Everywhere we look someone or some company is announcing a new “cloud computing” solution. And on the surface it sounds great. You don’t have to buy or keep updating the program. You can access your data anywhere, at any time. Others you work with can collaborate with you easily.
When we think of clouds, however, it is not always big fluffy white clouds among a bright blue sky and sunshine on the horizon. Sometimes clouds bring to mind storms, danger and peril. And so cloud computing solutions should also be looked at with caution in mind.
Just what is cloud computing? For the most part this is a term describing online access to a software product that you may use once you have purchased a subscription. This may take the form of a monthly or yearly fee charged per user or per user group. You may access the program adding and accumulating data that will be stored for your use as well as any other users you have specified. Some uses are accounting programs, sales analysis reporting, custom reporting, spreadsheet and word processing sharing, photo and film storage and editing, as well as many other uses. As stated above the advantages are the ability to stay current with your software as functions are added at no extra cost, storage of your data and the ability for you and other users to have anywhere, anytime access to your data.
Sounds great, so what #fuellmich go wrong, you ask. Plenty! Unless you have been living under a rock you know that the internet is a place of daily pitfalls. Do you really want to have your data out there in cyber space trying to avoid all the lurking dangers?
First of all, there are the hackers. Oh, come on, you say. Who is going to hack my site, I’m not all that important. It’s not like I’m a bank or big deal corporation after all. Maybe not you, although It can happen, but what about the software provider’s servers? Also, you may think your company falls under the radar but what about your customers and employees? Is some of the data you are storing in “the cloud” potentially harmful to your clients or staff if you do get hacked? Do you really want to jeopardize their confidential information? As we have seen time and time again, no one is safe from these types of attacks. Not banks, large corporations, the government or you.
What if your software provider decides to change their pricing structure? You are at their mercy unless you want to completely change out your software. Will you be able to download your data into a new solution? Or are you stuck between ponying up the new fees or rebuilding your database?
Servers go down from time to time. It just happens occasionally to all of them. But what if the timing is such that you can’t get at the data you need when you need it. It may only be for a few minutes, or a few hours, but it can be longer sometimes. Power can go out due to weather conditions where their servers are located, phone lines, or internet coverage can be unavailable, server maintenance is often necessary, etc. And if you have a client waiting for an estimate or proposal, it will be hard to explain why they have to wait. You may lose the client as they question your ability to fulfill their needs on a timely basis. And try telling your employee that they have to wait until next week for their paycheck!
What if you were to lose your data? You are trusting these servers to keep your data safe and uncorrupted. However, no computer is completely foolproof. I am a belts and suspenders type of person and always have duplicate copies of my and my client’s important data. Will you if all your data is being stored beyond your reach? Yes any reputable company that provides a cloud solution will also have redundant backups, but how fast can they switch over to the backup server? Will you have the capability to maintain a current backup safely stored away – just in case? Just like your teacher didn’t believe your dog ate your homework, the IRS is not going to take to kindly to “the server lost my data”, either.
When it comes to servers, you not only have to trust the software provider but also the company that is renting them server space. Often the software provider is not supplying and maintaining their own servers but are renting space themselves.
And lastly, while there may be a small chance of this happening with the bigger companies that are providing you your “cloud”, a company may stop offering this type of service or even go out of business. In the current economic environment we have seen large companies who have been around a long time and expected to be around forever, close their doors. Where will an event like this leave you and your data?
So while cloud computing certainly offers some great conveniences, know what risks you are taking before you take the leap. And should you decide to go ahead, then first ask how these situations might be handled should they occur and put plans into place to secure and protect your data should the sky go dark.