Taking Your Business to the Clouds

There’s been a lot of talk about Cloud Computing – putting your organization’s data, and/or applications on the internet.  To some the cloud presents an opportunity to finally use ‘distributed computing’ in an efficient manner, to others it seems like a great way to put control of all your data in the hands of a vendor at best and hackers at worst. On thing for sure, the cloud presents organizations with potential benefits and risks. Regardless of an organization’s size, the appropriateness of using the cloud as part of your technology infrastructure should be carefully analyzed before action is taken.

Using the Cloud can provide the following benefits to organizations

  • Ability to access data from anyplace that has an internet connection – Using the Cloud can facilitate both telecommuting and support of traveling employees, as well as being a real convenience to people in emergency situations during non-business hours.
  • Cost effective off site data storage – There are numerous vendors who will house your data at very competitive prices in state of the art facilities that employ robust back-up and recovery technology. Consequently there are support savings as well as data integrity benefits to be realized.
  • Cost effective Disaster Recovery Procedures – When your data is stored off site in a robust storage environment that is both off site and employs Disaster Recovery technologies and processes, an emergency at your business location, or damage to your employees hardware presents minimal risk to your operations.
  • One Touch Application Upgrades – Any applications that are housed in the Cloud enjoy the benefit of Client Server and Dumb Terminal applications. To the extent that the processing and data warehousing is done at the server level, any necessary changes only need to occur at the server and the end user is immediately updated.
  • One Touch Data Correction/Update – All data files that are stored in the Cloud are corrected when the file on the server is corrected or updated.
  • Reduced LAN/WAN Support Cost – As noted above, moving your organization data and applications to the Cloud either means that your networking needs are reduced to ensuring an internet connection, thereby transferring most of your server, router, and switch support to a vendor, or moving most of these services to one facility that will enable your organization to take advantage of support economies of scale that are realized when a number of servers, switches, routers, etc exist in one location
  • Seamless Integration of Organization Web Site and Internal Network Infrastructure – As more of your operations move to the Cloud your IT infrastructure becomes more Internet-centric, as such the integration of your organization website and back office operations is facilitated enabling a systemic ‘look and feel’ to all organization interfaces

On the other hand the Cloud presents the following Security and Support challenges to organizations

  • Loss of Control of Data – If you outsource your data housing to an outside vendor you are abdicating your control of that data from the standpoints of data integrity, back-ups, security, and disaster recovery. This can be a liberating experience but ultimately these responsibilities always reside with the organization. The organization must ensure that the hosting organization has been vetted carefully to ensure that the issues above will be addressed in a manner that is at least as robust as what would have occurred in-house and hopefully better. If the decision is made to handle the Cloud infrastructure internally, this is an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate all processes regarding data integrity, back-ups, security, and disaster recovery with an eye to incorporating state of the art equipment and processes in the implementation.
  • Loss of Control over LAN/WAN Infrastructure – See above!
  • Increased Data Security Risks – Moving data to the internet is by its nature, entering an unsheltered environment where literally anything goes. Serious evaluation must be given to data encryption, and Virtual Private Network implementation to ensure that organization proprietary information integrity is maintained. This is not an impossible task, but a task that must be taken very seriously.
  • Increased ‘Blowback’ from Incorrect Data Updates/Corrections – The good news is that data updates and corrections only need to be made once and everyone sees them real time. This is also the bad news. When moving data to a Cloud environment, all updates and corrections must be tested rigorously or the creditability of the organization will be severely tested.
  • Increased ‘Blowback’ from Incorrect Application Upgrades – See above!
  • Increased Risk of Data Corruption due to Viruses, Trojans, or Malware – As your organization employees’ dependence on the internet for business purposes increases, so does the potential for internet malfeasance. To combat these risks organizations must ensure that their computer hardware has outstanding virus protection, with automatic update processes in place.

Moving to the Cloud is becoming a competitive necessity because of potential cost savings and increased organizational efficiency, but implementing a Cloud migration without significant risk analysis and mitigation of identified risk can result in significant if not fatal damage to the organization.  The bottom line is by all means move to the Cloud but migrate incrementally and with due prudence to ensure your organization gets the benefits without being severely wounded by the potential hazards inherent in the medium.

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