Last week I was invited to moderated the NY IT SMB User Meet Up Group, led by Mor Sela of ProCompare.com.
The group of about 15 IT professionals had a wide ranging discussion of what cloud computing is (there is NOT only one definition), what are the benefits and what are the risks. What was interesting about this group is that we were not a bunch of professionals clueless to technology, but we (well they) were all technology gurus, in one way or the other and came to learn from each other and discuss cloud computing. Panelists included:
- Matt Sarrel, Founder of Sarrel Group and contributing writer to PC Magazine, eWeek, TechWeb, Intelligent Enterprise, Information Week, and YRB Magazine.
- Brian Gupta, Principal at Brandorr Group. IT professional with 14 years of experience in a variety of roles, including: network engineering, system administration, storage administration, High availability deployments, IT management.
- Farhan “Frank” Mashraqi, Advisor, renowned speaker, strategist and enterprise product and scalability architect with a strong focus on advertising, monetizing, viral strategies, marketing (direct, email & search).
On a side note, TechCruch writes that Carbonite is suing one of its technology vendors for selling it faulty hardware, which resulted in a loss of data to 7,500 customers. Everything is apparently fine now, but this example and many others like it show the rare, but potential for loss when your data is in the cloud.
This issue of backing up cloud data came up during the Meet Up and the only way to really ensure your data is safe is to NOT fully trust your cloud computing vendor – be they a backup provider, online CRM company or, business intelligence service.
What you should do is discuss with the provider and your local IT consultant how to ensure that if the cloud vendor fails your data can be recovered as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
One option is to arrange for a local backup of all your data on a regular basis. This could occur before sending the data to the cloud or having the cloud vendor send you regular backups of your information. Of course the benefit of a cloud computer environment is that your data is “automatically backed up” as it resides in the cloud. How ironic.
Another thing I learned at the Meetup is that cloud computing has three different definitions.
There are the hosted applications that you access via a web browser. These include Salesforce.com, Netsuite, Quickbooksonline, Gmail, Zoho and thousands of other applications.
Then there is the cloud computing infrastructure wherein programmers can build entire applications, no need to use their own infrastructure, in the cloud.
The final definition cloud computing is infrastructure cloud computing wherein your entire infrastructure is hosted and served in the cloud. You don’t have to worry about buying servers, security or scalability – but all of this is managed by your cloud computing vendor.
For your small business, focus on the first definition. What tools, services and applications should you consider using to reduce the pain of a) installing software b) maintaining servers c) backing up data d) and upgrading software.
If your entire business, or a key part of your business is served by a cloud computing vendor it is absolutely critical that you at least consider contingency plans if something happens to the data they are hosting for you.
Read more about cloud computing at Wikipedia
During the middle of our discussion there was a rich discussion on the use of Google Apps for business. One of the panelists said, when considering a hosted application provider, think about why they are in business. Google, and they are probably alone in this, is all about harvesting data, attracting eyeballs and selling advertisements. Sure, they need to be concerned with privacy, support and other things, but their main focus is on what things I’ve just listed.
The panelist explained that Microsoft, on the other hand, no matter how evil it may be (his words, not mine) is about making money by delivering software for businesses and other markets. This is a fundamental difference in how the companies will server your needs.
I’m not sure if I agree with this entirely, but it sure leaves you something to think about.