I don’t know about you, but the whole “cloud” thing is starting to get a little old. I feel like we’re in the 1980s again, when all you had to do was slap “2000″ on anything and it was instantly cool. Don’t believe me? Would you rather have Windows or Windows “2000″. The next fad came with the lowercase “i” on everything. iPods needed iSpeakers and iTunes etc… Now, we have “cloud”. If you want to instantly make your business sound legitimate, just add some kind of “cloud” service to the title and you’ll garner instant fame, at least that’s what some seem to think it will do. Don’t get me wrong, cloud computing is serious business, but as cool as it sounds to have your business “in the cloud”, where are you going to be when it all comes crashing down?
Cloud Computing’s Appeal
Some of you may be wondering what the “cloud” actually is. Isn’t a cloud a white puffy thing that floats in the earth’s atmosphere? Believe it or not, that’s the second result you’ll get if you search for “cloud” on Google. In very simple terms, the cloud is a service that is delivered to you via the internet. If you look below, you will see a representation of a laptop at the bottom of the picture. The laptop connects to the internet via it’s Internet Service Provider, which could be DSL, 4G, cable etc… The internet is represented with a cloud. The reason for this is because once you get past the physical boundaries of your home or work-space, the route that your computer’s data takes is very complex. You have probably been using cloud services for years and didn’t even realize that’s what it was called. For instance, if you use Hotmail or Gmail for your email service, then you are using software as a service. It is provided to you via the internet, rather than something being stored on your computer.
There are many things to like about cloud computing. Probably its greatest appeal is how easy it is to access your information. For instance, one of my favorite applications is Dropbox. I can create a grocery list on my laptop at home and save it to my Dropbox folder. When I go to the grocery, I use the Dropbox app to open the grocery list and do my shopping right from my phone. From a business standpoint, there are a lot of great advantages to using cloud services too. For instance, I work in the construction industry and we deal with blueprint designs all of the time. Most blueprints are designed using a program called AutoCAD and the files it creates are usually enormous in size. Even if you convert them to PDF format, the drawings are usually still to large to transfer via email. Using a service like Dropbox allows our project managers to share these files with field personnel, which saves the cost of printing the files and putting them in a truck and driving them to a job site.
Another advantage of using cloud based solutions for business is it can save employee costs. I am the only IT person in our company. Our company’s focus isn’t IT, so it makes sense that they don’t have a huge IT department running things. We do however, use a lot of computer services. One way we get around having to employ a big IT staff is to use cloud based services. For instance, we use Cisco IP phones on our desks but all of the head end equipment is hosted with another company. This works really well for us because I don’t have to worry about Cisco licenses, updates to equipment, carrier issues, and all the other things that come along with owning your own phone system. If we brought the phone system in house, we would need to get additional help to manage it. The key to a system like this working though is having a company that you trust managing things on the other end. If I didn’t have the comfort level that I do now with the phone company, we wouldn’t be using them anymore.
Who Do You Trust?
This is probably the hardest question to answer if you are a business owner. If you are considering moving your services to the cloud, you better ask this question to yourself and think long and hard about it. Here are some questions I think you should ask yourself before moving any part of your business, or personal information for that matter, to the cloud.
- Does “XYZ Cloud Service Provider” have the motivation to provide me with outstanding service?
- If I run into problems, does “XYZ Cloud Service Provider” have a person that I can call and are they equipped to solve my problem immediately?
- Does “XYZ Cloud Service Provider” protect my data from others and do they have controls in place that keeps their own employees from looking at my data?
- Is “XYZ Cloud Service Provider” an ethical company in other areas that I know of?
That last question, listed above, is biggie in my book. A lot of these big shots in the industry are trying to convince businesses large and small to hand over their most crucial data, their customer lists, their critical applications, but the big question that needs to be answered is would you hand this data over to a thief? I know this sounds a little extreme, but have you looked at the news lately? Just do a search “patent lawsuit Microsoft”, or “patent lawsuit Android”, or “patent lawsuit Apple” etc… It is sad to say there will be many who read this article and just write all of this off as the new way to do business. These big players are constantly stealing from each other. Where do ethics fit into the puzzle here. If you house sensitive data about your customers and employees, are you sure that “XYZ Cloud Service Provider” has your best interest at heart? More than likely, you’re not as big as “XYZ Cloud Service Provider”, so what do you do when they breach their contract, or if they fail to protect your data? Are you big enough to afford the legal battle that will ensue if you take on these big players? What impact will it have on your business if the data you host or the services you use with these companies gets compromised or lost?
Another thing you need to consider is if you plan on cutting staff by going to cloud based services, will you get the same level of service as you do from current employees. For instance, if a web hosted word processing program has glitches or stops working, are you willing to wait hours for a response? How about days? You’ll have a hard time convincing me that these companies will be more responsive to you than your current employees however, they may be more competent. I guess the big point here is that using cloud services shouldn’t be taken lightly and I believe we have only scratched the surface of the problems to come using these services. Don’t take these decisions lightly and make sure that you are dealing with a company that you trust. Hopefully, with some good research and planning, you won’t be the one running around someday yelling, “THE SKY IS FALLING, THE SKY IS FALLING!”.