Corporate Cloud Computing: Is it Worth the Money and the Risks?
Most people use cloud computing in different ways, but rarely give it much thought. On smartphones they listen to music that is stored "in the cloud," and on tablets they read books and magazines that are also stored there. If they use Gmail or Hotmail, they're using a cloud-based email system. One reason most users give the cloud so little thought is that these cloud services work well and are free of charge.
Most business users, however, give the cloud serious thought because they use it for professional purposes, and, crucially, they pay a lot to do so. Companies use cloud computing for three principal purposes: data storage, security backup and disaster recovery, and online applications. Let's examine each, and then look at the risks.
Simple storage, security backup and disaster recovery
Most small and medium sized companies have at least one on-site backup copy of their current "active" data - the "live" data they continually access. For additional safety, many of those companies now also backup that data to the cloud; in the past, they would merely have held an extra backup copy on their premises.
The amount of digital data generated by most businesses is growing very quickly as many businesses adopt additional IT solutions to reduce staff costs and increase efficiency. Because of this growth in data, senior management has become increasingly aware of the need for data security and disaster recovery in addition to just storage. They realize that the cloud is a more flexible, cheaper, and safer solution to all those issues because the on-site alternative requires the purchase of new equipment and the recruitment of extra IT staff.
Apart from using the cloud for data storage and disaster recovery, many companies reduce costs by also outsourcing many of their critical computer applications to the cloud. This shift fundamentally changes the business's operational ecosystem - no longer must it purchase expensive hardware or software, ensure it is constantly updated, employ expert staff to support and maintain it, and accommodate the staff and the equipment. The cloud company hosts and maintains the application software and stores all data. The client company accesses the applications usually via a relatively inexpensive client-side interface or a standard web browser; the cloud company looks after everything else. This kind of infrastructure is called SaaS (software as a service) and it enables the client company to concentrate more on its core activities.
Companies that use the cloud extensively make the biggest savings because they can more accurately predict and control their IT costs and easily adjust their usage according to changing needs. The cloud also helps cash flow because the revenue authorities treat cloud costs as day-to-day business expenses. As a result, companies can write off those costs against the current year's tax.
Surprisingly, smaller businesses have adopted cloud computing faster than larger ones. The reasons are twofold. First, big companies have more cumbersome structures and are generally slower to change in most areas of operation. Second, many are in industries that must have the highest level of secrecy and security, like banking and insurance. Such businesses prefer to keep all their highly sensitive information in house.
There is little doubt that cloud computing offers considerable advantages to most businesses, and that an increasing number will become users as time goes by.
Most potential users, however, have worries about moving to the cloud, and virtually all of them ask the same two questions: Can we be certain that highly confidential data is completely secure? Can we be guaranteed uninterrupted and unrestricted access to our data and applications whenever we want it? These two questions are important, but a positive answer to either is impossible because there will always be doubts. Potential users should, however, bear in mind that data stored on their own premises is not completely secure or always accessible - it can be affected, for example, by fire, water leaks, power outages, equipment failures, or theft.
All major cloud companies backup their clients' data frequently and keep multiple copies of the data in different locations, each protected by the highest level of physical security. They are able to guarantee a level of security and accessibility that few of their clients could ever match on their own, and they can do it more economically. In the end, there is really no contest: cloud