Cloud computing is the use of applications that are housed on servers outside of a business’s location and accessed using the Internet. Instead of deploying servers internally and building a network infrastructure within their walls, companies contract with a cloud-computing provider that hosts the applications.

“Cloud computing is a key component of any company’s infrastructure these days, whether you’re Fortune 500 or a sole proprietorship,” says Eric Folkman, manager of managed services at Blue Technologies. “There’s a piece of it now that can fit pretty much any company. It wasn’t that way a few years ago, but the technology has progressed and the costs have come down so far that there’s something there for everybody.”

Smart Business spoke with Folkman about getting started with cloud computing.

Why should you look into utilizing the cloud to help your company?

Three simple reasons are:

  • Financial benefits.
  • Increased availability of data, whether for your employees or the public.
  • Reducing your disaster risk with some form of backup.

What specifically can be taken to the cloud?

The ability to move applications to the cloud has exploded. It may sound cliché, but the better question might be: What can’t you take to the cloud?

Some applications are better than others in the cloud environment, such as email, financial systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, data backup and Microsoft Office-type products like Word and Excel. In addition, voice is gaining popularity, which works by routing your phones through the Internet. This can reduce your business phone bills and provide flexibility to telecom costs.

When is the right time to go to the cloud?

It depends on the situation, but anytime a company is considering a major change to its technology — whether a server upgrade or application change — that’s an appropriate time to consider the cloud.

Here’s a scenario I run across three or four times a week: A company is running an older, internal email server and decides to upgrade. It could spend tens of thousands of dollars on hardware, software licensing and implementation. The business gets an upgraded server but still has maintenance costs, security risks and the potential for downtime if something happens to the physical servers.

The alternative is to host email through the cloud. There’s no need to secure and maintain an internal server, and email is more accessible via the Internet. There’s also no disaster recovery component — you know the provider has mechanisms to keep your data safe. However, sometimes you have so many users going to the cloud that it doesn’t make sense, as opposed to doing it in-house, from a cost perspective.

What’s an easy way to get started?

Cloud-based data backup is a low-cost, low-risk way for a company to dip its toe in the water. Companies see savings quickly and don’t have to mess with tapes and the risk of someone (usually the receptionist) manually rotating tapes off-site. Although there are some configuration changes, it’s not a mission-critical application.

Email and a CRM, like salesforce.com, are two others to consider doing sooner rather than later with a quick payback.

How is the value of cloud usage measured?

Like any business process, do your homework and build a business case. Not every company is perfect for it, but it’s an option executives should at least look at. It can be difficult and cumbersome to figure out if you’re not familiar with IT and don’t understand all the pros and cons of the cloud environment. A little advice in the beginning could really help get you beyond the learning curve.

Once you’re using the cloud, many providers offer advanced reporting and monitoring tools, so if something goes wrong you can take corrective action. For instance, most backup providers offer a dashboard. You can see how many computers are backing up, how much from each, how long it takes, how many failed to back up, etc. You also want your cloud contracts to include flexibility to add services or make changes as needed.

Eric Folkman is manager of managed services at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or efolkman@btohio.com.

Blue Technologies offers further insight on this and other topics affecting businesses on its blog. Learn more by visiting www.btohio.com/news-resources.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies

Published in Akron/Canton

Technology tool-related capital investments, such as new software, mobile apps and cloud computing services, are as important as a healthy workforce to many small business owners. But you must be strategic about the technological applications you choose, using your goals as a guide.

“It’s a really exciting time for small business. For the first time, you have access to tools and solutions that may have been cost prohibitive in the past, and you can buy them by the seat and without the need to build and support an enterprise infrastructure. This allows you to build a cost effective, end-to-end automation platform that really impacts your business,” says Frank D. “Buddy” Cox, Jr., executive vice president and chief information officer at Cadence Bank.

Smart Business spoke with Cox about how businesses are using technology to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.

What emerging technology is impacting business productivity and profitability?

Cloud computing, a modern name for traditional outsourcing, has not only grown in adoption, but reach also has been extended from a focus on the enterprise to small business. This shift away from having to build a robust, secure and resilient in-house infrastructure to support software solutions, and instead migrating to a model where all critical infrastructure is built, maintained and shared by the provider, makes most all enterprise-level solutions available to small businesses in a very affordable way.

