How to evaluate whether cloud computing is right for you Featured

8:01pm EDT April 30, 2012
How to evaluate whether cloud computing is right for you

The use of cloud computing is growing, and it seems like every company is jumping to incorporate this technology trend. However, companies should thoroughly evaluate their cloud computing needs before diving in headfirst, says Brian Rosenfelt, principal and IT consultant at Skoda Minotti Technology Partners.

“Businesses need to evaluate whether cloud computing fits into their strategic technology plan,” Rosenfelt says. “Look at your business goals and determine what you’re trying to solve. Does cloud computing fit in with those goals and help you solve a problem or make your infrastructure better? Although a lot of people are enamored with the cloud right now, it’s not appropriate for everybody.”

Smart Business spoke with Rosenfelt about what companies should know about cloud computing and how to select the perfect provider.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is essentially the delivery of computing software over the Internet. However, it’s important to understand that the cloud can mean different things to different vendors and customers. For some people, the cloud is Facebook; for others, it is a full software app or email.

What should companies keep in mind when selecting a cloud provider?

The most important thing is the service-level agreement. You need to understand what the provider will offer you from a service and support perspective. For example, if your provider is hosting your email and it’s not working, can you get through to someone? It’s really important to dig deep into what level of service they will provide.

Another important thing to look at is the history of the company. Some of these providers are young companies and have only been in the business a short amount of time. Just because they’re new doesn’t mean they don’t provide good solutions, you just need to look at how they are backed and what kind of reviews are out there about their services. The last thing you want is to have them run out of money, cutting off access to your data that is housed in their data center. You should also have a clear understanding of how redundant their systems are. One of the reasons for moving to cloud computing is so your data is replicated to multiple data centers ensuring that your service won’t be interrupted.

What should a business consider when changing cloud providers?

First and foremost, you need to be able to talk to someone at the new provider who can work with you to help migrate your data. In addition, you need to have an open line of communication with both your old and new providers, as your confidential data is with your current provider. You own it and need to have control over it.

Ask the providers if there will be downtime when making the change. If so, communicate that to your staff. Also ask about a fallback plan. If the migration doesn’t work well, can you fall back to your old provider during troubleshooting?

What types of services are good candidates for cloud computing?

Typically, the best types of services for the cloud are email, file storage, backup services, and software delivered as a service. Those are some of the more commodity-type services and the type of technology services that businesses need to be highly available. Email is a critical lifeline for most businesses, and moving it from an on-premise server to a cloud provider can make it more available and reliable. File storage is similar.

How secure is data in the cloud?

In general, cloud computing is as secure as computing would be in your own office. There are still servers and firewalls. But when that computing is out in the cloud, a larger infrastructure is supported, and the larger cloud providers can be a target of security incidents. Most large cloud providers like Amazon have an in-depth set of security protocols. So what you as a business want to do is make sure your employees understand the nature of the cloud. For example, if an employee is using public WiFi on his or her laptop and accessing the cloud provider, there’s a risk the data could be intercepted. Or if employees are at a hotel using a common computer, they should log out of the website and close the browser when they’re done. It’s about using common sense and best practices when accessing the cloud. Additionally, companies should have corporate policies that address cloud access.

The last piece is to make sure your cloud provider uses encryption so when something is transmitted from a computer to the cloud service, it can’t be intercepted. Ask the provider what security means to them and how they handle it.

In general, cloud computing is secure. When you hear about servers going down, most of the time it’s because of a power outage and not a security breach. For most small businesses, cloud computing is more secure than what they would be able to do within the scope of their infrastructure.

How can a business ensure its cloud solution fits into its backup and disaster recovery plans?

Businesses need to ask where their data is and have a very clear picture of how they can get access when they need it. Their backup and disaster recovery plans should specifically address data in the cloud and illustrate how it can be retrieved.

The plan should also provide for what happens if someone is working on a file and it gets deleted. Make sure the cloud provider is able to access prior versions of files and restore them. Also take into account compliance issues, especially in industries such as financial services, in which there are special restrictions for who has access to certain files. Make sure your plan includes documentation that specifically addresses cloud computing.

Brian Rosenfelt is a principal and IT consultant at Skoda Minotti Technology Partners. Reach him at (440) 449-6800 or visit www.skodaminotti.com.

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