There’s been quite a bit of a buzz about cloud computing and it seems to be the way of the future.
So what is the ‘cloud?’ It’s actually just a different expression for Internet access.
I can rent space in a data centre, store my files there and am able to access them over the Internet.
The data centre runs clusters of servers that act as super powerful machines. I have several choices to consider. I can choose just to use the cloud for storage, or I can also use Internet-based software programs.
I already use Google for my email simply because I can access it easily from anywhere and any of my staff can see my calendar.
There are some concerns with cloud computing, especially around the safety of the data. For example, should the service provider decide to close up shop or if there is some dispute between you and the service provider, will you still have access to your data?
Another issue is where will your data be stored. If the data centre is in the U.S., then your files could be subject to the U.S. Patriot Act.
In Canada, we have something similar called the Anti-Terrorism Act, but in Canada we also must adhere to the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
For more information check out the website www.priv.gc.ca.
Data centres have to adhere to standards developed by the Uptime Institute and are ranked into four levels. The higher the level, the better the data centre and the higher the cost.
There are three kinds of cloud computing. The Public Cloud is normally geared to the home user providing mail, file storage applications such as Google, Amazon and Office 365. The cost is low or even free.
The Private Cloud is where there are dedicated resources for you on the cloud and you can upload your own software to the cloud. This could be hosted by a public cloud provider separated by a firewall.
Finally, there is the Hybrid Cloud, which would be a combination of the two with a lower cost than the private cloud.
The advantages for businesses are the reduction in hardware costs as well as having access to the latest in hardware. Disaster recovery is also taken care of.
In most cases, you can start off small and then grow and if need be, downsize again. Software upgrades are automatic if you are using cloud based software.
There are many access points using many different devices. You can access your system from the office, from home and on the road and by your desktop, laptop, tablet and smart phone.
Just as there are advantages, there are also some disadvantages.
Accessibility could be a disadvantage if the device used to access the cloud was lost or stolen or hacked into. Changing providers would need cooperation and ownership and location of the data could become an issue. Perhaps your customized software will not run in a cloud environment.
Speed of access and reliability may also be issues depending on how the cloud was accessed and how many users were accessing the cloud at the same time.
You might want to consider the cloud if most of your employees work remotely or if you have multiple offices. Perhaps you are already using some web-based software (in which case you are already half way there).
If you feel that your data is critical and needs more redundancy, if your server warranty is expiring or you are just starting up and want to reduce your start up costs, perhaps you should consider the Cloud.
So how do you get started? Consult with your IT provider or do a Google search for a local provider. Then you need to assess your readiness by taking a look at the technologies that you use and whether they will work in the cloud.
You need to look at the potential business risks of having your data in the cloud and also at any security or compliance issues. You also need to develop a conversion plan and a cost budget.
You need to consider downtime in case a disaster hits the location of the data centre. How much will any downtime cost you and does the data centre have an alternate location so you can access your data?