What is it and what are the benefits?
The ‘Cloud’ is this instance is the internet. Since the very earliest microcomputers and then the PC’s; software has been stored and run on the desktop, and any data stored there as well. With cloud computing the software is run from a server somewhere on the Internet and your data is stored there also.
Whilst “Cloud Computing” might be something of a buzz-word – it has actually been around for some time. Web based mail services such as Hotmail are instances of cloud computing, and there are several online photographic services which will store your photographs, and allow you to organise them in albums, manipulate them and do basic photo editing.
What is new is that now there are mainstream services aimed at businesses. These include accountancy software, customer relationship management (CRM) or for corporate email and collaboration; such as Office 365 from Microsoft.
Benefits of Cloud Computing:
- Being a subscription service means that there are no upfront costs for software, or paying for upgrades every few years. You merely pay a regular fee (usually monthly)
- Scalability: As your workforce grows or contracts you can change the number of licenses (or seats)*.
- Reduced IT support costs, the service provider is responsible for ensuring that everything is working smoothly.
- Your workforce can access the service from anywhere using a standard web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox Safari etc.) This is useful if you have a dispersed or mobile workforce, or senior staff members need to check on things from home.
- Independent of devices. – the service is frequently accessible via a smart-phone or Tablet.
- If your PC should crash, you can keep working on a different machine
*some providers may have a minimum contract terms or be less flexible in changing down. Microsoft bills monthly for the number of seats in use.
Issues to be aware of:
There are some concerns which prospective users might raise, mainly centring on availability and data security and these need to be considered
- Availability – most service providers have service level agreements guaranteeing a 99% uptime or above. Usually the data is replicated on alternative servers, in case of power failure. However if your own broadband service is intermittent or slow (probably because premises are some distance from the exchange); Cloud Computing may not be an option for your business.
- Data Security – your data is stored with the service provider, not by you. If you use a well-known and trusted provider such as Microsoft, this should not be an issue. But what happen should they be taken over or cease trading? Equally you might wish to move to a different provider, can you transfer your data?
- You should study the terms and conditions and see what they say on these matters.
- Do they make regular backups?
- Is there a facility for exporting your data to a local copy on your PC or company server, so that there is a backup copy which you control / own?
- Data Security 2 – All that is needed to access your business data from anywhere in the world is a user name and password. But this convenience comes at a price: If a user name and password leaks out then your data might get into the public domain or be at risk. Prudent behaviour is important and avoid lax practices.
- Make sure that the roles you set, or the permissions you give, to individual workers are just sufficient for them to operate.
- Give them security training so that they use Str0NG passwords and know not to disclose them, even to co-workers.
- They should also be aware of ‘phishing’ emails purporting to come from a trusted outside agency such as the service provider. At present the majority of phishing emails are targeting bank accounts etc. but in the future agencies involved in industrial espionage may target businesses in the Cloud.
- Security of desktops and laptops to protect them from malicious software remains vital. Even though they don’t store your critical data, Trojans with keyboard logging software may give away passwords to someone with criminal intent..
- If borrowing a ‘foreign’ PC, don’t select the box to ‘remember password’.
- Should you have to ‘let a member of staff go’; reset their password, or delete their account whilst they are clearing their desk.
If the above issues are addressed, then Cloud Computing may be the way forward for your business. One product which Córas IT is able to offer is Office 365 from Microsoft. This provides a hosted Exchange server for company emails and SharePoint to allow staff to share and word collaboratively on documents.