Strategy and leadership are incredibly important for any business, but there is another pillar of successful business that becomes more important each and every day: technology. In particular, tech literacy is an important skill for leaders to have in order to be able to make the best choices for their business and team. Tech literacy is crucial for cyber security, which is increasingly being seen as a responsibility for all members of modern businesses.
When it comes to anything (computer) network related, you need a server. A server, essentially, is a device or program that communicates information to other computers. When, say, you want to watch something on Netflix, the movies and shows aren’t physically in your device—they aren’t saved anywhere in your “possession,” per se. Instead, your device requests the information from the Netflix servers, and so you can access your favorite movies and shows without having the data actually “physically” in your house. If those servers go offline for whatever reason, however, you can’t access the content. We’ve all been there.
All that said, not all servers are built the same. There is an important distinction to make between two different kinds of servers and their respective security strengths and risks: on-premise and cloud. Let’s take a look at both of these.
On-premise are the traditional kind of servers, and you’re likely to find on-premise servers at some scale at any long-standing company or business. Whether you’ve been in a server room yourself or not, you probably already have an idea of what they look like. Here’s Google’s data center from several years ago (although most business will only have a room of these machines at most).
For a business will fully on-premise servers, essentially, the server room will hold every last bit of data or software that the business has or needs. As far as the cyber-security question goes, this data will almost certainly contain sensitive and private information about the business and employees, as well as sensitive and private information about clients and others. A fundamental understanding between the client and the business is that this information will be kept safe and secure.
Probably the biggest benefit to having on-premise servers is that your information isn’t necessarily tied to an internet connection. If internet isn’t available for whatever reason, you can more or less continue with business as usual. Another benefit is that security is entirely in your hands. That being said, managing security and maintaining the hardware in general are not trivial tasks. Unless your business specifically focuses on server installation and maintenance, then you’ll have to have either an IT team on-staff or on-call for both installation and long-term maintenance, which means a hefty cost upfront and on-going costs down the line.
A false flag of security with on-premise servers is important to point out, as well. Technically, a fully offline server would be practically impossible to hack without physically being in the server room, but most on-premise servers aren’t fully offline. If you can so much as send emails on the same network, you’re vulnerable to attacks that have caused some of the most notorious security breaches.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have cloud-based servers. Businesses opting for cloud-based essentially outsource all of the responsibilities that come with server management. By working with a cloud-server service provider, there is no need for a physical on-site server room and, by extension, no initial hefty cost of hardware installation nor a need for on-going IT maintenance. Usually, cloud services charge a monthly or otherwise regular fee. This is still an expense to consider, of course.
Another benefit of cloud-based servers is the flexibility. With a fully on-premise server system, things like accessing data while off-site or relocating the business can be incredibly difficult if not impossible. Especially for relocation, a business with on-premise servers would essentially have to interrupt any tasks while the hardware is able to be transferred, meanwhile cloud-based servers would allow businesses to continue accessing their data and software regardless.
The main disadvantage that comes with cloud-based servers is the lack of control your business ultimately has. By outsourcing the responsibilities of running and maintaining the service, you’re more or less forced to work with what the service provider has to offer. Entrusting a third party with your clients’ and employees’ private data might be more efficient and even more secure, but that doesn’t shield you from the consequences of another company getting breached. Another issue that arises is that different service providers don’t necessarily have to be using inter-compatible platforms. If you decide to switch to a different provider, perhaps due to security concerns, there is the chance that the transfer will be a painful process if the data isn’t easily transferable.
Both systems clearly have advantages over the other and, fortunately, businesses can take advantage of all of these strengths together. While the exact “correct” server solution will be different for each and every business and their corresponding needs, a hybrid approach to servers is both possible and common. Relatively new businesses might be making this choice from scratch, but businesses that have been around will likely already have on-premise servers to some extent. Instead of having to throw out that expensive hardware, these businesses can bring in hybrid solutions that take all of the good of cloud-based while still taking advantage of their physical hardware.
One hybrid solution, for example, can keep more critical data secure on the on-premise server, just in case access is limited or vulnerable on the cloud server for whatever reason. This slightly increased control over your own data is a strength that might not be possible with a fully online solution. Flexibility is also increased, as data that needs to be accessed off-site can be kept on the cloud, and the cloud can be leveraged to off-set the time lost during a relocation, etc.
As far as cyber-security goes, however, it ultimately comes down to the weakest link. Hackers need to find a way in, and as long as our usual encryption methods remain robust, this can often come down to exploiting human errors. We might click a bad link, share a password with the wrong person, or have a trivial password in the first place—if any weaknesses like these are present, the robustness of your on-premise or online security doesn’t really matter. That’s why, now and always, the most important part of strengthening your cyber-security is training everybody on the team to be sufficiently tech-savvy, and to recognize the weaknesses they might be introducing to the business’ line of defense.
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