One of the latest advances in technology, cloud computing is being used in a variety of applications, from personal storage to large corporation infrastructures. Already there are hundreds of cloud service providers, from startups to such heavy hitters as Microsoft and IBM.
While cloud platforms can offer a wealth of benefits for many types of companies, as with any new technology, there are also some drawbacks. If you're thinking about incorporating cloud computing into your business, you should first consider these potential pitfalls and learn how to mitigate or avoid them.
What is cloud computing?
The basic idea of cloud computing is using a third-party, Internet-based service for one or more applications, including storage, software, and even IT infrastructure. Cloud computing virtualizes many of the functions that typically use hard drives or physical servers.
For example, Office 365 is a cloud-based service from Microsoft that allows you to use Microsoft Office through an Internet connection, without purchasing a software license or installing the software on your computer. Instead, you pay a monthly subscription fee for full use of the Office suite through a browser.
There are also cloud storage solutions that allow you to access your files through any Internet connection, and cloud service providers that will host and maintain entire business networks, creating virtual, portable offices. Companies can migrate either partially or fully to the cloud to save time and money, utilizing a highly scalable network.
So, what are the possible cloud pitfalls?
Security in the cloud
Because cloud services are provided through the Internet, any data that travels over a cloud network is susceptible to viruses and hackers. Security has been the primary concern for cloud computing since the technology's inception, and like any Internet-based service, it will always carry some risk.
However, established vendors are aware of the potential for security breaches, typically employing the strongest and most sophisticated security measures available. After all, they will lose business if their reputation is damaged through multiple security breaches.
When considering potential cloud service providers, be sure to find out what levels of security they offer. In addition to online security, they should have backup systems in place in the event of data loss at the physical server location, such as theft or natural disaster.
Beware of cloud costs
Substantial cost savings in a number of areas, including hardware investments, software purchasing and upgrades, and overall IT expenses, are touted as one of the most attractive benefits to cloud computing. However, there are some cases where the savings may not be enough to justify switching to the cloud—or may even end up costing more.
With cloud-based software applications, you need to make sure the cloud version has the same features as the installed version. If there are features missing, are they important to you?
It's also essential to look closely at the pricing plans for any cloud service you're considering. While some applications offer a flat monthly fee, others are usage-based, and may contain a base charge for a certain level of usage. If you run a small business, you may not use the minimum you're charged for, which would negate the purpose of using cloud services.
The dangers of downtime
When you use cloud platforms or applications, your systems are dependent on a third party. This means that if their servers are down, yours are down. And unfortunately, server outages happen to even the most reliable of providers. In 2011, major cloud-based services that experienced outages included the PlayStation network, Amazon, Twitter, Google's Gmail, Netflix, and Intuit/QuickBooks.
If you rely on cloud computing for mission-critical applications, a provider outage could cause serious problems. It's always a good idea to have a backup system in place.
Watch for inflexibility
Some cloud service providers use proprietary formats for their services and applications. Make sure you're able to use the infrastructure you currently have in place in conjunction with the cloud platform. Additionally, verify that the service allows you to both add and subtract users as needed. Cloud services should be able to grow and change along with your business.
The bottom line: Research your options
Cloud computing can be beneficial, particularly to mid-sized and small businesses. Just make sure to read the fine print and understand what you're getting—and what you're not getting—before making the move to the cloud.
You may want to consider a small-scale test. Try one or two cloud applications before committing fully to the cloud, and make sure it’s the right decision for your business.
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