With Microsoft 365, for example, you can fully leverage Exchange, SharePoint and other enterprise-level solutions for less than $10 per employee per month. Platforms such as salesforce.com, when combined with modern real-time accounting platforms like financialforce.com, allow for a level of work flow and integration once reserved for large scale implementations.

Another technology that’s transforming business is the mobile platform. For most, it has become a primary computing device, allowing people to conduct business anywhere and at any time. When leveraged as a part of an overall business automation platform, the results can be very meaningful.

How are these new technologies transforming banking?

Banks continue to work with businesses that are building end-to-end automation solutions by plugging in at the right points in the process to provide real-time financial information and transaction capabilities. This includes, in many cases, unique one-off solutions to support a customer’s proprietary automated framework.

In the mobile space, we have seen an unprecedented adoption curve. A survey conducted by Constant Contact in March found that 66 percent of small business owners currently use a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, for work. That same survey revealed that mobile apps increasingly are becoming part of how small business owners manage operations. Business owners clearly want to run their businesses and conduct their banking from the palms of their hands. Strategically, we are very focused on building feature-rich, secure and easy-to-use mobile applications that positively impact the day-to-day operation of businesses.

Mobile also is a much more capable and rich development platform than anything that we have built upon in the past. For example, not only can you turn your debit card on or off using a mobile app, but by leveraging location services on your device, we allow you to specify the use of your debit card only if it’s within a certain number of miles of you.

What are some challenges with the adoption of this technology?

Moving your data to the cloud or carrying sensitive data around on your smartphone present risk. Privacy, security, backups and business continuity are all topics to vet. Understanding from your provider how your data is stored, if it is encrypted at rest, how it is backed up, who has access to your data and how that is being properly controlled is extremely important. Third-party audits can be employed to validate that all of this is in place and functioning according to design. You must hold your vendors accountable to the same high standard with which you would grade your own internal control environment.

Frank D. “Buddy” Cox, Jr. is executive vice president and chief information officer at Cadence Bank. Reach him at (713) 871-4000.

Website: Cloud computing services and mobile technology are changing the way businesses operate and serve clients. Learn more at www.cadencebank.com.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Cadence Bank

Published in Houston

Cloud computing is a broad term that can include hosting a website and data management. Unfortunately, small businesses are picking up many misconceptions in the marketplace about what the cloud is and what it means to be in the cloud.

“It’s not always the right solution for every business,” says Ryan Niddel, CEO of QuickLaunch Solutions. “It takes research and consultation from someone with knowledge to really understand how it can work for your business.”

Smart Business spoke with Niddel about cloud computing and its applications for small businesses.

What is the cloud?

There are two main aspects to cloud computing. There’s the data management side, which is primarily utilized to back up files — think Dropbox or iCloud. This allows anyone, anytime, anywhere to store and access files on servers that exist all over the world.

The other aspect to cloud computing is hosting services, which provides the infrastructure that allows a company to host its website entirely in the cloud. Anything from an entry-level blog to something of enterprise value could be hosted in the cloud. There’s no need for redundancy between the cloud and a dedicated server because the cloud gives you myriad hosting options in its architecture. Even if you’re on a dedicated server now, that data can be easily migrated to the cloud.

http://youtu.be/dxaNfcFkjQs

Is cloud hosting cost prohibitive?

Cloud hosting for small businesses is really the entry-level for commoditization of a website, and there are pay-as-you-go options that suit each company’s needs. While many hosting services take a one-size-fits-all approach, the pay-as-you-go model is more fluid, offering a billing program similar to those offered by utility companies where you pay for what you use. Using this model, business owners can spend 20 percent less than those using a dedicated server.

There are also deeper cost savings. For example, research has shown that cloud computing reduces IT labor by more than 50 percent. Because the cloud is extremely stable, it’s unnecessary to pay for IT support staff to ensure infrastructure stays operational. Cloud hosting saves money on maintenance, hardware, licensing and support, and is all around more efficient than using a dedicated server.

Is cloud hosting secure and reliable?

Cloud infrastructure is at least as secure and possibly more secure than the dedicated servers many companies are currently using. The hardware virtualization architecture used in cloud hosting keeps systems working through redundancy, which means utilizing multiple servers to back up clients’ data. And the transition from one environment to another happens with no perceived interruption in service. There’s no easier way to have that kind of redundancy. It’s a very fluid, secure and dynamic environment that seamlessly adapts to the needs of the client.

Is cloud computing a fad?

