By Dave DeWitte
Business records that were once relegated to backrooms and basements are joining the great migration to the cloud.
The cloud is a model for delivering IT services in which resources are retrieved from the Internet through web-based tools and apps, rather than through local resources such as a server connected to a local area network.
The expectations for cloud computing are huge in many areas, not the least of which is storing and managing records. Because records can be retrieved via the Internet, they can be accessed from just any location with an Internet connection, any time of the day or night. The records can be hosted on servers in the most advantageous location – think high security, low energy costs for processing power, and minimal exposure to natural or manmade disasters.
Cloud computing can also reduce business spending on IT hardware and software because the resources can be owned and maintained by the vendor, not the user.
The promise of the cloud has brought a number of different players into the space, and the field continues to grow.
Axis Backup of Cedar Rapids maintains data backups on the data of more than 500 insurance agencies across the United States at a data center in Boise, Idaho, operated by Cedar Rapids-based Involta.
According to owner Greg Edwards, Axis Backup performs a full data recovery for a client an average of every six weeks because of a data loss, and performed nine simultaneous data recoveries for clients after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.
More commonly, Mr. Edwards said clients lose data due to equipment failures or computer viruses spread on the Web. He said the company’s clients have experienced 27 hits from the CryptoLocker virus, a Trojan horse that encrypts data on the user’s computer and then prompts the user to buy a password to unlock the data.
Accessibility and searchability are additional reasons for storing records on the Web. Kenwood Records Storage in Cedar Rapids has seen a strong migration of clients to its cloud record storage and retrieval solution, the Kenwood Image Repository. Paper documents are turned into digital files in the company’s high-speed digital imaging department and stored on the Internet-accessible repository, which provides clients the ability to customize their document search criteria.
“We can index them right down to a very detailed level that allows them to find the ‘needle in a haystack,’” said Blaine Worley, Kenwood Records Storage president and owner. “It’s essentially like an electronic filing system.”
Mr. Worley said adoption of the Kenwood Records Repository has been going strong in fields such as insurance, mortgage lending and human resources, in which records retention and searchability are of high importance.
The data resides in a highly secure data center in Altoona, Mr. Worley said, but customers can retrieve it anywhere they have an Internet connection.
“We’re all about letting our customers view their images 24/7 in a secure setting,” Mr. Worley said.
Kenwood Records Management still offers a spectrum of more traditional records storage offerings, including high-security physical storage at a warehouse in Cedar Rapids, and the conversion of microfilm to digital formats.
Growth in cloud services has also fueled the business of Involta, the Cedar Rapids-based company that operates data centers in Marion, Tucson, Boise, Duluth and Akron.
Most of the data in Involta’s data centers is hosted on computing resources owned by its clients, but kept in the center for security against the possibility of power loss, natural disasters, fire and human interference. Involta also offers a service called CompliantCloud, which hosts mission-critical client data on its own highly reliable and secure resources.
Chris Shroyer, Involta ‘s vice president of sales and marketing, detailed the company’s precautions against data loss in place at the its 10,000-square-foot Marion data center, from an access control system using retina scans and radio frequency ID cards, to robust emergency backup power, redundant grid power and redundant network connections.
But Mr. Shroyer says one of the best reasons for storing digital data on the cloud is simply to get it away from human activity. Every server hosting data in the center is carefully locked away in a cabinet behind a wire mesh-covered cage, even within the access-restricted confines of the data center.
“You want to separate the people and the data,” said Mr. Shroyer, recalling visits to “large nameplate organizations” where the servers of their IT systems were accessible in data closets off the employee break room. He said the exposure leaves the servers open to data theft, malicious attacks and accidents.
“People and data are not a good combination,” Mr. Shroyer noted.
Involta’s data centers are audited for compliance with SSAE 16, a data security standard from the American Institute for Certified Public Accountants that is sought after and frequently required for certain kinds of sensitive documents. Service-level agreements provided by Involta offer clients a high degree of certainty not only on security, but on the availability of their data.
With the growing interest in cloud storage, the question of what records belong on the cloud is being asked more frequently.
At Involta, Mr. Shroyer says the decisions about how data should be stored begin with the development of a data plan for the client. The plan classifies data according to security requirements, who needs access, how often it will be accessed, how long it must be kept and other variables. Data storage and access are all developed around the plan.
Mr. Worley says it often boils down not just to security – which can be achieved with paper records – but to the frequency with which records may have to be accessed and by whom.
If a document is accessed frequently or may require use by multiple departments in different locations, Mr. Worley said it’s easier to justify the investment in putting the document in searchable cloud storage.
“It can save a lot of footsteps and labor internally tracking down original forms and having them transmitted by interoffice mail,” Mr. Worley said.
On the other hand, Mr. Worley said some documents must be retained primarily for regulatory or legal reasons, with a low likelihood that retrieval will be necessary. Keeping them securely warehoused in boxes searchable by barcodes can be an effective and economical solution.
While Mr. Edwards has won over many customers with the security benefits of his own cloud-based backup service at Axis Backup, he’s now finding an interesting twist to the cloud trend.
A growing number of insurance agencies are using cloud-based software for their records that eliminates the need for them to use a local server or storage solution.
Mr. Edwards now finds himself posing the question, “if these large cloud providers get hacked, then what happens?”
It’s happened, Mr. Edwards said. Axis Backup is now working on a service that will provide a backup to what’s already in the cloud.