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Server farm

z80/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ever wondered where all your favourite online stores, websites and online files are kept? Yes, they're on computers, but not the laptops and desktops you and I use on a daily basis. Instead, specialized computer servers literally 'serve' the data (hence the name) via large internet connections, to millions of people. Most businesses simply can't run these servers out of their offices or homes – specialized buildings and equipment, staff and techniques are needed to keep online services up and running at all hours, and to keep all that data securely accessible.

While some companies prefer to operate the technology themselves, there are providers who handle all the aspects of building, managing and securing online services and data on behalf of their customers. These so-called Managed Services Providers (MSPs) do the heavy lifting, securely hosting applications at purpose-built data centers with specialized physical security, power, space, and networking equipment. Your business data is 'colocated' on their premises. Large technology-heavy companies may eventually build their own internal technology base, but growing businesses trying to focus on their own verticals are best served by working with such managed services providers. In this way, they can focus on their customers and products instead of trying to simultaneously master the technology on which they rely.

Here's a rundown of the top 10 business benefits of collocating your data with a managed services provider:

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1. Portability. Using a model where data is stored offsite in the cloud provides companies with the ability to easily access and move information whenever required. Without the cumbersome reality of physical files and reams of paper, it makes the transfer or movement of information simple. It also provides a platform that allows for more detailed analysis (e.g. Big Data) if required.

2. Disaster prevention. Recent extreme weather events such as ice storms and flooding have shown us that a sound, offsite locale for business-critical data is no longer an option. Knowing that customer information, company records, including financials, and similarly vital materials are in a secure and impermeable environment will allow businesses to continue without the threat of a disaster-related shutdown.

3. Easy framework for auditing. Collection of information for business audits is one of the more stressful events for small businesses. Using a colocation framework allows for seamless and immediate access to the required data, allowing for optimal compliance.

4. Growth. Simply put, Managed Service Providers (MSPs) allow you to focus on your core business tasks in a cost-effectively and reliably (because that's the core business of an MSP). In the case of SMBs and enterprises, this is nearly indisputable on a financial level (unless of course, you are a MSP or into building technology yourself).

5. Greater access and control. Balancing easy access to data and ensuring only the right eyes see that data is crucial. All SMBs find this a challenge, namely to obtain properly authorized access to information on short notice. Data collocation provides the ability to easily and quickly acquire specific data as well as control the flow of information depending on individual business needs.

6. Improved collaboration. Online file sharing is second nature to home users. It also has its place in business. A secure and centralized single point of access affords multiple users the added advantage of corporate collaboration without having to convene at single physical site. For small businesses that rely on virtual staff using telecommuting and similar models, this ability adds to overall productivity and reduced costs. Corporate data collaboration tools are specifically built for business-specific workflows and security needs.

7. Customized privacy framework. Depending on a company's locale, there will be specific legal frameworks and guidelines related to business and customer privacy, many of which are government controlled. For this reason alone, a collocation model allows businesses to select the infrastructure locations that best suit their requirements and customer promises in terms of oversight and privacy.

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8. Ease-of-use. The cloud-based aspect of data collocation allows companies to effortlessly connect disparate from other locations or databases. It also provides a simple platform to easily use other Software as a Service (SaaS) tools and makes everything modular.

9. Enforce workflow compliance. Instead of having to deal with multiple hard-copy files and the cost of storage space, centralized data systems help to enforce user-level compliance. Files can be controlled by version and user, while productivity software becomes available through a central access point. Process circumvention drops and productivity becomes measurable.

10. Predictably cost-effective. The annoyances of lost files and duplication of information slow down entire business workflows, affecting profitability. Time is money, and the amount of time allocated to search, recovery and cataloguing of data is considerable and understated. Managed Services models reduce the considerable costs of storage, upgrades, data recovery, converting big capital outlays and unpredictable maintenance costs in time and materials, into predictable monthly fees with clear expectations and guarantees.

Akshay Kalle is the chief technology officer at Pathway Communications, a Markham-based Managed Services Provider that offers a range of business-critical services to companies of all sizes.

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