What is cloud storage?
'The cloud' refers to a network of servers accessible via the internet. Cloud storage is the service that allows clients to save and access their digital documents on these servers. Cloud storage services are provided by large, sophisticated global companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google and, in our case, with the largest marketshare, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
How can we use cloud storage through UnitiBase?
Documents can be created (e.g. a photograph or PDF) or scanned from paper, linked to a record, and stored 'in the cloud'. Once in the cloud documents are more accessible and can be shared. They can be accessed by field staff, staff at home, and by members themselves (if allowed) as well as by office-based staff. Documents are linked to member and project records in UnitiBase, and can be previewed and downloaded from the relevant UnitiBase screen.
Can we get our documents back from cloud storage?
Yes. If you ever decide not to continue with cloud storage through UnitiBase then all documents can be retrieved. They can be supplied on a disk, for example, or can be transferred to another AWS cloud storage account. Unions may also choose to set up and manage their own independent AWS account from the outset, and have their UnitiBase installation link to their account.
Will our documents be accessible?
The provider we use, Amazon Web Services, is one of the largest global providers of cloud storage (https://aws.amazon.com). We consider that their resources, infrastructure and business practices make data loss and access problems unlikely - in our judgement less likely than the failure of local network storage, for example.
Will our documents be secure?
Anyone with the link to a document that is stored 'in the cloud' from UnitiBase can open that document. They do not have to be logged in to UnitiBase to open it. However for an unauthorised user to have the link to a particular document, they would need to have been deliberately sent that link just as, today, and with any system, a document could be scanned or copied and sent outside the union. To locate a particular document, or to see documents related to a particular member or project, a user needs to be logged in to UnitiBase or a related mobile app. Is this secure enough? Given the non-sensitive, transactional nature of the documents that unions would store we think that the level of security is appropriate. We recommend that highly confidential documents not be stored in the membership system at all and that credit card details be obscured on any document, however and wherever it is stored.
Are there limits to how much we can store using the service?
There are limits to both the amount of storage and the bandwidth (data transferred via upload and download) but these limits are very high and unlikely to ever be exceeded in normal use.
How should we approach this decision?
We recommend that clients first investigate and consider whether cloud storage is a service appropriate for them, without regard to UnitiBase. If so, then clients should consider whether its use from within UnitiBase brings additional advantages.