There’s no doubt that you’ve heard the term “cloud-based software” many times over the last few years. Not only is it a buzzword in the storage industry, but cloud-based technology is becoming increasingly popular across most industries.

But what the heck does this term mean? When it started popping up in ads in Mini-Storage Messenger and articles on Inside Self-Storage, it seemed that everyone had something to say about the benefits, drawbacks, and security of cloud software. Things became even more complicated as vendors substituted terms like “web enabled,” thinking they were interchangeable.

Just like any term that’s received a lot of hype, cloud-based software may be less complicated than you think.

What is cloud-based software?

Cloud-based software is hosted over the internet instead of installed onto your computer.

Twenty years ago, if you wanted a new program on your computer, you would purchase a disc and use it to install the program. Once it installed, you’d have the program on that one computer.

Cloud-based software, by contrast, can be accessed from multiple computers. You can complete tasks on your work computer and then head home and pick up where you left off on your personal computer. Or, useful in the storage industry, managers can work on tasks in the facility’s office and owners can work within the same program in their office the next state over.

Cloud-based software makes collaboration much easier

The goal behind cloud-based technology is to increase accessibility and convenience for users. With an internet connection (and, let’s be real, even your phone is almost always connected to the internet), you can access your software anywhere and anytime.

This setup also allows the software provider to release updates regularly and without interrupting your use of the program. That may not be a problem for vendors who never update their software, but for vendors who consistently implement and improve upon new features, it can make a huge difference in operations at your facility.

What is the cloud, anyway?

One reason that cloud-based software can be confusing is the term “cloud.” It’s not very descriptive, and it honestly doesn’t sound like a place where you’d want to store important data and programs.

Cloud-based software may be confusing becuase of the word cloud

The cloud is simply a network of servers. It can be a public domain, where everyone can access data, or it can be private, which is ideal for sensitive or private information and business data.

Mashable does a great job of explaining how everyone uses the cloud on a daily basis: If you take a picture on your phone, the picture is saved to your phone. If you upload that picture to Facebook or Instagram, the picture is saved to the cloud. So, you’ll lose pictures as soon as your phone is lost, stolen, or broken. If you upload them to the internet (even if you just save them somewhere private like Google Photos), you can retrieve them anytime and anywhere, including your new phone, your computer, or your tablet.

I’m using the cloud as I write this post in Google Drive. When I first started writing blogs for storEDGE, I saved them as Word Documents on my work computer. That worked just fine until my hard drive crashed. Anything that I had backed up to an external hard drive could be restored, but anything since that backup was gone forever.

Cloud-based software saves data even if the device is destroyed or stolen

Now I use Google Drive, which ensures that my documents are virtually indestructible. It’s also nice if I walk into a meeting and want to show everyone what I’ve been working on: I can simply pull up my Google Drive account on the big screen and see a document I was working on at my desk just minutes ago. Plus, Google Chrome offers an extension that allows Google Drive to work offline. So in the rare case that I’m not connected to the internet, I can keep writing away, and my work will sync up as soon as I’m re-connected.

That’s the gist of the cloud.

Apart from personal projects and how you can actually use the applications, the cloud is helpful for companies because it can offer huge financial savings. Rather than buying hardware equipment (that depreciates in value), you can simply pay for what you use. According to Mashable, “this model makes it easy to quickly scale use up or down.” You aren’t locked into using a particular program, disc, or computer. If your needs shift, and they will, cloud-based software can easily shift to meet them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of cloud-based software?

All technology has its pros and cons. To better understand cloud-based software, consider the following advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of cloud-based software

  • Updates to the software can be released instantly, for free, and without you doing anything to your computer or program. No installing, no waiting for updates, and no losing your progress.

  • With less work on your end, it’s faster to train employees and you’ll spend less time talking to support teams.

  • You can set up multiple users on multiple computers with buying and installing extra discs. Multiple people can work in the software at the same time.

  • If your computer is stolen or damaged, or if you experience an outage, your data will be safe and protected.

