Don’t get hot and bothered the Cloud revolution has begun. The cloud is not new you’ve probably been using cloud computing without realising.
So what is the cloud?
You may not realise this but you probably use cloud applications every day. Your browser the application you use to view websites gives you access to cloud applications such as Gmail,Microsoft Messenger,social networking sites such as Facebook, Second life your company’s sales prospects on Salesforce, remote backup, any IT outsourcing network infrastructure, security monitoring, remote hosting you may or may not use. I’m sure you can think of many more.
So what is all the hype?
Small business owners have access to corporate IT capabilities without corporate overheads. Business class Instant Messaging, Email shared calendars, Customer Relationship Management, Web Conferencing, Document Flow Management, Desktop Management, Word Processing, Spreadsheets. Services are scalable up or down and costs’ are fixed.
Think about the traditional IT model
You first identify and purchase hardware servers and workstations (PC’s). Next you acquire software licences such as Windows 7 and Microsoft Office. You may choose to maintain your network yourself. If you do, you incur opportunity costs.
What are opportunity costs?
Put simply your time, you could be generating income rather than incurring costs.
So what costs should you consider?
If you are time poor you will more than likely employ IT staff. They will need training. Why, you need to maintain hardware and software, install security patches, application service packs, install and distribute new applications, resolve server downtime and user issues. Staff will need application training. Finally ever five years or so you will probably need to upgrade your hardware and software to maintain your businesses competitiveness.
Is the cloud model an alternative?
Cloud solutions offer two models. One Google Apps free. The second model is Software As A Service (SAAS). A fixed monthly cost model. An example is Microsoft Office 365.
You require workstations. You will need operating systems, and probably Microsoft Office licences. If you maintain your home PC then you know everyday maintenance isn’t a too greater challenge. You may require the help of an IT consultant occasionally otherwise the only other major cost will be PC upgrade every five years or so.
So what are the advantages?
Your costs are fixed; you are always working with the most update applications. No security patches, no service packs and no software upgrades. You may need to train staff as applications are upgraded. However training is likely to be less demanding given most updates will be incremental. Service level agreements offer up to 99.9% uptime which means provided you have an Intenet connection regardless of location you will have access to your work. An added advantage data centres are more likely to be secure than managing your own network.
Is cloud computing a trap?
Richard Stallman says quite possibly. At the present moment cloud options are cheap. Once you’ve signed up you locked in to the proprietary solution of your choice. Other thorny questions are data ownership and data security.
For many data security is of primary concern. Think about it, you trust your CPU manufacturer, your hardware, operating system and software vendors and your ISP. Any one of these can undermine your security: crash your systems, corrupt your data, allow an attacker to get access to your systems. IT professionals have spent decades dealing with worms and rootkits that target software vulnerabilities. But in the end, you have no choice but to blindly trust the security of the IT providers you use. Cloud computing takes it one step further.
Trust is a concept as old as humanity, and the solutions are the same as they have always been. Be careful who you trust, be careful what you trust them with, and be careful how much you trust them.
Outsourcing is the future of computing to avoid being a casualty you have to trust their security, their reliability, their availability, and their business continuity.