Amazon, Google and Apple have adopted the cloud as the new wave of Internet technology, and this new commoditization, pay-as-you-go model is being widely used. More companies are shifting to the cloud from dedicated servers, and much of the new infrastructure being developed by startup companies is in the cloud, so it’s here to stay. It’s where data management and hosting are going.

What sort of savings might a company realize by utilizing the cloud?

On average, companies can expect to realize an 80 percent reduction in their hosting bill if they can optimize their cloud correctly. Once in the cloud, a company can have its bandwidth utilization monitored to establish benchmarks that show usage during high- and low-traffic periods. Bandwidth will be monitored during a three-month settling period to determine the right services for that company’s needs and ensure it’s only paying for what it uses.

Hosting in the cloud is the wave of future. It allows companies to operate more efficiently and effectively, and keeps the bottom line healthy. It’s also the logical progression in the evolution of data management. And with a good partner in the endeavor, it can be a painless and seamless transition.

Ryan Niddel is CEO of QuickLaunch Solutions. Reach him at (419) 631-1270 or ryan@quicklaunchsolutions.com.

Insights Internet is brought to you by QuickLaunch Solutions

 

 

Published in Akron/Canton

"Not a day goes by where I don’t read a headline talking about ‘the cloud,’” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “The current, overused definition of the cloud is ‘anything that happens on the Web,’ but in the business world, the more accurate definition of cloud computing is leveraging someone else’s hardware/software and services to complete a business task.”

Smart Business spoke with Schuler about the role that cloud computing has played for businesses during the past two decades, and in what ways it can benefit their operations today and in the future.

How are companies using cloud computing?

When I started Cal Net Technology Group 15 years ago, we didn’t host our own email server. We used an outside company (Earthlink) to host our email, which, in essence, meant that Earthlink was providing ‘cloud services’ for us.

We also have been using an online payroll service for eight years now, whereby we enter our payroll data into a website, and our employee paychecks are processed. Many other businesses might be doing the same. This is truly a ‘cloud service’ that has been around for close to a decade.

Some companies use an Internet-based product called Postini, which has been around since 1999, to scrub their email for spam. I bring this up to point out that all of us have been leveraging the cloud for quite some time, and we probably didn’t even think about it; in actuality, it really isn’t a very new phenomenon.

What are some examples of how businesses can move functions to the cloud?

There is a definite shift in moving some computing resources into another company’s data center in order to save you some headaches and, in some cases, time and money. I use the word some with emphasis here, because if you think that your entire business is moving to the cloud anytime soon, you are probably mistaken — unless your business consists of only a handful of computer users.

The most prominent shift to cloud computing is the migration of email back into the hands of hosted providers, similar to how it was 15 years ago. Microsoft is now in the hosting business with its Office 365 product. It consists of Microsoft Exchange (email server), SharePoint (an intranet product), and Microsoft Lync (instant messaging) in the cloud, with the ability to ‘rent’ Microsoft Office on a per-user, per-month basis, with Office still being installed locally on your desktop.

In moving from an on-premise email solution, such as Microsoft’s Exchange Server, over to Exchange Online, the migration has been very time-consuming, and thus very costly. These migrations have proven to be more costly than moving from one on-premise solution to another. That being said, there can be some significant savings in hardware and software costs, reducing capital expenditure spending for many companies. Additionally, after the solution is running, the ongoing maintenance of on-premise solutions will be gone, which should equate to a cost savings in the long run.

Google has made a significant impact in cloud computing with Google Apps software. From what I’ve seen of the software, it is a good solution for individual use, and for the use of ‘micro-businesses,’ but it reminds me of Office 95 from a functionality standpoint. So, I couldn’t recommend this to any business that relies heavily on word processing.

Perhaps the most successful case study, and a company that has truly made its mark by delivering software over the Internet, is Salesforce.com. It has a very robust feature set within its application, and it was remarkable what it was able to do early on in the cloud-based customer relationship management space.

There are some other line-of-business applications that are cloud-based, as well, and truly deliver a rich user experience, but these are few and far between today, but will be the norm in the next five years.

How can businesses determine what to take to the cloud?

The wise approach is to hire an IT firm with expertise in this area to evaluate your systems, determine the applications that may be ready for the cloud and take a hard look at the overall ROI in moving them.

Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at zschuler@calnettech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

 

 

Published in Los Angeles

Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla.

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.

How does cloud computing work?

