Recent developments in technology, including the proliferation of the internet and of web-based applications, have made a compelling business case for many organizations to seriously consider moving their IT operations from in-house servers to the cloud, and to use web-based applications. Benefits include both lower capital costs and on-going operating costs, and no hardware and software installation and maintenance to worry about. In this article we will use the terms “cloud” and “web” interchangeably.
Until about 2008, there were relatively few cloud storage providers and a limited number of web applications. However in recent years the cloud computing industry has exploded, with almost every conceivable application now being offered as a cloud service. Most business technology needs can now be met from today’s cloud-based offerings.
Where do I start?
In evaluating your organization’s opportunity to move to the cloud, there are three distinct service areas to consider: email (including calendar & contacts), file storage and software applications.
Web-based email has the same functionality as PC-based email, but without the high cost and headaches of maintaining an in-house email system. The two leading web-based email providers are Google and Microsoft. Both these providers support mobile devices such as Blackberry, iPhone, Android and Windows Phone. Google’s mail, calendar and contacts also interface with Outlook running on PC’s.
When choosing a cloud file storage service, there are a number of factors to consider such as level of file encryption, the ease of viewing, editing and saving files, ability to assign read/write permissions to folders or files, desktop and application access, and password protection. You may want to choose a service that automatically syncs your data to a local NAS (Network Access Storage) device, so that if you lose access to the cloud service, you still have the ability to access your data locally. Some of the leading cloud storage providers are Egnyte, iCloud and OpenDrive.
There are now cloud applications available to meet almost every business need. For example, standard office applications to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms are now available online from both Google and Microsoft. If you are running a local server-based CRM, there are now many web-based CRM’s to consider, including Solve360, Salesforce, Sugar and NetSuite. For an excellent, very easy to use web-based time and billing application, try Freshbooks.
What are the risks of moving to the cloud?
Moving to the cloud is not risk-free. However it is important to realize that maintaining all IT operations in-house certainly has its own set of risks, along with significant costs. The following are some of the risks to be aware of, and suggestions to help mitigate these risks:
Data availability. What if you lose internet connectivity, or your cloud service provider goes off line? We suggest maintaining a local copy of your files on a NAS device which is automatically sync’d to the cloud, providing you with access to your data until connectivity is restored.
Data privacy and security. The cloud provider must be in compliance with data privacy and security rules and regulations that apply to your organization, such as PCI-DSS and PIPEDA. Access permissions should ensure that only the right users have access to the right files. Transmission security that employs 256-bit AES encryption ensures that even if company data were intercepted, it would be impossible to decipher.
Data retention. Files must be stored in compliance with your data retention policies, for example to ensure availability of historical financial information for tax authorities.
Disaster recovery. Your cloud provider must have documented and tested disaster recovery capabilities.
An accelerating trend
The shift to the cloud is happening at an accelerating rate, as organizations recognize the potential opportunity to reap cost savings by dramatically reducing their IT expenditures. Competition amongst cloud service providers is intense as they compete for a share of this rapidly expanding market, resulting in greater choice and more competitive pricing for businesses seeking cloud services.
The case for moving to the cloud is often a compelling one, and should not be ignored. If your organization maintains an in-house IT infrastructure and support, then it may be worthwhile evaluating the feasibility of cloud computing.