|The recent launch of the Google Drive is bringing renewed attention to cloud computing, a topic that has been pretty hot in the past couple of years. For those who are unfamiliar with what the cloud is and some of your options, we will be writing a three part series on the cloud.|
The first part will explain what the cloud is, some common applications, address some security concerns, and how a cloud solution could benefit your business. The second part will take a look at free cloud computing solutions, address the limitations, talk about the potential for developing tools, the unique security concerns for free services, and analysis of some of the most common free cloud solutions, including Google Drive. The final post will discuss paid cloud solutions, their benefits, unique security factors, and important factors in selecting your cloud provider.
What is “The Cloud”?
Information is said to be on the cloud, when it is on a remote server. You can access this data anywhere you have an internet connection. An example of this is Google Docs. With Google Docs, you can create a file in your web browser, edit it, and share it from anywhere in the world, including your smart phone. In a world that is increasingly mobile, you can definitely see the value in being able to access your data without having to carry around a disc or a flash drive. Chances are you are already using some cloud based applications without even realizing it. Some of the most commonly used web applications are:
Webmail: If you get your email through yahoo, hotmail, gmail, or another webmail provider, you are using an application on the cloud.
File Storage: Some of the most popular cloud based apps out there are for backing up your files, these apps include DropBox and the new Google Drive, but also include sharing sites like Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, and Tumblr. These applications are a hybrid between social media and file storage.
SaaS Programs: Any software that you are using for your business that is provided on Software as a Service model is a cloud application. This includes our Corporate Vision Portal, Certificate Tracking Portal, and Wrap Portal. Others SaaS service examples are salesforce.com, Google’s Web optimizer, and all of the other products mentioned above.
Business is already using many of these tools and others like them to their advantage, and many businesses are making the leap to moving the bulk of their computing to Cloud Based Services. The advantages to this include:
Of course along with such great benefits come some risks. For Cloud Computing, those risks primarily revolve around security of your data. If you are working with top of the line provider, your data could actually be more secure in their hands than in yours. However, as in any business there are those who just don’t perform at the same level as their competitors. A good Cloud Provider will have stringent physical and virtual security features, will encrypt your data for transmission and on the servers, and will have a detailed disaster recovery plan. When considering a Cloud Solution, you should ask some pretty hard questions to your potential buyers. Questions such as:
- Do you encrypt data as it is being transported from my computer to yours?
- What kind of firewall and antivirus do you have in place?
- Is my data encrypted on the servers themselves?
- What kind of physical security do you have? Does it include Biometric security features?
- Has your system been tested by a third party to test for weaknesses in your network? How often does your company do that testing
- What procedures do you have in place in the event of a breach?
- What kind of disaster recovery plan do you have?
The list here could go on for days, for more information on the types of security questions you could ask read this article by Educause. It has a pretty thorough treatment of the questions you should be asking .
How Can my Business Use the Cloud?
There are a lot of enterprise uses for the cloud; really the only limitations are your industry’s privacy regulation requirements and your imagination. Many business owners use cloud solutions in different ways. The most common is through particular applications, such as their email client or e-commerce solutions. Individual programs that run from the web make it easier to access applications necessary to perform job functions from anywhere inside your office/store or from the comfort of your home. Others use the cloud for data sharing and storage. This is where security and privacy considerations come into play. The way that many companies use cloud storage is that they use a syncing program that syncs all of the data on their computer to an online drive that stores the copy. At that time they have access to the file from all over the world and they can make changes to it and resave it. By mobilizing your workforce, you save time and money. Other businesses have fully integrated the cloud into their business model, so that they only run minimal infrastructure and the bulk of their computing power is done by remote servers.
Whatever it is your business use the cloud for and how it uses it, there are great benefits to be found. These benefits as mentioned above include: cost savings, space savings, time saving, improved accessibility to data, increased productivity, and much much more. However, when considering cloud solutions you should spend plenty of time asking questions about its features, optimal uses, security concerns, and whether you have the ability to customize it. Even with free solutions it is a good idea to consult with IT professionals like Nourtek Solutions to determine the best cloud solution for you and to help you implement it seamlessly, whether you want to implement for your whole business or single applications.