You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is vast. Data centers all over the world house servers, and each server or set of servers is designated for a certain type of application or resource. Servers, routers, switches and security devices combine with network connectivity and an operating system to form the cloud. You could compare it to an electrical grid, in which power comes from substations and power generation points before electricity goes over wires to provide power to households or businesses.

The data center is then responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware pieces are working in harmony and have different versing capabilities within that physical layer.

A business may approach a data center for complete automation of its infrastructure but take care of the software itself.

What are the advantages?

A major advantage of cloud computing is time. As a startup business you can get up and running online reasonably quickly and with minimal investment because you are not buying servers, routing or switching equipment. Instead, you are plugging into a utility that doesn’t require any setup, that is already functioning, and you simply pay for it on a monthly basis.

Cloud computing offers more versatility and capacity. If your website is on a cloud computing platform, you can scale up and sustain a high volume of traffic quickly without having a performance degradation for users of your site.

Cloud computing can also improve your ability to be agile and nimble because the monthly fee for service includes taking care of your hardware and resources. As a user of the cloud, you don’t need an army of IT personnel or consultants, freeing you up both financially and staffing-wise to concentrate on your target business.

Additionally, a minimal amount of software is installed on the personal computer or path, so instead of downloading the entire Microsoft Office suite, for example, you can sign up for Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to subscribe to the cloud-based service on a month-to-month basis to access all Microsoft Office products.

What is the difference between public and private cloud services?

On a public cloud, you don’t know where your data is stored or who has access to it, but you can increase your capacity quickly.

A private cloud can be established for businesses that know their growth plans and that want extra security. The business can then control who has access to that data and knows that it is stored in a secure location.

How are security and privacy handled?

With a private cloud, you manage your environment so closely that the security is as good as with conventional computing. Because of privacy issues, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant and Payment Card Industry-compliant credit card companies will always have to use private cloud services.

For extra security, you can do an automation deployment with a private cloud, but that will result in higher costs because you have dedicated resources just for your company. For data that isn’t as sensitive, a public cloud is sufficient.

What should businesses think about when considering cloud computing? 

Ask yourself exactly what it is you want out of the cloud, what are your needs, what do you want to accomplish and what you will use it for. Then look for a data center company to meet those requirements.

Outsourcing to cloud computing can lower your costs and allow your company to focus on its strengths, knowing the rest is being taken care of up in the cloud.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

 

 

Published in Los Angeles

In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. The growth of social media has also created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and use.

“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.

Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?

With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.

Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company.

Do all companies have access to big data?

In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection.

What challenges come with big data?

Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.

Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.

What methods are available to companies to help store this data?

Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep information secure.

Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.

Public cloud services are available, but are less secure than private services.

How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?

It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.

Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

 

 

Published in Los Angeles

Instead of merely maintaining technology, IT service providers are increasingly being asked to become technology drivers and bring innovation and new product ideas to their clients.

Cliff Justice, author of the report, “The Death of Outsourcing,” was recently interviewed by CIO.com and stated that there was a shift around 2006 to 2007 from outsourcing as a commodity focused on price to a service that’s value-oriented.

“We’re clearly seeing this shift,” says Deen Ferrell, business development executive at Cal Net Technology Group. “Clients want an insourcing partner today. Insourcing requires a broader talent pool, one that offers skill sets in all areas where technology touches the organization. Ongoing research passes critical intelligence of emerging technologies to the field so it can be applied to benefit the client. The focus is on best practices that better integrate technology platforms into a working strategy that drives profit while reducing redundancy and cost.

“The good news is that this shift represents a stronger commitment from the service provider sector. Providers are now expected to add value beyond ground-level support,” Ferrell says.

Smart Business spoke with Ferrell about the trend toward IT providers who help move business goals forward and the benefits to businesses from advancements such as cloud computing and unified communications.

Why is the shift toward insourcing occurring?

Mom-and-pop shops aren’t getting the job done because of a lack of depth and bandwidth — the proverbial ‘can’t see the forest for the trees.’ Providers get so focused on dealing with immediate issues that they can’t step back and think strategically.

A successful insourcing partner impacts all areas where technology touches the organization, as well as providing standard IT support and maintenance that allows companies to maintain core efficiencies.

What has been the impact on information security?

Retaining and securing sensitive information is a critical component of IT services. In a global marketplace where information is king, an ongoing managed security strategy can give organizations peace of mind related to risk management, security assessment, compliance issues and gap analysis.

