Tips for navigating cloud computing

Patrick C. Closson| Seacoastonline

Businesses, large and small, are increasingly turning their attention and budgets to Internet-based software solutions for critical business operations.

The practice of using the Internet (or rather a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet) to store, manage, and process data, rather than using a local server, is referred to as “cloud computing.” In this model, various computing services or functions are developed, packaged and delivered as a service, available whenever and wherever a user needs them.

There are good reasons to be excited by this proposition. Cloud-based services offer businesses of all sizes access to leading-edge technology solutions that might otherwise be unaffordable, with limited investment in equipment. But there are risks involved as well. Before you make a move to incorporate cloud-based software solutions, make sure you understand exactly what you will be getting. A few questions business owners should consider when evaluating doing business in the cloud are:

1. What exactly are you buying?

As an off-the-shelf solution, will cloud software seamlessly integrate with your existing technology infrastructure without customization? Most cloud-based services provide business owners with access to a certain uniform service rather than a customized licensed solution. Be certain you understand what is included in the service and how this service will integrate with your existing technology infrastructure before subscribing.

2. What is your commitment?

Most cloud-based services are purchased on a per use or subscription basis, with minimum requirements. The business owner should closely review these minimums to determine whether they are appropriate for the service that is being obtained.

3. Will you be able to access the service when you need it?

Business owners who utilize the cloud for a critical business function must ensure that the service will be available when the business needs it to be available, and that the performance levels of the service will be adequate to meet the business’ needs. Some steps that a business can consider when evaluating these issues are confirming that the service provider has secondary servers, a disaster recovery plan and regular back-ups. The business must also confirm that there will be adequate up-time during those periods when access is needed, including during peak hours of operation. Nothing can be more frustrating than slow response times when using an application. Therefore, businesses should assess what the response times are with regard to the service during peak usage and periods when the business is most likely to utilize the service.

4. Will you have access to your data?

Access to information is another critical component when evaluating cloud-based software services. Companies live and die on their data; it must be available at all times. As part of this requirement, the business must obtain assurances that the provider will allow the business access to its data in a useable form and that when the business terminates its relationship with the service provider that it agrees to return the data in a form and format that the business is able to use.

5. Is your data secure?

When evaluating cloud arrangements, a business must understand who will have access to its data, and where the data will be hosted. Moreover, it must be guaranteed that the data security measures in place comply with all applicable data security laws. Where appropriate, the business should review the data security measures that the provider has in place and require notification of any changes, should the host location be moved. The provider must also have an obligation to immediately notify the business in the event of a data breach, and provide appropriate remedies for costs arising as a result of such breaches.

As businesses continue to move to the cloud for key technology services, business owners must continue to be cautious and perform due diligence when working with a cloud service provider.


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