Technology and Health & Life Sciences
Separating Fact from Fiction About Cloud Technology: Part 2
It might seem like every company on the planet is migrating to “the cloud” – but does that mean every business should be connected to the cloud? Is cloud computing right for every company – or have its benefits been overstated?
In Part 1 of “Separating Fact from Fiction About Cloud Technology,” we examined some of the logistical features of cloud computing that make work easier for people, such as being able to connect remote teams and giving startups and small companies more affordable access to big-company business services.
Part two of this series is going to look at the technical features of cloud computing, as we take the time to separate fact from fiction about cloud technology. (And keep in mind – the answer may sometimes depend on your business and your needs. What’s fact for one company may be fiction for another.)
Cloud technology is more secure.
When your servers are connected to the Internet, your data is on the Internet, too. Data sitting on an Internet-accessible server makes it an attractive target for hackers, no matter who is maintaining it – your in-house IT team or cloud service providers.
So, how can the cloud be more secure than your own in-house servers?
Reputable cloud service providers mitigate the increased risk by taking extra precautions, having backups to their backups and making sure they have the latest and greatest anti-malware systems. A lot of cloud service providers can afford better security than what you might be able to provide for your own in-house server. This is especially true for smaller companies. Relying on the security of your cloud service provider may actually be a better idea unless you can afford the very best security.
Either way, you still have to weigh those added security features against the fact that you’ll have sensitive data on the Internet. You have to ask yourself, “Should this data be on the Internet at all?”
Hackers aren’t the only threat to your data. System failures can cause data loss, too. The cloud is often considered to be more secure against data loss, because disaster recovery and backups are usually better with cloud services. After all, if your only job is to store and protect your clients’ data, you’re going to have layers of security redundancies to make sure nothing is lost.
Cloud technology is compatible with everything.
When you sign up for any cloud service, make sure the applications you’ll be using are compatible with the programs and data formats you use now. Otherwise, migrating and reformatting data can cost you a lot of time and money, if it’s possible at all. Companies using legacy software (meaning, software that is several years old and hasn’t been updated or for which updates may not even be available anymore) usually face unique challenges when they try to integrate their systems with cloud computing services.
Look out for “vendor lock-in.” Vendor lock-in happens when you choose a program that isn’t readily compatible with most or all other software programs, because the vendor wants to lock you into their services.
For example, let’s say you choose a cloud-based customer relationship management (“CRM”) system for your business. One day, you need to take all the data in your CRM and put it into a commercially available business intelligence tool, such as Tableau, so you can make charts for a presentation. You discover that the CRM you’re using isn’t compatible with your business intelligence software, perhaps due in part because the CRM developer wants you to use their built-in business intelligence tool. But using their tool will cost extra, because it’s an add-on. You want to use Tableau, because you’re more familiar with it and you’ve already paid for it. It’s going to take twice as long – and perhaps mean calling in a data specialist or pulling your developers away from their regular work – to try to reformat the data. Otherwise, you’ll have to pony up the money for the CRM’s tool.
Do your homework. Make sure any cloud application you want to use will integrate with any other in-house or cloud programs you use – or at least find out what it would take for them to be compatible. Also, make sure the programs your cloud vendor offers conform to current tech standards. Chances are that any integration challenges will come from legacy systems. Most cloud applications have been recently developed and have open application program interfaces (“APIs”), which allow for easier integration.
Cloud computing is more manageable.
Fact and fiction.
We’ve mentioned how using cloud computing can sometimes be more manageable for companies that are already stretched thin, since they don’t need a big cash investment and they aren’t responsible for system maintenance.
However, the loss of control when you have to rely on a cloud vendor can be a problem for some companies, because whoever owns the servers has the control. You can mitigate this risk by checking contract agreements to make sure you retain ownership of your data. Then, verify the software works with your current systems and data formats (as mentioned above). Finally, find out what customer service is like with your potential cloud service provider. Are they easy to get a hold of through multiple channels (phone, email, chat)? What is their average response time? What do reviews on the Internet say about this vendor’s customer service?
In the end, cloud computing is only more manageable if it helps you work more easily and more efficiently. If you lose ownership of your data or can’t get help when you need it, you’ll create more hassle for yourself.
Cloud computing is environmentally friendly.
Cloud computing is the tech equivalent of using public transportation. Maintaining a centrally located server for lots of people to access takes fewer resources than what would be needed if each of those people maintained their own servers.
When you use cloud computing, you have the potential to reduce your own energy consumption and the corresponding carbon emissions by more than 30%. If you’re a smaller company, you could reduce your energy usage by up to 90%. Not only is this better for the environment – you stand to save on your utility bills, too.
Is cloud computing right for you?
Once you’ve made a list and weighed your options, which come out ahead – the pros or the cons of cloud technology? Ultimately, you want to make sure that whatever cloud solution you choose:
- Makes your life easier,
- Makes your work more efficient, and
- Keeps your data safe.
About the author: Paul Doucet, BAS, is National Leader of Cloud Solutions for Cherry Bekaert. Prior to Cherry Bekaert he founded and became president of his own technology consulting company. He consulted with companies about technology trends and solutions, including SaaS, cloud, and mobile and digital solutions, for management and business processes. He’s worked in the technology, health sciences, manufacturing, wholesale distribution, professional services, private equity and nonprofit industries. He was also a CPA for 13 years. Paul’s full bio is available at CBH.com.