Is the Cloud Ready for Business?

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Cloud technology is one of the most rapidly evolving areas of the Web, but it still has its fair share of kinks.

For major enterprises requiring massive server space and IT departments, as well as small and medium-sized businesses that handle a lot of data, the cloud may very well be their next most important technology investments. However, deciding to store everything in the wispy aerosol of cyberspace could end up being more costly than cost-efficient if it’s done too early.

That New Tech Smell
Jumping right into the cloud is risky because it’s still a very new industry. There are many unanswered questions about things like data ownership and retrieval and how much control providers have over the content they host. Predicting potential problems with data storage is hard when there’s no precedent. For instance, what if the cloud provider hosts your entire server, instead of just some of your data? How does that affect the way they interact with your data?

Since the purpose of using the cloud is to back up important information, these companies make copies of data for security and retrieval purposes. Depending on the type of service, users don’t always keep their own copies, and thus wonder what happens to this extra data should they ever choose to switch providers, their current provider goes out of business or they want to re-localize their servers.

These situations could become sticky unless they’re clearly tied up at the beginning of a relationship. But users may worry about putting data in the cloud until they see how some as-yet-unencountered issues are handled by major service providers, so they don’t become the unfortunate guinea pigs of these complex business deals.

Security Measures
Security is the most frequently referenced concern with cloud computing. After all, in some cases all of your business’ data is floating around on the ’Net and open to being compromised.

Many people fear the cloud being hacked, especially now that major incidents are becoming common. (If the Pentagon is susceptible to attacks from bored V for Vendetta fans, what can a small business with a minimal security budget do?) Of course, cloud companies take this issue into account when designing their systems and often utilize some of the strongest security technology available to protect user data. Dropbox insists that “your files are actually safer while stored in your Dropbox than on your computer in some cases.”

Still, security breaches are a legitimate threat, even if they’re unlikely. And though high-level hackers probably don’t have an interest in the inventory information stored by most SMBs, those hosted on major services like Amazon, Google, etc. might find themselves vulnerable to invasion by people attempting to infiltrate high profile cloud service providers.

Most of these security questions spring from concerns about control and accountability. When a company puts data in a cloud service, as opposed to hosting the data on its own server, they lose some of the ability to implement security features they feel are most appropriate, instead leaving those decisions up to the provider. Plus, there is less direct accountability when using a cloud service, as opposed to being able to hold oneself or an IT department/company responsible, and it’s frustrating not to have someone to yell at sometimes, right?

This compounds fears about a lack of direct data oversight in the cloud, which is an anxiety that may persist for some time.

Are We There Yet?
Finally, some worry that the tech may just not be ready yet to handle all of the demands required of it, especially for enterprise-level businesses.

Concerns about the infrastructure of the cloud rose in prominence this past year when Amazon’s Web Services, one of the world’s largest cloud service providers, went down and affected many popular sites like Zynga, Reddit and Foursquare. This obviously had effects on their day-to-day operations, especially as it relates to Foursquare and the local businesses with which it works.

A high-profile technology failure like this no doubt worries businesses that may be considering transferring their data to the cloud. Some of these potential technical problems, along with security and data retrieval/ownership concerns, don’t yet have practical or complete answers that companies may want to hear before making the big transition (and investment).

While Cloud computing may very well be the go-to data storage platform of the future, considering the risks in the present may prove that it’s not yet time to make the move.

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