Moving into the Cloud… or not?

I recently read an article detailing how Microsoft are moving to a ‘users pays’ software model with Microsoft 2013 and the advantages and disadvantages of this. The article got me thinking about Microsoft’s other Office offering Office 360 which is a cloud based solution.

The information world is changing, and changing fast. The biggest buzz word going around at the moment is the ‘cloud’. Most people at first are apprehensive about the concept of the almighty cloud, when in reality it is nothing new.

In the 1970’s most computer systems worked with a large central computer and a number of terminals accessing data and processing information remotely – the concept of the mainframe computer was born. As computers became cheaper however, users started buying their own computer systems that then of course needed software. For more than 25 years software companies have evolved their offerings and introduced annual maintenance fees to keep users paying for upgrades and use of the software. They also regularly introduced new, some what improved versions, again wanting to extract more money from the consumer.

For the last 15 years the Internet has been growing and becoming more accessible for regular users. With the coming of the National Broadband Network, speed and reliability will be greatly improved and with this greater speed the concept of Cloud Computing is becoming a reality for us all.

Cloud Computing is the hosting of data and software by external third parties. The concept at the moment is not one of a single large cloud, rather most users are accessing a number of small clouds. Anyone familiar with Hotmail, Dropbox, Gmail etc are effectively using the cloud. In such cases we are storing information on internet based servers. Further examples include virus scanning, which particularly at business levels, is done on external servers before the information reaches our computers.

The benefits of Cloud Computing include:

  • Access from any internet accessible computer, at anytime, anywhere
  • No need to backup externally
  • Allow sharing of information
  • Decreased cost for hardware and storage
  • Don’t need to ever upgrade software. This is part of the service
  • Generally can be used on any PC platform (Windows, Apple, Google?)

Software companies like Microsoft now offer software such as Windows 360, which is an internet ‘cloud’ version of Office (rather than owning the box of software, you simply pay to use the software). This has resulted in the birth of SAAS (Software As A Service) with many companies following Microsoft’s lead and moving to this type of service.

But before you jump in with both feet thought must be given to:

  • What happens if the company housing my data goes broke or disappears?
  • Do I know where my data is?
  • Who owns my data!?
  • Is the service provider more likely to be hacked into than little old me?
  • Can I easily change service providers?
  • Is my data private? If I have copyrighted music in my iCloud, do music publishers know?
  • What are software vendors going to charge for the service?

Many consider a cloud service outsourcing IT servers as a cheaper option than owning your own and in some cases this may be the situation. However where you reduce the capital outlay of server equipment, this is replaced by regular maintenance contracts for data housing, commitment to a certain number of virtual servers, as well as additional requirements for internet speed and redundancy. It is not always just a clear cut matter!

Many of the issues raised above should be addressed on an issue by issue basis but please do not consider them deal breaker – more something you must be aware of.

If you are in a small business it makes sense to be cloud based. You can work from the office, home, the car anywhere in you virtual office, accessing email, your calendar, documents and software anywhere and at anytime.

But if you have one office with 25 users (who do not need regular remote access), you must consider whether the security, internet and accessibility issues involved with Cloud Computing are large enough to outweigh its benefits… and unfortunately only you can answer that question!


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