What is meant by unified communications?

A unified communications strategy allows information to flow seamlessly through an organization by using tools such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), video conferencing, mobility solutions such as iPhone, iPad and tablet integration, and call center functionality such as call recording and reporting.

How can cloud consulting benefit companies?

For cloud solutions to deliver on their promise of reducing cost and risk while improving competitive advantage, they must be viable, supportable and secure. Vendor research and management, with an understanding of hosted offerings such as Office 365, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS), are critical to helping the organization realize cloud potential while avoiding pitfalls.

How does insourcing promote innovation?

An innovative environment is one where workflow automation and collaborative computing free up valuable time and provide on-demand access to critical information through dashboards, scheduling and customer portals.

Insourcing partners are providing supplemental chief information officer services such as documentation, change management and vendor relations support, which allow companies to cut waste, streamline processes and better position themselves competitively.

With the insourcing crowd becoming increasingly innovative, cost-conscious and competitive, it appears that the outsourcing model is on its way out.

Deen Ferrell is a business development executive at Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at (818) 725-5062 or deen@calnet.net.

For information on the benefits of insourcing to Cal Net, visit http://www.calnettech.com/ourservices_OngoingSupport_InsourceBenefits.php.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

Published in Los Angeles

In the past 20 years, companies have been generating an increasing amount of data. A company’s database used to be filled with the traditional information necessary for conducting business, such as product sales or demographic information. However, the growth of social media has created a massive pool of information that any company can access, mine and benefit from.

“Utilizing big data can help a company uncover the relationships it has with consumers and businesses that perhaps it didn’t previously realize it had,” says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ. “In many ways, that data can help a company gain a better understanding of its clients’ needs and formulate its products to win more business.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about big data and how to effectively store and utilize it to the benefit of your business.

Where can companies find big data, and how can they use it?

With the advent and proliferation of social media, there is information that companies can collect called ‘big data,’ which can be used to analyze, in a cost-effective and time-efficient way, the social habits of consumers. This information allows them to devise targeted marketing campaigns and develop products.

Data about consumers is being collected from social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, data about businesses can be collected from sources such as LinkedIn in and Foursquare, and there is data contained in emails coming into a company. This data had previously not been considered a useful source of mining but has now become fair game.

Do all companies have access to big data?

In today’s world, any company that uses computers has a big data resource or is collecting it without realizing it. For example, most salespeople have a contact database that includes people they’ve met through work, in their personal lives and through networking. If you are going to meet with the CFO of a potential client company and you learn that someone on your sales team knows that CFO, that is an invaluable personal connection. Knowing about that relationship allows you to bring the person to the meeting and quickly establish a connection with the prospective client.

Even small companies selling few products are gleaning this information and benefiting from it. Customer information can be pulled from social media and email campaigns and used to promote your business to those customers. Big data is viable for companies of all sizes.

What challenges are associated with having big data?

Storing big data was traditionally cost prohibitive, which is why only large companies could do it. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the volume of data growth in the U.S. for big companies will increase 40 percent year over year from 2009 until 2020. When you look at the amount of data being generated and the growth of that data, the cost of maintaining it had been the biggest hurdle for smaller companies.

However, solutions such as new, lower-cost hardware have recently hit the market, which has given smaller companies the ability to have large sets of storage devices to store big data. At the same time, cloud computing allows a company to rent storage on a monthly or short-term basis, meaning more companies can collect, store and mine big data.

Indexing this data so that it can be used to benefit the company is a challenge, but there are plenty of tools available from major software manufacturers that can be used to mine it.

What methods are available to companies to help store this data?

Big data can be stored privately or on servers that host multiple clients. Which option a company chooses depends on how important it is to keep that information secure. If a hospital were storing patient data, it would want it hosted on a private server.

Private cloud services give companies a certain amount of secure storage on a server that only belongs to them. The type of data being stored determines which tools are applied to extract it, such as a dashboard through which a company can query or search its data. There are also data feeds that provide ticker updates as data comes in, giving fast access to information.

Public cloud services are available, but these are less secure than private services. Public storage is more suitable for things such as marketing campaigns, in which the data being used is critical only for a short time and has no real value proposition for anyone other than the company.

How can companies efficiently navigate such large data sets to get the most use out of the information being retained?

