In our prior two posts (here and here) we described the fundamentals of cloud computing, and looked at today’s three modes of deployment (public, private, hybrid) and three modes of service (SaaS, PaaS, IasS). Right after we wrote those two posts, we came across an article in the Jan. 10th issue of the Wall Street Journal that we think puts all this into pretty good perspective. We’ll recap highlights from that article here today…
According to the Journal report, in 2011 cloud spending in the U.S. accounted for around 7% of the $53 billion spent on all IT (Information Technology) expenditures. That’s a pretty small, though growing, share. Some businesses can save substantially by outsourcing various aspects of their infrastructure to cloud providers.
But business owners and managers also need to be aware of the downsides, which to most small business owners include concerns over security and lack of control over their own data. There is still a measure of confidence to be gained by the knowledge that an owner can walk down the hall to his own servers, on his own premises, under his own power, and know that the software and the data that he runs his business on is a very tangible, controllable asset. And while cloud data centers can rightfully boast of “five nines” (99.999%) data backup and redundancy, there’s nothing like being able to see it and touch it.
That sense is if anything heightened the first time you’re running a cloud app and “the Internet goes down.” (We know the feeling.) Whether it’s a router problem in house, or a provider issue at a link in Chicago, or a power issue… it matters little when it’s your company that’s down. And it does happen. Witness Amazon’s scare last summer when electrical storms cut power to ten data centers around Washington, D.C. and the generators they shut down left thousands ‘off the grid’.
This leads one to the same conclusion as the Journal points out: “Operating servers both on-site and in the cloud is a very effective way of reducing risk… Business owners should make the decision based on the support they have available.”
In other words, while you can put things like file backup and email safely into the cloud – applications where a few hours or even a day of down time won’t kill you – companies are still best advised to keep the mission critical stuff (financials, order processing, etc.) on local resources where you stay in control.
Quoting the Journal again, “Financial benefits and convenience aside, some entrepreneurs are still wary of the security risks. The top drawback for small businesses adopting cloud services in 2012 was data security, according to IDC research.”
The prudent owner will step into the cloud gently, carefully. That’s the essence of prudence, after all. Start with something like off-site backup, or moving your email to the cloud, especially if you currently run Microsoft’s Exchange Server in-house. The reduced internal IT expense, in both hardware and staff time can easily make the move cost justifiable. We’ve found that the uptime, the remote (out of office) capabilities and the overall responsiveness are every bit as good as when we ran our email ourselves. Except now we’ve freed up valuable IT resources for more important tasks – like client application development.
But when it comes to core operational tasks like your ERP or financial system, we advise heeding the advice of my old Slovenian grandfather (and apparent cloud expert), who said it best half a century ago: “Take it slow, keep it go.”