Has there ever been a more confusingly vague term than “cloud computing?” To get an idea of just how confused people are, take a look at the numerous cloud adoption rate surveys. Depending on which survey you read, anywhere from 37% – 91% of companies are using the cloud. That’s quite a range.
Why the discrepancy in the numbers? I doubt all of the survey respondents have the same definition of “the cloud.” While it may mean one thing to some people, it may have a completely different meaning to others. So, what exactly does cloud computing mean? The “cloud computing” umbrella covers many different areas, such as…
- Maybe your company uses web-based email or another web-based service, like Google docs. If so, you’re technically using “the cloud”.
- Perhaps you host your own web applications internally. Some might call that an “internal cloud” or a “private cloud.”
- Maybe you’ve moved all of your data and web applications to a third party hosting company. That’s the public cloud.
The first two options in that list are fairly common, but today I’d like to focus on the last item, which is the most hotly debated issue associated with cloud computing. When people talk about the pros and cons of moving to the cloud, they’re generally referring to moving your business applications and data to a third-party cloud hosting provider.
Now, this approach certainly has its benefits. It should improve efficiency and let your company scale hardware up or down as needed. There’s no need to maintain your servers, worry about backups, setup your own redundant systems, or any of the other hassles that come with hosting your own data.
Chances are, if your company is considering this option, you already understand the benefits. But, what about the risks? How can you avoid the risks associated with cloud computing? Here’s one way: Ask the right questions. Prepare yourself for potential problems before you choose a cloud provider. If your company is thinking about moving your applications to the cloud, here are 5 questions to ask that may help prevent future problems:
1. How secure is the data?
Proponents of cloud computing will tell you that internal systems aren’t any more secure than cloud solutions. They’re probably right. The difference is, you have complete control over an internal system’s security. You control who has access to the server. You control everything.
With the cloud, you must trust the provider. How strong is the cloud provider’s security? Who has access to your data? Has the cloud provider ever been hacked? If so, what did they do to fix the problem? These are all valid questions. Fortunately, there are many ways to test a provider’s security, ranging from questionnaires to security audits to full-blown penetration attempts.
2. What happens if the cloud provider changes?
No, I’m not talking about changing industries, or anything that drastic. But, what if they change their security standards? What if they decide to outsource their customer support? What if they get bought by another company? When you host your business applications and data with another company, your success partially depends on that company. How would a change at that company affect your company?
3. Who has access to your data?
This is a good question to ask on two levels. First, who in the company has access to your data? Who in the company has authority to make changes that might affect your data? As you know…the more people with access, the greater your risk. Secondly, what happens if the government tries to access your data? Will the cloud provider just give it to them? If that sounds like a paranoid question, consider this: Did you realize that the U.S. government asks Twitter and Google for user data more than any other government in the world?
4. Does this actually save money in the long run?
Cloud hosting providers present the cloud as a way to save money. Is that accurate? When you switch to the cloud, you’re now stuck paying a monthly fee that can fluctuate depending on your usage. As we all know, even low monthly fees add up over time. Is it cheaper than owning and supporting your own servers? Don’t just assume it’s the cheaper option without first calculating the costs of each option.
5. What if things don’t work out?
This is perhaps the biggest question of all. When moving to a third party cloud host, ask yourself this question: What’s Plan B? What if you need to move your applications and data back in-house or to another cloud hosting provider? Are your applications tied to that cloud provider in any way?
Flexibility and portability are two of the most important aspects of cloud computing. Some cloud providers offer proprietary development tools that let you build cloud apps for their platform. While this sounds convenient, it usually locks you down to that vendor. If you ever need to leave that vendor, those applications are worthless. How can you avoid this problem? Avoid building your applications on architecture that ties you to any one vendor or platform. Instead, build your applications on architecture that lets you move and deploy them at will.
If your company is considering moving your business applications to the cloud, make sure you understand the risks and ask the right questions. But most importantly, avoid vendor lock-in. How can you do that? Build applications on flexible architecture that doesn’t tie you to any one vendor or platform.
If you need help building cloud-ready, portable web applications, you should check out m-Power. It’s a development platform that lets you quickly build all types of business web applications on open architecture. Applications built with m-Power won’t tie you down–they can be deployed in-house or in the cloud. If you want to see how m-Power works, you can always sign up for a free 30-day trial.