Disadvantages of cloud-based software

  • You need an internet connection to access cloud-based software. You can combat this with a hotspot or with cellular data. The nice thing is that, if your ethernet-connected desktop computer loses its internet connection, you can open the software on your phone or tablet and use data to keep working.

  • If not handled correctly, cloud-based software can be less secure. Companies can’t just put your data in the cloud and assume it’ll be safe. Responsible vendors host information in a private server, backup several times every day, and are PCI certified. Data should also be encrypted with an SSL certificate.

Is cloud-based software secure?

It really depends on who created the software and the precautions they take. The main software that storage operators use is storage management software, which of course needs to be extremely secure given all the private client data that’s housed in it.

An important factor to consider is public vs. private data. For example, social media is, for the most part, a public domain. Anything you post on your Facebook page can be accessed fairly easily by just about anyone. It’s a public realm, which makes sense given that the aim of social media is to share photos, ideas, thoughts, and life events with others.

Social media could be considered cloud based, but it's a public domain

Private cloud data will often meet the security and certification standards of storage facilities. As mentioned in the points above, precautions like SSL certification, PCI compliance, server backup, and private storage are all vital.

I’d also like you to ask yourself, “Is my computer secure?” If someone really wanted to access the data on your facility computer, how hard would it be for them to do so? Have you personally encrypted data and set up the most advanced features? Do you back up your data several times every single day? In some ways, cloud-based software may be more secure if your software provider is handling all of these security measures on your behalf.

What are the differences between “cloud based,” “web based,” and “web enabled”?

This is a really good point to consider. If you don’t understand every aspect of cloud-based software, these variety of terms can be confusing. Conflicting messages from vendors can add to the confusion..

Let’s break them up and take a brief look at their differences:

  • Cloud-based software is hosted in the cloud/online, with no data saved on the computer that’s running the software. It offers features like data backup and data compression for advanced security.

  • Web-based software is a subset of cloud-based software (and functions very similarly). It’s designed to be used online, but it does not always include the advanced security and scaling features of cloud-based software. The differences between cloud-based software and web-based software are very small, especially in terms of how the program functions on your device.

  • Web-enabled software is software that was previously installed on your computer and has since been tweaked to offer a limited-functionality web version. Web-enabled software is created in an attempt to compete with cloud-based software but offers virtually none of the advantages of cloud-based software. It often requires additional hardware, servers, and IT resources — all the things you want to move away from with cloud-based software. Ask yourself, “Can I access this program regardless of the device, platform, or my location?” If not, even if it offers some sort of web functionality, it is not web based.

Cloud-based software functions well across devices

There are all sorts of opinions out there about which kind of software is best for companies. An article on TechRepublic makes the following claim: “Cloud apps are web apps… but not all web apps are cloud apps. Software vendors often bundle web apps to sell as ‘cloud’ apps simply because it’s the latest buzzword technology, but web apps do not offer the same richness in functionality and customization you’ll get from cloud apps. So, buyer beware!”

What does all this mean for you as you choose software for your facility? Quite simply, some software vendors don’t fully understand cloud-based software and why it’s important, but they (of course) still want to sell their product to compete with the inevitable rise of cloud-based technology.

Cloud-based software can be immensely secure, but it depends on the vendor

My advice? Look into it for yourself. Use the differentiators in this article to evaluate software out there, and don’t forget to talk to a rep and have them explain their software’s security, functionality, and usability as you demo it for yourself. Whatever phrase they use in their advertising and marketing copy is irrelevant. It’s the actual features they provide that matters.

Where is cloud-based technology headed?

When you really look at the differences between cloud-based/web-based technology and web-enabled technology, it’s easy to see why more than 50% of information technology will be in the cloud in 5-10 years. You already use the cloud every day, and as cloud-based technology evolves, more and more of your technology — including software for the self storage industry — will be running on it, resulting in a better experience for you and your business.

If you liked this article, you may also like: 4 Kinds of Technology Your Property Needs, Tablets and Mobile Technology in the Self Storage Workplace, and The Importance of Usability in Your Self Storage Software.