Migrating to the cloud is all the rage in today’s society, but is it wise for your company to make the leap? Before moving to any cloud solution it is important to remember that the term “cloud” is just a marketing term which has no solid meaning anywhere in the information technology industry. At its foundation, the cloud can be defined as a computing power being scalable on the fly such that customers do not have to pay for unnecessary resources. The more practical example of this is online business services such as: Salesforce, QuickBooks Online, Google Apps, and Microsoft Office 365, along with many other products which give small business owners the option to license enterprise level software at reasonable per-user rates so they do not have to pay for a full server nor even have to worry about handling the maintenance.
As cloud technology literally spans virtually every vertical imaginable in information technology, for the sake of simplicity and practicality this article primarily focuses on the pitfalls of using cloud based business services. The other key cloud verticals are cloud servers & hosting, however as they involve a bit more technical detail, that topic requires a separate piece.
To the end-user of cloud platforms and systems, regardless of the vendor or software, all packages typically harp on the following key characteristics: only having to pay for the services you need, the ability to access your data from any internet connected device (especially mobile devices and tablets), affordable and simplified licensing for small businesses, no need for additional hardware and infrastructure, and also that the vendor often handles all maintenance of the software.
All these benefits sound great, and are great features for many business owners, but as with everything else in life, there’s a catch. With cloud services, the catch is simple – in exchange for convenience, you significantly increase the risk exposure of your company by placing significant trust into systems which you have no control over – period.
Although there are many pitfalls to using cloud technologies, below are some of the most common pitfalls:
- Data Security: While many companies claim to have bank grade security and secure systems, the truth is that no computer is fully impenetrable and that when it comes to servers, the question is not “if the server will be hacked” but “when the server will be hacked.” Before you start using an online service, it is important to stop and ask “if this data gets stolen, how devastating will it be for my company?” In many cases using online services serves a valuable purpose, but it is always a must to evaluate the necessity of what is offline only, and what can be safely stored online.
- Vendor Lock In: Although you might be content with using a specific cloud service for a significant period of time, it is important to always ensure that if things go south with the provider, you have a fallback plan to keep your business functioning. This point spans much deeper than having alternate vendors in mind; it requires you to ensure that with any service provider, you have an export option for all your data because with some companies data is stored in proprietary formats meaning that unless you have access to their software you cannot view your data.
- Reliability Issues: Although today many datacenters have very sophisticated systems to ensure 100% uptime, the truth is that no system is safe from failure no matter how sophisticated the technology. For example, during 2011 the Amazon.com cloud server platform (Amazon EC2) had significant downtime, bringing down major sites like Foursquare, Reddit, and Quora. In the case of the outages, the servers were brought down due to human error.While outages of this scale are not common, it still is a risk locally installed software does not have, and as such is a significant consideration to keep in mind with online services. Additionally, considering how data can also be erased due to failures, when using cloud services, having your own backup system is important to ensure the integrity of your data if something goes wrong.
- Connectivity: Last but not least, for the most part when using cloud services you must be at an internet connected computer. While some products on the market offer offline syncing or desktop/online hybrids of their products – overall when adopting a cloud product it is important to evaluate how often you are connected to the internet and whether you ever go significant periods without a connection. Additionally if the data you’re working with is something you can’t go without for even a minute – then using an online only service is probably not the best option.
So, if you are considering moving to the cloud, make sure that you are aware of all of the advantages and disadvantages that exist so that you can ensure that your company will be safe, secure and remain operational.