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 that require massive server space and IT departments, as well as small and medium-sized businesses that handle a lot of data and move around a lot, the Cloud could very well be the most important technology investment these companies make in the next ten years. The problem is that making the switch to storing everything on the could end up being more costly than cost-efficient for businesses if they do it too early.
That New Tech Smell
The most obvious issue with jumping right into the Cloud is that it's still a very new industry. There is a wide range of unanswered questions about issues such as data ownership and retrieval and what role providers have about their dominion over the content they host.
Of course, the easy answer to this problem is to secure airtight contracts that ensure that all of the data hosted in the cloud is under the sole ownership of your company or organization. But, it's hard to account for data and/or legal issues that haven't come up yet, and it can be hard to try to predict potential problems when there is no precedent. Besides, what if the Cloud provider hosts your entire server, as opposed to just some of your data? How does that affect the way they interact with and/or treat your data?
Since the whole purpose of using the Cloud is to back-up important information, it seems likely to presume that these companies make copies of this data for security and retrieval purposes. Again, you can probably discover upfront with most of these companies the information about how many copies are made and what happens with them, but what worries many users is what would happen to this data should you ever choose to switch providers or localize your servers.
The process of switching providers, or a situation where your current cloud service provider goes out of business (which is likely to happen while the industry is in a period of rapid growth), is another issue that businesses should keep in mind. Getting your data back shouldn't be much trouble at all, and the stronger your contract with the company, the easier it will be. Moving applications could be a trickier prospect, though, and it would likely require at least slight modifications to be able to run them on different platforms.
Since there aren't really any regulations or industry standards yet for Cloud businesses, there are groups working to create code for providers that make things like Cloud migration much simpler for the companies and their customers. Still, many users are rightly worried about putting all of their data in the Cloud until they see how some as-yet-unencountered issues are handled by the major service providers to avoid paying the price later on.
Security is the most frequently addressed about concern when it comes to Cloud computing, and that is probably for good reason. There is nothing scarier than the thought of having all of your business' data floating around in cyberspace where it could be compromised.
Many people's fear is of the cloud being hacked, especially now that major hacking incidents are becoming more common. (If even the Pentagon is susceptible to being hacked by bored V for Vendetta fans, what hope does a small business with a minimal budget have?) Of course, Cloud companies do take this issue into account when designing their systems and often utilize some of the strongest security technology available to protect user data. According to Dropbox, one of the world's largest Cloud storage companies, "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 most high-level hackers probably don't have an interest in the information stored by most businesses, especially 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.
While the chances of security actually being an issue are slim, the questions raised about the safety of your data in the Cloud are legitimate, and most of them spring from concerns about control and accountability. When a company sends their data to a Cloud service, as opposed to hosting the data on a its own server, they lose the ability to implement the security features that they feel are most appropriate, instead leaving the majority of those decisions up to the provider. Likewise, there is less direct accountability when using a Cloud service, as opposed to being able to hold oneself or an IT department/company responsible for ensuring the security of the information.
This compounds fears about a lack of direct oversight of the data that is critical to a business when it is up in the Cloud, which is a problem that may persist for a long time in regards to Cloud computing.
Is It There, Yet?
The final big concern in Cloud computing is simply that the tech may just not be ready yet to handle all of the demands that may be required, especially for enterprise-level businesses.
The biggest reason for this is the slow ISP speeds and the costs that they incur. While it may be cost-efficient initially to move your data to the Cloud, rather than what it would cost to host it on a server (or pay to have it hosted on one), often doing even the simplest things, like accessing a file, can be a very slow process and cut into productivity.
Speeds are slowed down in the Cloud largely because companies are moving their data from a server, which usually has only emails streaming in and out, to a service that sees the frequent transfer of everything from authentication protocols to directory communications, and much more, including all of the data from programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and Quickbooks that gets transferred and/or stored multiple times a day within a single company.
As of now, the best solution to this problem would be the integration of Fiber Internet, as opposed to the T1 service that most companies are currently using, but the availability of this option is "spotty at best," leaving businesses operating out of the Cloud stuck with slower service and, thus, less productive work environments.
Concerns about the infrastructure of the Cloud rose in prominence this past year when Amazon's Web Services, one of the world's largest and most well-respected Cloud service providers, which affected sites from Zynga to Reddit to Foursquare. This obviously had major effects on the day-to-day operations of these companies, and has an especially broad impact as it relates to Foursquare, which also works with local businesses.
This type of high-profile technology failure no doubt worries many businesses who may be considering transferring their data to the Cloud. These potential problems, along with security and data retrieval/ownership concerns, don't yet always have practical or complete answers that companies may want to be aware of before making the big transition. 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.