There’s been a lot of buzz around cloud computing lately. But what exactly does being “in the cloud” mean? And how is going to affect the way business is done? The short answer: there are no easy answers.
What’s in a name? That which we call a cloud…
While there are many buzz words floating around this topic–virtualization, multi-tenancy, “XXX-as-a-Service” (Software, Infrastructure, Platform)–the basic idea of moving to a cloud-based architecture involves transferring business processes from on-premise implementations to online solutions.
Just as there are many different shapes and sizes of clouds in the sky, there are equally diverse methods for using online business solutions. In order to effectively understand your place in the sky, you must separate the myth and hype of cloud computing from the true impact online business solutions will have.
Provides Shade (from Risk)
Online business solutions may be the right answer for customers aren’t comfortable maintaining their own servers, because of security risks, cost risks, or investment risks. In traditional, on-premise configurations, customers assume the risk of mis-configurations, hardware and infrastructure malfunctions.
Moving forward, organizations are going to increasingly rely on trusted partners for the technical expertise to maintain their data infrastructures and system implementations, either on-premise or online. With the availability of various cloud services, even the most robust and complicated solution implementations can be completed in a much shorter time and with very little, if any, required investment in hardware assets by the customer.
Sometimes Clouds Rain
Even the best laid plans can sometimes meet with the unforeseen. Servers go down. Sometimes there are outages. What do you do when things go dark?
When your electricity at home goes out, the repercussions are not limited to the inconvenience of having to fumble around for a flash light. If the power stays out long enough, all the food in your freezer spoils, costing you money.
The same is true of data and systems in the cloud. Outages are not only inconvenient, but they may also incur lost revenue and other costs. When considering cloud options, be sure you understand risk of potential downtime and have plans for mitigation.
Security vs. privacy
Of course, there are security considerations when using online solutions. Cloud services are typically accessed via the internet. The server on which the document or software is hosted may be public, accessible to anyone; or it may be hosted in a private cloud, a remote server to which only you have access. Services may be hosted on physical hardware with many other clients’ data, or hardware may be dedicated to a single client.
In general, all clouds are secure as long as you partner with a reputable vendor. Your compliance requirements and available budget will affect what kind of “cloud” (public vs. private, virtualized vs. dedicated) is best for your needs. If you have specific PCI or HIPAA implications, you may need to secure your cloud more privately (at a higher cost) than those who do not have such stringent privacy considerations.
Access: When There’s Not a Cloud in the Sky
Universal access to the cloud is not guaranteed. You have to have a reliable internet connection. As any business traveler who has been frustrated by wifi access (or lack thereof) in a coffee shop, an airport, or a remote rural area, getting online to access services can sometimes be challenging. In these situations, a locally-installed solution, one that does not rely on internet access may be preferable.
Another significant trend in online services involves the rise of mobile access. Particularly in rural communities, which do not have the infrastructure to for electricity, telephone or wired network access, wireless devices (such as laptops and smart phones) can provide access to critical online solutions in the cloud. By hosting documents and software services with an online solution, field staff can be enabled to work in systems without needing to rely on having a place to “plug in.”
While there is a lot of hype around cloud services, one of the most tangible benefits to using online business solutions is the ability of software and service companies to provide continuous innovation to their customers. Rather than disruptive upgrades, which must be implemented by a systems expert, online solutions can be updated seamlessly by solution provides. The demonstrable value of having enhancements available automatically is a feature that makes online cloud solutions an attractive option for many organizations.