It takes some time to understand which data is going to be useful and to learn which tools are available to store and sort it. For example, you could buy and deploy big data-mining tools to start collecting various sets of data from multiple sources, then create a dashboard that puts that information at your fingertips. However, you can’t simply keep storing information and expect results. You need to better understand your company’s demographics and understand what is going to help your company grow. You have to know your end result and employ the tools necessary to achieve it.

Many companies don’t realize what they have beyond their traditional database. Big data may be beyond the scope of traditional customer relationship management tools and that is sometimes where the treasure trove of data exists. Accessing that data will open a world of opportunities for your business.

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO of Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles

Service providers are touting the benefits of cloud computing, and more and more businesses are moving to the cloud. But beyond the benefits, there are also dangers, and companies should consult with an attorney to ensure that the language in the contract will protect them, says Bill Cramer, senior counsel at Dykema Gossett PLLC.

“Service providers like to emphasize the potential financial benefits by saying that inside every cloud is a silver lining,” says Cramer. “However, inside some clouds, there is golf-ball-sized hail. When you give up your computing needs to a third party, you give up control and expose yourself to potential liability.”

Smart Business spoke with Cramer about contractual issues to resolve before moving to the cloud.

What legal issues do companies need to be concerned about when moving to the cloud?

You need to protect yourself in contracts with your service provider. With your own network, you control your security. But if you move your computing needs to a third party, you lose that control.

The contract should address how the hardware is protected from both outside and inside intruders. Does it require security guards or alarms? Does it limit access, require background checks, and have entry and exit logs? How does it protect data from electronic intruders? Does it have passwords to access systems? Does it encrypt data when it is stored and transferred to and from the Internet?

The contract should require segregation of  your data from other companies’ data, because you don’t want your data mingled with that of another company. And if you are subject to regulations such as HIPAA or PCI, make sure the provider is contractually obligated to meet those standards.

Further, how often does the provider update system software? If it doesn’t keep its software up to date, your information may be at risk. You should expect your information to be at least as secure off site as it is in your own building, and your contract needs to set out what the provider is doing to protect it.

How can a company address uptime requirements and remedies?

While with your own network, you don’t have control over unexpected failures, you do have control over how you respond. But once you move into the cloud, you lose that control. Specify in your contract how information is stored online: At a minimum, there should be some level of redundancy, and preferably some level of error correction such that failure of a hard drive doesn’t take your system offline.

Second, where is online information stored? Are there multiple copies at multiple locations, so if there is a catastrophic failure at one site, is there a secondary site where service will continue so you can maintain your business?

Third, if the cloud becomes inaccessible for a short period, is there any definition of ‘short period?’ A service provider may promise 99.9 percent accessibility, but over a year, that’s more than eight hours of unscheduled down time. Further, some providers don’t start counting such interruptions as down time unless the interruption lasts more than five minutes.

Fourth, does the provider make periodic backups of data and have an applicable transaction log so it can recover data if there is a software problem? Fifth,  the provider should have a cluster of computers with multiple redundancies so if one is taken down for maintenance, it doesn’t affect service.

Finally, your contract should specify what level of support you can expect when there are problems.

What should the contract cover regarding liabilities to third parties?

You may become liable as a result of a breach in security, resulting in notification requirements, which can be expensive. You may be accused of patent infringement because of the provider’s services. It’s important to spell out in the contract that the provider is on the hook to indemnify you for your costs, as well as to provide for your defense if you are sued.

How should the contract address remedies?

The contract is empty unless it ultimately provides a remedy. Typically, contracts have limits of remedies, for example, if service fails, you don’t have to pay for that service. But you need to put a dollar value on what it means to your business to be offline for a minute, an hour, or a day. The provider may offer credit for down time, however, that credit has to be enough to incentivize the provider not to fail. For example, an hour of unplanned availability should result in more than an hour of credit, so that the provider has an incentive to get it right.

What if the move to the cloud fails?

You need to have a graceful retreat. Even with a competent service provider, a good internal team and a solid migration path, it still may not work as you expected. Start slowly, preferably with a pilot project that won’t cause too many headaches if it fails.

The contract needs to have a migration path to retreat, to recover data and software from the provider and bring your information back to your facility. This can be difficult if you didn’t expect it. It may take weeks to retrieve your data and software from the cloud, and during that time, how do you conduct your regular business?

To ensure all your bases are covered, look to a law firm that has experience dealing with the specifications, technology and provisions of service that can examine the contract for missing but essential terms and terms that carve out big exceptions in the provider’s obligations.

