Accessing applications and processing power aren’t the only ways small businesses can take advantage of cloud computing. Storing data in the cloud is a way to slash costs and respond to growing customer demands.

But before small businesses take the leap into the cloud for data storage, it pays to do a little homework about the available service providers.  After all, for many small businesses, the permanent loss of data could mean the end to their business. According to a report by the U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry and PricewaterhouseCoopers, some 70% of small businesses that have a major data loss go out of business within a year.

In essence, cloud computing means applications, processing power and data storage is accessed over the Internet. With it, the business owner doesn’t have to spend money on servers, storage systems and applications.

Cloud computing is popular among large enterprises, but small business owners are wary about handing over their data and applications to a cloud provider, partly over security concerns. Since cloud computing is much cheaper than having hardware and software at the business’ physical location, many industry watchers predict cloud computing will be a mainstay in the future and something small business owners will need to embrace to stay competitive.

“If your competition leverages cloud computing and you don’t you are going to fail,” said Jim Kaskade, chief of cloud at data protection company SIOS Technology.

While small business owners may be more willing to access applications in the cloud, they may balk at storing mission-critical data on the Internet over concerns the data can be breached and  not easily accessible. Industry experts say those concerns are unwarranted, especially if the small business goes with a reputable service provider like Amazon (AMZN) or Rackspace.

“Like with any business, you get what you pay for,” said Kaskade. While an unknown provider may be cheaper,  going with a leader in the industry could cost more, but will give the  business the benefits the larger customers are getting, he said.  And since cloud computing will cut computing costs greatly, the small business will still be saving money even if its paying more of a premium for the services of an industry leader. 

Take Amazon and its cloud data storage service for one example:  According to Kaskade its storage data service meets all the requirements for SOX and HIPPA and gives small businesses the same level of certification and accreditation that large financial customer gets.  What’s more, Kaskade said, to get into Amazon’s physical data centers you’ll have to go through an extensive background check with security at a military grade level.  Since the data is stored at multiple locations, small businesses get added protection. 

In addition to security, storing data in the cloud gives small businesses flexibility because they can access their data anywhere at any time.

RackSpace’s service, for example, lets small businesses store, share and automatically back up files and makes the data accessible from any desktop via a secure Web-based interface. Lost files can also be quickly restored, which could save a company a ton of money if key data is inadvertently deleted from the computer.

While the industry leaders will give a small business peace of mind, if saving money is paramount, then there are a slew of lesser known companies on the market. Kaskade said the small business owner should test them out with less critical applications or data before moving all of the data to that company. After all the small business has to ensure the company is up to the task and will be around in a year or two.

“There are plenty of brands that have established credibility,” said Kaskade. “You won’t have to search for them.”