by Jim Martin
Users of the cloud have typically reduced their storage costs by a third. As the car commercials say, “Your mileage might vary.” The cloud might not be the answer to your needs, but here are some thoughts to consider if you want to make that jump.
Security. Cloud security is heavily debated. Detractors point to two major issues: less control of your own data, and the idea that public clouds might be magnets for hackers. Consider this: cloud firms have really talented people you couldn’t afford on your own, nor do you have the budget to do aggressive and thorough penetration testing. You can also accomplish a lot through encryption. Many cloud providers encrypt your data. If you also encrypt it, you add an extra barrier to intrusion. Installation of an encryption system would be easy for your IT person.
Fear of hackers assumes someone can steal all the data in a cloud, rather than the small amount they can grab. If your data center is alone, you’re vulnerable to a targeted attack. If you’re one of many users in a cloud, you have safety in numbers. Still, you should be careful picking a cloud provider. Cloud security standards are still maturing. The only way to identify a secure public cloud is by doing your homework and by looking carefully at the reputation and track record of the providers you consider.
Compliance. Some markets, like healthcare and finance, have strict rules regarding data movement and storage. Most cloud providers cannot (or will not) guarantee transparency into where your data might be at any given moment. Many can’t even guarantee what state or country it is in. If your data must be kept in strict regulatory compliance, the public cloud may not be for you.
Commodity Clouds. Since there’s little difference between one vendor offering and another, cloud providers have begun to compete at one of three levels: price, service, and niche offerings. If your needs are standard and simple, the race to the bottom for pricing among the big cloud providers is going to help you. Before you consider going with the lowest bid, consider services. Moving data in and out of the cloud isn’t yet as easy as it needs to be. If you have serious compliance issues, you might want to consider a newer niche vendor who offers expertise and service levels that may allow you to stay in compliance while seeing the benefit of the cloud.
Exit Strategy. It is extremely important to have an exit strategy for both your company and your data. Your data sits on someone else’s servers, in their building and network. They may have backed up your data multiple times. They want your business, and they don’t necessarily want to make it easy for you to go to another provider. Make sure you are in agreement about data ownership, how quickly data has to be transferred to a new location and how backups will be destroyed.
People. An easily overlooked element of a cloud strategy is that much of your long term savings will come from a shift of operating expenditures to your provider. You might feel that one such expense is your data center staff. You could lay off a bunch of people and look like a short-term hero with those savings. Your cloud goal shouldn’t be to get rid of people but rather to free them up to innovate. Keep as many of your staff as possible to help improve both morale and your bottom line.
The cloud offers huge benefits to the right businesses when used in the right way. The onus is on you to use it correctly. Start there and you can reap big benefits from the right use of the cloud.