There’s been a lot of talk recently about how the cloud will revolutionise business computing. But how is cloud computing different to what you’re doing now, and what’s the benefit?
Where’s my data?
In the traditional model your files are somewhere you have control of them – on your computer, your own server, flash drives or external hard disks. While there’s some comfort in knowing you have absolute control, most of us understand that sometimes events outside of our control can lead to lost data.
The cloud, intangible as it is, is not subject to the same “acts of God” that our own equipment is.
Being so intangible, it is difficult to make a blanket statement about whether it’s better or worse than your local solutions, as individual services differ greatly. However, it provides alternatives – and using a combination of on-site and off-site storage gives you redundancy.
Hosted services, although sometimes thrown under the cloud umbrella, are subtly different, in that the services are being delivered from a fixed set of locations. (Things like hosted email and MYOB’s Approved Hosting program are delivered in this way). If you’re looking to move your business data off-site, a hosted arrangement can be a happy medium between the tight control of on-site storage and the untethered freedom of your data moving through the cloud.
Data loss is a catastrophic disaster for business, and while it can happen to your locally stored data despite the best love and attention, you want to put your off-site data in hands that will care about it as much as you do.
The professionals may have the knowledge and tools to do the job better, but it’s a big step to trust somebody else with your data. The first sign that you’re not looking at the right provider is a sales pitch that doesn’t address that fact.
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Anytime, anywhere access is a huge bonus if you keep a soloist’s schedule. Making your on-site solutions available outside your office is possible, but requires time and knowledge that you may not have. Hosted and cloud options are much more flexible, and may include ongoing support to get you connected and working.
A soloist I have worked with for many years uses his laptop to connect to all of his programs and data via hosted services. More than a couple of his laptops haven’t survived his frequent international travel, leaving him overseas with a broken computer. After buying a replacement notebook, he can log into his email, grab all his access details, and start entering invoices as though nothing had happened.
Safety and security
If your computer is turned off, nobody has access to your data until it’s turned back on again, and with anti-virus protection, a standard modem and regular security updates for your operating system, you can expect your on-site data to be reasonably safe. If you add to the openings in a network, for example by allowing remote access and enabling wireless, you create additional points of weakness.
Cloud computing services need to have a lot of additional security that you don’t have on your local network, because delivering unlimited access means opening up a lot of holes that need to be controlled to keep your data safe.
Regardless of all the security, secure socket layers (SSL), 256-bit encryption and virtual private networks are not going to stop somebody guessing a weak password, so make sure yours is a tough one to crack.
The best way to decide if cloud computing services are for you is to hear from other people who’ve used them, so please share your questions and experiences below.