Storing Your Database in the Cloud
Cloud computing refers to storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet rather than from your computer’s hard drive. There are a number of key characteristics of the cloud:
KeywordsCloud Computing Small Business Internet Connection Cloud Service Provider Public Cloud
Services can be obtained directly without the need for the installation and configuration of any hardware or software up-front.
Services are generally paid for as they are used, without a long-term contract or up-front payment. This is possible as providers can tell exactly how much of a given service users have consumed.
The responsibility to administer software and hardware in the cloud falls solely on the provider.
Resources in the cloud are scaled (up or down) by the provider in quick response to changes in demand from the users.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Access to software that offers network/web-based applications or services with examples being Dropbox, Google Docs, and Salesforce.com.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): A platform in the form of an operating system, computer language interpreter, or web server for software developers who can write their application and then upload their code into the cloud. Examples of PaaSs are Google AppEngine, MS Engine Yard, and OpenShift.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): The provision of virtual servers and storage without the need for specific details. Examples of IaaSs include Apache CloudStack, Eucalyptus, OpenStack, Amazon Web Services EC2, and Google Compute.
Small businesses without an IT expert are likely to use SaaS only.
In addition, there is a difference between public and private clouds. Public clouds are based on shared physical hardware that’s owned and operated by third-party providers. In contrast, private clouds are dedicated to and designed by a given business. Small businesses are generally concerned only with the public cloud.
The cloud has advantages and disadvantages for small businesses, both of which are explored in the following sections.
The Advantages of the Cloud to Small Business
Your data can be accessed on any device with an Internet connection and compatible software. You can edit a file at home and then carry on where you left off when you get into work. Colleagues can also collaborate on the same document.
The cloud enables you to free up the internal storage provision of your laptops and other devices.
As the remote servers in the cloud handle much of the computing and storage, you don’t need to buy expensive machines. Cloud computing services are typically pay-as-you-go, which means there is no need for capital expenditure. Cloud usage can therefore cut project start-up costs and lead to predictable ongoing operating expenses and potentially enable small businesses to compete with their larger peers.
Cloud computing can provide quick and straightforward disaster-recovery plans compared to magnetic tape, which is often slow in comparison.
Businesses using cloud computing only use the server space they need, which decreases their carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of the Cloud
Not everything about the cloud is positive. The main concerns are the reliability of the service (due to its reliance on the Internet) and its security.
Without a reliable Internet connection, you are unable to access your data and cloud-based applications. The same applies if there are any problems on the server side.
Some businesses use hybrid cloud solutions to mitigate this problem. Data that is stored in the cloud is replicated locally on a hard drive. Generally it is best not to rely completely on the cloud to safeguard a database in the event of a disaster.
Cloud security has been in the media recently. Cloud service providers have the money and motivation to make their services secure and are often blamed for breaches that are the responsibility of the consumer. Cloud-service providers are responsible for ensuring that their application and IT infrastructure is secure and in working order. However, it is the consumer’s responsibility to manage passwords, protect against identity fraud, prevent loss or theft of devices, encrypt sensitive data, and provide access to devices via secure networks, to name but a few. Such facilities are often available as part of cloud packages, but it is up to you as a consumer to check that they exist and use them. Blaming the cloud for the loss of your data when you haven’t secured it properly is like blaming a rental car company for the theft of the car after you have left the keys in the ignition.
It is important that you find a cloud service provider that uses state-of-the-art encryption to keep your data safe in transit as well as when it is at rest. All accounts should be password protected, and you should be able to set a personal encryption key that only you have access to.
In general, if you take the appropriate responsibility for your data, your database should be secure in the cloud.
Backing Up Your Database in the Cloud
Many cloud backup services offer a lot more than just storage space. In most cases, you’ll get services such as the ability to schedule backups to run automatically so you don’t have to remember. Other useful features can include deleted file recovery and file versioning, the latter gives you the power to revert to a previously saved copy of a file.
