I am often asked what cloud computing is. Most people know the buzzwords: working in the cloud, move to the cloud, life in the cloud, etc. Technically speaking, Wikipedia says cloud-computing means using multiple server computers via a digital network, as though they were one computer. Cloud computing, like regular computing, can be broken up into three layers: infrastructure, platform and application. Each layer has it’s own issues in cloud computing. For the most part this blog discussion is about the application side of cloud computing –consumer and business applications, but the principles pertain to the other layers, too.
In plain terms, you can tell that you are dealing with cloud computing when you have access to applications and data from a network device (smartphones, iPods, laptops, etc.). Cloud computing differs from the classic client-server model by providing applications that are executed and managed via a web browser, without an installed software program required. Google docs and Facebook are examples of cloud apps that get used everyday worldwide without anyone giving it a second thought.
Still don’t get it? Here’s a great simple video explanation.
There is a Saleforce.com video that says their cloud computing solution does away with businesses needing to purchase and implement their own databases, office space, servers and business apps. They don’t have to hire the staff to support the infrastructure. They claim that businesses will experience lower costs, more scalability and offer better security. Indeed cloud computing is a great concept, similar in nature to the Internet itself, just more capitalized. It’s all about consumer power and the benefits of using shared resources and technology.
There is no doubt that cloud computing is the wave of the future. Stopping the growth of cloud computing would be like stopping Internet expansion. Cloud computing can provide some very solid benefits like: lower costs, increased reach, collaboration, easy and stable software updates, no capital expenses, and working remotely. But there is a dark lining to many cloud apps and I’ve found a few things people should be watching for when deciding which ones to choose. Here’s my list of things to consider.
1. Assess the software or service carefully and have ‘an exit plan’
I started a couple of years ago with a new free cloud-based service called iCyte. It’s a bookmarking site that allows you to annotate and organize your web searches. After about a year and a half into using this software, they started charging a monthly fee. I decided not to pay the fee, but found the best I could do to export my vast collection of data was to export it to a very messy .csv file (aka spreadsheet). Lesson learned. I don’t give up info, pictures, and/or even clicks until I find out if I can get that info OUT in a usable manner. Test it early.
2. Does it fit the scope of your business?
When I ‘tested’ Salesforce.com within a small business, I found that although it may have been a good solution for a medium-sized business that had database-knowledgeable staff ready to customize these apps, it was not as easy as they portrayed. Most small businesses would not have the know-how or man-hours needed to get Salesforce.com or many other cloud apps to work easily for them.
3. Sales guys never think about security
Although the sales guys may tell you that cloud computing is safer, the proof is in the news recently. From Citigroup to Sony, this article explains how, in fact, there is cause for great alarm and describes the vulnerability of cloud computing.
4. How supporting is your support personnel?
Do they even have support personnel? Can you get a REAL PERSON on the phone to help? One of the first things that I check before choosing a cloud computing vendor is who will be the support team and if it offers live support. Since I speak only American, then they need to, too. Simple as that. If they do not speak American English, as in the same syntax, slang, etc. then I know when I get frustrated with an issue that I will not be able to get my point across. I’ve tried and tried it and now it is simply –my choice.
5. Beware the ‘free trial’
After the ‘free trial’ is done, businesses that ‘tested it out’ find difficulty in recovering the info and getting it back in house. If it’s a one month or 3-month trial, BEWARE. The longer you use a trial, that you decide later is not worth it, the more time and data you have added to someone else’s software. I suggest, in the event of the trial not working out, that you first assess (see point #1) how you will export the info out of their site and back into your system OR run dual processes (work in both places) while you test their system.
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