Why does it seem like everybody is moving to the cloud?
If you’ve ever used hosted e-mail services like Hotmail or Gmail, you’ve experienced the benefits of cloud computing. You can access your e-mail from anywhere there’s an Internet connection, you can even access it with your cell phone. It’s available 24-7 anywhere in the world. And if the cloud provider is handling your data, you do not need to worry about backing up your data because it is their responsibility.
Wouldn’t it be great if all your apps were in the cloud? Let’s think about this further. It could be, but before you go putting all of your eggs in one basket, let’s look at this from a strategic point of view.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud-based application service providers deliver Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the application software resides on the Internet on the cloud service provider’s equipment. Subscribers to the service are in a multi-tenant environment, with all users on the same system in unique partitions keeping their individual data separate from each other.
These applications are usually provided on a monthly service fee subscription model. Depending on the applications, the specific user-configurations, and the time frames being considered, cloud services can be cheaper than buying your own software licenses and owning your own equipment when the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is taken into account.
Any Sufficiently Complex System Will Have Problems – Cloud Computing is No Different
But cloud service providers are not without challenges and vulnerabilities. For instance, what happens when your Internet connection goes down, or when you can’t access the Internet? Or what do you do if the cloud service provider goes down? The cloud is not bulletproof – you need to evaluate your business needs and business risks.
As fast as the net is getting, we don’t yet have 10Gbit/sec connections to the Internet – 100Mbit/sec is the practical maximum for small and mid-sized businesses with 10Mbit/sec being the norm and often these connections are asymmetric i.e. you can’t upload as quickly as you can download. It’s just not practical to wait from minutes to hours every time you need to read and write to a multi-GB file. So the cloud is not practical for data intensive businesses like engineers, architects, graphic designers, or video producers. These sorts of businesses need to have their data stored locally with a robust backup plan in place.
Cloud Failure – What Happens When It Goes Down?
Business owners and stakeholders have to think about what a service outage would look like to their business, and the impacts it could have on their operations. Would you still be able to function in the event of your cloud service provider goes down, or if they were to go out of business? When you go to the cloud, you are completely dependent on circumstances beyond your control.
Even with your own premises-based equipment, you are still dependent on equipment manufacturers and whoever is supplying your IT support. But you have much more control – if you don’t like your IT services provider, for instance, you can simply hire a different one. It may not be so easy to switch cloud service providers (if there’s another one available to turn to).
Update: Last week, two of the world’s largest cloud services, namely Gmail from Google and iCloud Mail from Apple were down for selected users around the world for an entire day. Granted, it is difficult to gauge what it feels like to have an outage until someone experiences it. Comments from iCloud and Gmail users, who were affected, perhaps, tell a better story. iCloud comments are here, while Gmail comments are here. You are the best judge to determine whether you can afford to be down for a few hours or a whole day.
Where Is Your Data in the Cloud?
You also have less control over where your data is stored and who may have access to it. You cannot count on it being stored locally, even with a locally based cloud provider. It may be sitting on servers in other jurisdictions where there are different laws and standards of data privacy (e.g. the data sitting on servers physically located in the USA is subject to the terms of the Patriot Act, exactly as they are applied to all American citizens).
Build your own Private Cloud
In certain cases, shortcomings can be resolved by building your own version of the cloud. You simply move your own existing server to a local data centre with reliable power, solid Internet access, and airtight security, where you rent rack space as a tenant. You get to continue using all the apps you are already using, not just those available in the cloud marketplace (many of them with limited functionality). And these are the existing apps your staff already know and love, so there is no productivity-eating new learning curve for them to climb. Also, in certain cases, you may gain the same benefits of web-based accessibility, but on your terms.
Stay in Business Even When Your Server Crashes
Creating your private cloud could also be an investment in your business continuity and disaster recovery strategies (see this earlier Business Insider Tech Tip “What’s the Difference between Backup, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery?”
The added cost of redundant systems could be justified by a business cost analysis showing the dollar-value of lost business/lost opportunity while your systems are down. Imagine, for instance, the cost to a law firm when 30 lawyers are sitting on their hands with unbillable hours while the company e-mail is down. The lost revenue can be crippling if downtime occurs regularly.
Get the Help You Need Figuring Out the Cloud
When it comes to cloud computing, like every other major IT decision, an organization needs to evaluate its business needs and build a meaningful business case.
Technology is nothing more than a catalyst, enabling leverage that makes an organization’s people, and thus the business, more efficient.
Business owners focused on growing their business can often benefit from having outside help to advise on IT options, thereby, allowing for more thoughtful, proactive and strategic business decisions that fit and benefit their specific situation.
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