In the 2014 comedy, “Sex Tape,” the two main characters played by Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz lament about having inadvertently uploaded a personal video to the cloud. Segel's character gives the line, “Nobody understands the cloud, it's a mystery!”

There are many misconceptions about cloud computing, and recent headline-grabbing items about data breaches at major businesses add to the concerns.

But studies show that cloud adoption is growing. Gartner predicts that by 2015, the market for cloud services could reach $180 billion, continuing the steadily increasing trend leading to about $235 billion by 2017.

Cloud computing is divided into two specific services: storage and applications. What cloud storage represents is pretty obvious; it's like keeping your money in a bank rather than in your mattress.

As for cloud-based applications, it reduces or eliminates the need to have dedicated staff responsible for tech support. If an application is updated in the cloud, you just discover it when you next access your software. If you have it loaded on your systems, someone has to go through the process of performing the updates on every system; additional work that is not within your agency's wheelhouse.

As a small business owner, I use both cloud storage and applications. I have a 2TB Dropbox account where all of my business files are stored with some additional ones for personal use. I use this service for the very reason that I can access it anywhere, at any time, from any device.

Accessing documents through the Dropbox app I have on my iPad is simple and quick. Any changes I make are automatically uploaded and reflected in the document I open on my desktop back in my office.

I also use Microsoft Office 365 on my iPad and, although it has its own storage cloud (Microsoft OneDrive), Office 365 integrates with Dropbox to allow me to stay with my familiar workflow.

For a small monthly access fee, Adobe Creative Cloud gives access to a huge suite of design tools, and I know the applications will always be current. This is far less expensive than buying each piece of software that I might use at some point. Five years ago, before Adobe CC was around, I bought Adobe InDesign for about $700. When I registered for its cloud service, it took me two years before I spent the same amount, but I had used six different tools that would have cost several thousands of dollars à la carte.

There's no question in my mind that using cloud-based storage and applications makes a lot of sense. But for agents, mindful of the unique nature and sensitivity of some of the data you manage, choosing the service that's right for your business is very important.

When you're searching for the right service there are four key concerns you need to investigate before making any decision:

  1. Security

What are the security measures taken by the company under consideration? After all, cloud storage is having your data on a server located somewhere else. Where those servers are housed, what security protocols are used (anti-virus software, data encryption, firewalls and routine security audits) and what type of back-up plan is in place are key questions to ask.

  • Service level agreement

  • What will the provider do for you if an unfortunate event occurs? If your operations are interrupted due to a server failure or natural disaster at the provider's location, assure that the proper attention and priority will be placed on your needs. Also, what is the guaranteed up time (typically you want to look for at least a 99% up time). You can't have the provider's issues impacting your operations.

  • Tech support

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