Cloud computing, to put it concisely, enables users and organisations to store, retrieve, save and manipulate data and other resources on third-party servers and via the internet. Consider it analogous to the public electricity grid: Consumers pay for the service, without having to possess knowledge about the very complex infrastructure of how that electricity is delivered.
1. Cloud computing is especially beneficial to small businesses and organisations, taking a lot of the overhead and specialised computer knowledge of it—and letting another (trusted) party worry about aspects like the security, integrity, and availabitliy of the business’s data.
2. Without often costly and burdensome in-house servers, organisations can save substantially on costly items such as software upgrades and patches, hardware upgrades, and equipment maintenance.
3. Many cloud computing providers (‘hosts’) also provide sometimes-invaluable customer relations services, such as ‘pass through’ billing and even direct billing.
4. Most offer virtually unlimited scalability (the potential for business to grow), support VLANs (virtual local area networks), VPN, and comprehensive “dashboard” controls for immediate access to resources and data.
1. Cloud customers inevitably have little or no control over the physical equipment their data is hosted on. For instance, in the event of a power outage at a data center (the location where data is physically stored), the client and his/her data is at the mercy of the hosting company AND its ability (or lack of, therein) to quickly restore operations.
2. If history is any indicator, performance (chiefly, the access time for clients or website users) may suffer if the business grows too rapidly and exceeds the capabilities of the hosting company’s servers—granted that there are usually hundreds or even thousands of other clients/sites that are running on the same servers and competing for the same bandwidth.
3. Very sensitive data—like trade secrets and information that’s controlled with regulations, such as HIPAA and PCI—is still one of the biggest concerns among organizations that host large volumes of highly confidential information. However, cloud security, like technology itself, is rapidly advancing.
The latter issue is surmountable with due diligence in looking for a cloud host, though. Industry experts say that it’s vital to choose one that is well-established, has a substantial, satisfied customer base, and offers local, automated backup services. Also, choose one that has a clearly-stated DRP (disaster recovery plan) and own their own servers (some hosts share servers with other organizations, sometimes creating conflicts of interest) on their premises.
Equally important is establishing an SLA (service level agreement) with the host. An SLA bounds the service provider to guarantee such things (all in writing) as a minimum, guaranteed speed (e.g. T1, T3, 4xT-1, and so forth), maximum response time to outages, pricing, and comprehensive rights-statement.