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Moving to the Cloud: Think Before You Jump

8 Oct 2014 by Teresa Meek

If you haven’t started using the cloud for your business, are you doing the technological equivalent of wearing an old wind-up watch? Is it time—or past time—to jump in?

Maybe, but you need to think before you jump. The cloud brings many benefits, which is why so many businesses are using it. But it can also lead to unanticipated technology upgrades, increased costs, and security headaches. Every business is different, and their cloud solutions should be different, too. Here are some of the things you should think about before making the big leap:

Advantages

  • Greater storage capacity: moving to the cloud—which means moving your data from on-site storage to remote servers—gives you way more storage capacity. If you gather massive amounts of data and analyze them for trends, as more businesses are doing these days, that’s a big benefit.
  • Access: Improved access to information is a big reason businesses are turning to the cloud. Workers can connect to company information from almost anywhere on any device.
  • Cost efficiency: If you move to the cloud, you will be billed for only as much storage capacity as you need. You won’t be paying for on-site servers that run up your electric bill even though they’re seldom used to capacity. Of course, these costs, along with IT costs, are borne by the cloud provider and passed on to you. But these days, the cloud computing field is cut-throat competitive, and providers with deep pockets are offering deep discounts to gain your business.
  • Lower IT costs: You no longer have to manage hardware, applications, or bandwidth on-site. You don’t have to pay for or keep up with software licensing fees.
  • Scalability: Scaling up or down is easier. Your cloud provider makes the changes and your paid IT staff doesn’t have to spend time reconfigure anything or buy new equipment.

Disadvantages

  • Need more bandwidth: Though download speeds on your company’s internet plan may be fine, you may need to upgrade upload speeds to take advantage of the cloud. For cloud computing, you need about 3 MB of synchronous upload/download for every 10 users, a recent Wall Street Journal article said.
  • Hidden costs: A 2013 Compuware survey showed that 79 percent of companies are concerned about “hidden” costs of the cloud, such as poor performance or service availability. Among IT managers, 69 percent worried about the quality of end-user experience.
  • Security: This is a biggie. There have been some infamous breeches in the past year, and data on the cloud is vulnerable to hack attacks even when your provider has security measures in place. Because of security concerns, many companies are using a hybrid approach to the cloud. They keep extra-sensitive data—Social Security numbers and information subject to close and changing regulation, for example—in-house and move the rest off-site.
  • Provider service: Instead of trusting your IT guy down the hall, you’re trusting your company’s information to a cloud services provider you don’t know and who may be hundreds of miles away. Before you do that, it’s important to carefully read the company’s service level agreements and check into its reputation with existing customers.

The cloud offers some great advantages in storage capacity, access, and flexibility. With all the competition in the cloud storage business, it’s a good time to jump in. But before you do, create a plan expressing what you hope to gain from moving to the cloud and which types of data you want to upload. Research providers carefully and ask lots of questions. And remember, you don’t have to move everything to the cloud. For many businesses, a hybrid solution works best.