The amount of online storage you get with a single account varies. Many providers offer unlimited capacity.
Archiving Your Database in the Cloud
If you have a lot of data to archive, maintaining the archive on your own systems can be a costly and time-consuming exercise.
The aim of a cloud archive service is to provide a data storage environment as a service that is optimized for long-term data retention, security, and compliance with data regulation policies. Once in the cloud archive, data must be easy to search and be protected from overwrites or tampering. Automatically applied data retention policies should also be possible. You must make sure that you are confident that your data is in safe hands and protected by reliable disaster recovery systems.
With a cloud archive you will not need to buy, maintain, or upgrade any specific hardware in-house. You should be allocated an unlimited storage and unlimited retention for an affordable and predictable cost. The choice depends on how much data you have and how straightforward it is to store on your existing hardware.
Moving Your Database to the Cloud
Moving your database to the cloud gives you the freedom to work from anywhere with an Internet connection, the ability to collaborate with colleagues more easily, and access to greater storage and faster processing. The benefits can be achieved without having to invest in more hardware.
Cloud services are not generally free and it is up to you to decide whether the advantages justify the additional expense. You need to consider the security of your data carefully together with the reliability of the service you choose.
Moving an Access Database to the Cloud
The method for moving your Access database into the cloud depends on the version of Access you are using. The cloud version of MS Office is MS Office 365, which you may already be using.
If you do not already have one, create an MS Office 365 account.
The services provided by MS Office 365 are hosted by MS SharePoint and you can publish your database to any SharePoint server that supports Access.
You can use Office 365 to provide a cloud location to store and operate your MS Access database. This is where the data and database objects will be stored in SQL Server or Microsoft Azure SQL. You will need to check that your version of Office 365 provides this feature—home versions do not cover it.
The ability to use a database stored in the cloud is particularly helpful when people are out of the office on a regular basis. For example, Howard, the CEO of Smart Wheelbarrows Inc., is often out of the office networking and marketing. With the business database accessible in the cloud, Howard can register a sale on the road and the customer’s order will be instantly processed. Also, if Howard wants to take a large order from a prospective customer while he is away from the office, he can access the database and predict how long it will take to process the order, based on the amount of supplies of materials in stock and the number of other orders currently in the system.
Access 2010 and Before
- Check that your database is compatible with SharePoint:
Select Save & Publish from the File menu.
Select the Publish to Access Services option in the Publish section of the menu that appears.
Click Run Compatibility Checker.
- If your database is compatible with SharePoint:
Select Save & Publish from the File menu.
- Select the Publish to Access Services option in the Publish section of the menu that appears. You will need:
The Server URL for your Office 365 site, which often takes the format http://yourname.sharepoint.com/teamsite .
A name for your site, such as mysite.
After verifying these settings, click the Publish to Access Services button to continue. The URL of your database will take the form: http://yourname.sharepoint.com/teamsite/mysite
Access 2013 and Later
For Access 2013 and later, you need to create an Access app. An Access app is a database that is used in a web browser and can be designed and edited in Access 2013 and later. With Access 2013 and later it may be easier to design your database in the cloud rather than design it on your desktop.
Open Access 2013 or later and click Custom Web App.
Enter a name and the server location for your app (you can also select a server location from the Locations list).
On the Add Tables page (the first thing you see when creating a new custom app), you can import data from various sources such as other Access databases, Excel, and SharePoint lists.
The cloud has the potential to provide many advantages for your small business. It can reduce start-up costs in terms of capital outlay, thus giving you the opportunity to compete with larger businesses. You can work flexibly due to the access to your data from a wider number of locations. Collaborating with colleagues is also straightforward. It is possible to publish your database to the cloud and take advantage of these benefits at the database level. As long as you are aware of your dependency on a good Internet connection and you are prepared to take responsibility for your role in your data’s security, the cloud will be invaluable to your small business.