Choosing the right Cloud Service Provider

So, you’ve decided to make the leap to the cloud.  Great!  Where do you start?

It’s important to choose the right Cloud Service Provider so that you don’t run into problems later.  When you choose the service provider, look at things like how long the company has been providing cloud services and how much uptime has there been during this period.  You want to make sure that the provider’s technologies are compatible with your company’s technology.  And you need to make sure you have a list of your requirements to use as you look into whether or not that vendor can meet your requirements.

This article, “10 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cloud Provider“, provides a list of 10 things you can ask providers as you shop around to find the right provider for your needs.

Here are the ten questions that Kim LaChance Shandrow lists in the article:

“1. Which Cloud Services do you provide?

 2. What is your pricing structure?

3. How secure is your cloud?

4. Where is your data center, and how safe is it?

5. What happens if you lose my data?

6. What customer support services do you offer?

7. Can your cloud scale up to meet my business needs?

8. What’s your downtime history?

9. How will I get set up?

10. How will I access my company’s cloud

There are some very good points in this article.  For Cost: you should only pay for what you use.  That’s the way the Cloud is set up.  Research pricing, make sure you are not being charged for stuff you don’t need.  Also, there should be no big investment to get set up.  There may be set up fees involved, but one of the benefits of cloud computing is that you are not making a huge investment up front for equipment, etc.  If you feel that a provider is asking for an unreasonable amount of money up front, find a different provider!

About Security:  Make sure that the provider you choose has adequate security measures in place to keep your data secure.  Do they have firewalls?  How about Anti-Virus protection?  Do they have user authentication and encryption standards in place?  Do they do regular monitoring/auditing?  Also, where (Physically) is the data being stored?  Physical security is just as important as virtual security – if someone can get to the equipment, they can wreak havoc and cost you money.

I hope if you are reading this, you have a disaster recovery plan in place for your organization.  It’s important to make sure you know what the SLA (Service Level Agreement) says about how they plan act in the case of data loss.   Make sure you ask them about their history of data loss and know what the agreement says.  Do they have a  system in place to recover data?  If there is a loss of data, will they compensate you and how?

Remember, you are giving this company access and charge over your information.  Make sure you research them like you would a caregiver coming into your home to care for your children in your absence.  You want to make sure they are trustworthy and are not going to cause your business to suffer a loss if it can be prevented.

References:

LaChance Shandrow, K.  (June 3, 2013).  10 Questions to Ask when Choosing a Cloud Provider.  Retrieved from:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226845

Pros & Cons of Cloud Computing

If you are thinking about moving your business into the cloud, it’s a good idea to look at the advantages and disadvantages of making the jump.  Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the risks to your business.  As with all of my posts on this blog, I found a great article that talks about some of the pros and cons of doing your business in the cloud.  Here is what I gleaned from reading the article:

Advantages:

  • Cost – using cloud services such as storage and software can be less expensive then investing in equipment and desktop software for your business
    • Instead of paying for servers for your network, you can pay as you go for only the storage you need
    • Software can be costly.  It requires an initial investment, maintenance, upgrades and licenses for each user.  Using cloud based software can prove to be less expensive, and updates and maintenance typically happens automatically in the cloud.
  • Storage – using storage as a service in the cloud allows you to use only the space you need, and as your needs grow – the space is virtually unlimited
  • Backup & Recovery – no need for nightly tapes or backups on your physical hard drive.  Backing up data in the cloud is easier.  As for recovering data MOST cloud providers are well equipped to recover lost data.  This can save you time and money in case of data loss.
  • Software Integration – in the cloud, software integration usually happens automatically
  • Access to information – as long as you have an internet connection, you can access your data in the cloud from virtually anywhere
  • Deployment – getting set up and started in the cloud is fast.  You can typically get things up and running within minutes.
  • Scalability – many cloud provides offer pay as you go services.  This allows you to pay for only what you need when you need it.  If you anticipate a change in your needs, you can quickly change the services you use.

Disadvantages:

  • Technical Difficulties – if your cloud provider goes down, so do you.  If you don’t have access to the internet, you don’t have access to your services in the cloud.
  • Security – you are giving up control of your data.  Since it is in the hands of your cloud provider, the security of your data is at the mercy of that provider.  Sensitive data may be at risk.
  • At risk of attack – since you have your data out there in the cloud, there is always a chance of your data being compromised.  (Of course, there is also always a chance of your data being compromised within a physical network on site too!)

There are pros and cons of moving your business to the cloud.  However, you can minimize the risks involved if you do your research, make sure you choose a cloud provider who is reputable and has a proven track record of knowing how to deal with the risks and who you trust to keep your sensitive data safe.  In my opinion, the same risks are present if you have your business on a physical network in your building.  It just seems a bit scarier when you are entrusting someone who is less invested in your business than you are to keep that data secure.

References:

http://mobiledevices.about.com/od/additionalresources/a/Cloud-Computing-Is-It-Really-All-That-Beneficial.htm

Who “owns” our stuff in the cloud?

Week 4 of my class on Cloud Computing covered current cloud technologies.  As I was researching and reading about these technologies, the issue of security came up (as I am sure it will for all things cloud related for the duration of the course).  At the same time, on my Facebook wall I kept seeing people post this statement informing Facebook that they do not have permission to share or sell their photos, information, etc.  These posts seem to stem from a hoax article that has been going around stating that every must post this disclaimer or Facebook will take all your stuff and use it how they want.

This begs the question, who “owns” the data we store in the cloud?  When we save our information in the cloud, it’s no longer stored on our local equipment.  We have moved it into the hands of the cloud provider who is storing it and managing it.  Most (hopefully ALL) cloud providers have a Terms of Service statement/agreement that lays out exactly what they can and cannot do with your information.  And it’s a good practice to read this agreement and know exactly how they may or may not use your information before you start uploading sensitive data and personal photos to their servers.

I came across an article by Brad Linder (http://liliputing.com/2011/07/dropbox-cloud-storage-and-who-owns-your-files.html) that talks a little more in-depth about this issue.  His article explains that most providers are not claiming ownership over your stuff.  They are, however, explaining in their terms of service that they may share it (if you post a photo on flickr, you may also have it linked to share on facebook, etc.).  The bottom line is that when you store your files, music, photos, etc. with a cloud provider you ARE giving up some of the control.  And as the article states, if you want to maintain COMPLETE control over your data – you may want to keep it stored on a local hard drive.  The downside to this complete control scenario is that you will not be able to benefit from the cloud and all it has to offer.

What are your thoughts on this issue?  I know for me, being a bit of a control freak, it was difficult for me to transition to the cloud.  But, I did it.  I’m ok with it, and if I have something that is really private that I don’t want there to be a chance of anyone getting a hold of – I probably will keep it stored on a local hard drive and secured in my physical presence.  At least until the cloud offers me a fort knox solution that meets the needs of the control freak inside of me.