud-based PMS is automatically transferred via the internet to the cloud, while data within a server-based PMS never leaves the walls of your practice.

Pros of the Cloud

  • Cost-efficient: There are no expensive servers to purchase, install, and maintain. Additionally, you can use it on any device that can access the internet, so practices can use more computers and even smartphones and tablets without the need to buy additional user licenses.
  • Access data anytime, anywhere: Finish up your records from home or send clients communication in the event of weather- or facility-related emergencies. If your building and computers burn down, your software and data are safe!
  • Works from any device: Computers, tablets, and even cell phones can access the cloud. This portability may also mean improved patient outcomes and fewer missed charges: Services can be entered on tablets in the exam room or treatment or recovery areas without leaving the patient’s side.
  • Automatic upgrades: No more downtime! With cloud-based software, the updates are handled by the software company on the server side.
  • Increased security: Cloud storage and software are more resistant to cyberthreats, and virus protection can be continually updated. Studies show nearly 70% of small businesses have improved data security when switching to cloud-based systems. Just as we focus on caring for pets, cloud-based providers have the sole focus of securing and protecting their clients’ data. The automatic backup capabilities and options for redundancy (such as saving multiple copies) keep your data safe. Plus, no more tapes!
  • Scalable: Many cloud-based veterinary PMSs charge practices based on actual usage as opposed to estimating how much storage you’ll need and buying a large physical server upfront.
  • Increased collaboration and integration: Teams can collaborate regardless of location. Outside software programs, including those from reference laboratories, imaging servers, reminder services, and inventory distributors, can be linked into cloud-based programs to improve efficiency and workflows.

Cons of the Cloud

  • Requires the internet: If the internet is down, you may not be able to access your software or files. That said, with newer routers and internet services, backup internet coverage can be built into the practice, preventing further downtime. Many PMSs do have minimum speed requirements, so check your service availability, particularly in rural areas and during peak use hours.
  • Security: There are no perfect solutions when it comes to security, and practices are ultimately trusting a third party (the cloud storage company) with client information and potentially sensitive data. While few in the industry have experienced a data breach, never say never.
  • Newer technology: Newer doesn’t always mean better. An established practice that is efficiently and effectively using a server-based software that cost them five figures a few years ago may not need or want to switch to a cloud-based program. Additionally, larger practices may experience expensive data-migration costs to move a years-old client database to a cloud-based program.

Overall, cloud-based storage and cloud-based software systems are safe, effective, and efficient tools that can save practices time, money, and worry.

Caitlin DeWilde
Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is CEO of The Social DVM, a veterinary-specific social media consulting firm.

 

Photo credits: Feodora Chiosea/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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