What is cloud computing? If you pay attention to some of the more enthused bloggers, it’s a messianic miracle cure to end the world’s ills. And while it is true that cloud computing – as a platform choice – can reduce the costs you bear for things like hardware, and has been responsible for facilitating some extremely wonderful things in the areas of healthcare and social policy organisation in the developing world – it isn’t a panacea. There are some things cloud computing can’t do, and in some cases you should be very careful in putting too much of your own money on the line to adopt this new technology.
The biggest myth currently doing the rounds is that outsourcing your IT provision to cloud servers is a sure fire way to save money; in some cases you can actually incur additional, hidden costs. Cloud-based services may initially appear similar to (and cheaper than) your in-house models, but you’ll often find that they differ subtly, and knowing how to exploit these small differences is often what brings the cost down. Make sure you have a feature-by-feature comparison between services, before you jump into anything too major, because you might find somewhere down the line that you suddenly lack something vital from your old in-house system that you must now shell out more money to add or reinstate to your cloud service package.
Next, we should consider the trumpeted advantages of cloud security. It has often been stated that cloud computing gives you increased security advantages through server encryption. However, you have to remember that cloud computing occurs on the Internet, and although many larger providers of cloud services are scrupulous when it comes to updating their security measures, a single breach could be potentially catastrophic for your business’s sensitive data. There is also the issue of intellectual property. Always read the small print very carefully when it comes to the specifics regarding the ownership of cloud-stored data and utilities, to avoid getting into tricky legal jams later on.
Thirdly, flexibility should be considered. Although cloud computing does, in principle, provide you with a much greater level of flexibility than networking in the traditional sense, you need to beware that service providers will also try to flog you their own proprietary services and hardware. This can lock you into a situation where you are dependent on a particular provider for all of your needs, because what you already have doesn’t work in conjunction with anything else. This, of course, will mean more hidden costs. Be sure to check that “quick fix” solutions won’t limit your flexibility later. You should always be looking to keep yourself as open to change as you possibly can, to guard against a volatile marketplace.
Finally, we need to talk about freedom. This is a blessing and a curse, because while extra freedom to use and mould services to your own ends is a great thing, it seems to come with a lamentable lack of good customer service. Cloud computing fundamentally limits the control you have over your network’s capabilities (at least until software-defined networking takes over the internet). You should always check to make sure any deal you enter into with a cloud service provider gives you access to a comprehensive customer service system, or you could be left in the lurch when errors begin to result in downtime. Be careful what you get yourself into from the start, to avoid loss of revenue when an outsourced computing service goes offline at that crucial moment.