Bill Cramer is senior counsel at Dykema Gossett PLLC. Reach him at (214) 462-6418 or wcramer@dykema.com.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Dykema Gossett PLLC

Published in Dallas

Cloud computing may invoke images of an abstract technological force floating in the atmosphere, but the term itself is misleading. The term originated because on technical diagrams, a cloud was drawn around any mixture of resources that made a particular application work, says Pervez Delawalla, president and CEO of Net2EZ.

“Cloud computing means so many different things to so many people, and there is a lot of confusion,” says Delawalla. “It’s cloudy out there in the cloud. An easier way to explain it is by using the utility computing concept. This resonates the most with people because they can compare to how they use gas or electricity as a utility, so now can you use computing power as a utility.”

Smart Business spoke with Delawalla about what cloud computing is and how to apply its advantages to your business.

How does cloud computing work?

You have to envision that the physical architecture itself is vast. Data centers all over the world house servers, and each server or set of servers is designated for a certain type of application or resource. Servers, routers, switches and security devices combine with network connectivity and an operating system to form the cloud. You could compare it to an electrical grid, in which power comes from substations and power generation points before electricity goes over wires to provide power to households or businesses.

Some examples of cloud computing include Apple products that back up data to their iCloud, and Microsoft products with which data is backed up on SkyDrive, Google Drive, Salesforce.com or Dropbox. A business may approach a data center for complete automation of its infrastructure and take care of the software itself.

The data center is then responsible for ensuring that all of the hardware pieces are working in harmony with each other and have different versing capabilities within that physical layer.

What are the advantages of cloud computing?

A major advantage of cloud computing is time. As a startup business you can get up and running online reasonably quickly and with minimal investment because you are not buying servers, routing or switching equipment. Instead, you are plugging into a utility that doesn’t require any setup, that is already functioning, and you simply pay for it on a monthly basis.

Cloud computing also offers more versatility and capacity. For example, say your company has a new e-commerce site and a product becomes an overnight sensation. If your website is on a cloud computing platform, you can scale up and sustain a high volume of traffic without having a performance degradation for users of your site.

Cloud computing can also improve your ability to be agile and nimble because the monthly fee for service includes taking care of your hardware and resources. As a user of the cloud, you don’t need an army of IT personnel or consultants, freeing you up both financially and staffing-wise to concentrate on your target business.

Additionally, a minimal amount of software is installed on the personal computer or path, so instead of downloading the entire Microsoft Office suite, for example, you can sign up for Microsoft Office 365, which allows you to subscribe to the cloud-based service on a month-to-month basis to access all Microsoft Office products.

What is the difference between public and private cloud services?

On a public cloud, you don’t know where your data is stored or who has access to it, but you are able to increase your capacity more quickly. An example is Amazon Web Services, which hosts websites on hundreds of thousands of servers which allows users to increase capacity as needed.

A private cloud can be established for businesses that know their growth plans and that want extra security. The business can then control who has access to that data and knows that it is stored in a secure location.

How are security and privacy handled with cloud computing?

Security and privacy are the main reasons businesses are hesitant to go over to the cloud. However, with a private cloud, you manage your environment so closely that the security is as good as with conventional computing. Because of privacy issues, HIPAA-compliant and PCI-compliant credit card companies will always have to use private cloud services.

For extra security, you can do an automation deployment with a private cloud, but that will result in higher costs because you have dedicated resources just for your company. For data that isn’t as sensitive, a public cloud offers more versatility and nimbleness.

What should businesses think about when considering cloud computing?

Ask yourself exactly what it is you want out of the cloud. What are your needs and what do you want to accomplish? With so many different products, you have to ascertain what you will use it for. If you require word processing or Excel, you could use Google Drive, Microsoft Office 365 or Google App. For massive data storage needs, there’s Box.com or Amazon Web Services.

For private cloud service, you need to find a data center company to meet those requirements. Examine what the various companies are providing as their feature set for cloud computing, then choose which company best suits your business needs.

If your focus and expertise is not in IT, the more you can outsource to a cloud computing environment, the lower your costs will be for computing needs and data storage. Then your company can focus on its strengths, knowing that the rest is being taken care of up in the cloud.

 

 

Pervez Delawalla is president and CEO at Net2EZ. Reach him at (310) 426-6700 or pervez@net2ez.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Net2EZ

Published in Los Angeles
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