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Is Cloud Computing Safe?

by Mike Dickson

A lot is written today about the risks and benefits of Cloud Computing.  The truth is, both the benefits and risks of Cloud Computing can be very substantial.

In a previous blog I ask the question “Why would [The Cloud] be a good thing for your business?”   So let’s break it down.  In the end, it’s all about risks and benefits.  The benefits can earn or save you a lot of money, and the risks could end up costing money, lost business, or damaged reputation.  The challenge is to move only appropriate applications into a Cloud computing environment in a careful, informed, and safe manner.

Let’s start out with a common understanding of Cloud computing.  Cloud computing makes it easier for employees, customers, and business partners to access and use computing services or resources from wherever they are – generally over the Internet.   The services or resources that are made available could be software, infrastructure, process, or platform based.  Indeed, some Cloud Service Providers can provide all of these services while others may only offer one or a few.  It is critical that you understand what capabilities a potential Cloud Service Provider is offering.  Just as the types of available services vary, so does the type of cloud.  Common cloud types include:

  1. IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service , an extension of your network, servers, and storage devices in a remote data center
  2. SaaS – Software as a Service, entire applications are hosted and supported by 3rd party, users simply maintain account IDs and the most basic configurations
  3. PaaS – Platform as a Service, entire suites of integrated applications are virtualized and run in 3rd party owned processing on demand environments

Best of breed cloud environments usually have the following technical foundations in common:  They are built on 1.) virtualization technologies that allow for running more applications or storing more data on fewer computers, 2.) web 2.0 application architecture, 3.) grid computing architecture which divides processing among multiple computers to increase speed and scalability, 4.) access to broadband Internet for very high data flow speeds, and 5.) service-oriented architecture so that multiple systems work and appear like an integrated service.

BENEFITS

  1. Increased speed, flexibility and availability of needed computing resources
  2. Reduced costs of acquiring, maintaining and supporting computing environment
  3. Take advantage of new technologies not supported in your current environment
  4. Enhanced user support (sometimes 7X24)
  5. Increased revenue as a result of being able to tap resources on demand, as opposed to having existing systems slow down or fail when load exceeds threshold levels

RISKS

  1. Concerns about data security, privacy and confidentiality
  2. Reliability and speed of connections, uptime and recovery strategies of Cloud Services Provider
  3. Compliance and understanding of legal and regulatory issues
  4. Integration with existing systems (if not all systems placed in cloud)
  5. Loss of control/ownership of computing resources and vendor “lock-in”

In conclusion, only after understanding the risks and associated benefits can you make an informed decision.  Below are my suggested keys to a safe Cloud Computing experience.

KEYS TO SAFE CLOUD COMPUTING

  1. Understand your company risk profile
  2. Understand the risk profile of your proposed Cloud Services Provider
  3. Select applications or services to put in the cloud based on an assessment of risk that exists in the applications, infrastructure, and data types
  4. Take baby steps – identify those services that can have the least inherent risk and highest likely benefits as your first step into the cloud
  5. Work with competent, experienced professionals to help you navigate around the unknowns

How is your business using Cloud Computing?  If you have questions, please leave a comment or contact me directly.

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