Although the cloud in its current form is still relatively recent, interest in using cloud computing in the enterprise continues to grow. Cloud computing has several benefits, including cost savings. Of course, we’re hearing more and more about cloud computing these days – but what is cloud storage, and how can it benefit your business?
The fact is that you’re probably already using the cloud without even realising it. If you use a web-based email provider such as Gmail or Hotmail, you are using the cloud. If you’ve ever used Skype video calling or video interfaces like Vimeo or YouTube, you’ve used the cloud. If you’ve ever backed up data on the Internet rather than an external device, you’ve used the cloud.
Although the cloud in its current form is a relatively recent development, interest in cloud computing continues to grow. Cloud computing has a significant number of benefits — here are the top five:
1. Cost Savings
One of the most appealing reasons to switch to the cloud is cost savings. With cloud computing, the need to pay for large amounts of disk and storage space is instantly removed, and the need for buying, installing and upgrading pricey software. With the cloud, you’ll pay for applications only when needed, and many applications are included free of charge. Usage can easily be scaled to fit your needs and adjusted for peaks or troughs in demand.
This “a la carte” incremental way of paying can save your business a lot of money. Pay-per-use reduces (or in some cases eliminates) the cost of maintaining in-house servers. The savings apply to your desktop, too — with SaaS (software as a service), desktop software need not be installed, which saves your business both time and money.
2. Ease of Use
Quite simply, cloud computing is easy to get up and to run. Instead of having to download and/or install the software yourself, it is all done for you in the cloud. The cloud also offers virtually unlimited storage capacity relative to typical hard drive and server limits. The cloud is also adaptable. If you need more storage, it’s instantly available for a slightly larger fee per month. Since your business data is stored in the cloud, your employees will access software and data anywhere from nearly any device with an Internet connection.
3. Increased Storage Capacity and Automation
The cloud offers virtually unlimited storage capacity compared to typical hard drive and server limits and flexible. If your business needs more storage, you can upgrade at any time. Also, the cloud keeps software up-to-date with the latest versions, so you’ll never have to worry about doing software updates yourself. File sync with all of your devices, as well as file back-ups, are also fully automated. Your data will continually be kept consistent and current among all of your devices in use.
4. Agility, Flexibility, and Scalability.
Cloud computing also offers far more flexibility and agility compared to past computing methods. Your employees will no longer be tethered to their desks and will be able to access files and data from wherever they are, 24 hours a day. You’ll also be able to scale your cloud usage up or down on an as-needed basis and only pay for what you are using. In the past, making changes to your service could take months. Now, with the cloud, this can be done in minutes.
With the cloud, your staff will be able to access information from home, from clients’ offices, on the road, or even from their smartphone. Your staff members can also work collaboratively on documents and files, even when they are not physically in the same room. Also, documents can be viewed as well as edited simultaneously from multiple user locations.
5. Freeing up Your IT Staff
Since the cloud does most everything for you, there is no need to use valuable IT staff resources on maintaining servers, fixing bugs, or taking care of software updates. Your IT department will spend less time on maintenance and be free to spend more time focusing on strategic initiatives to increase your company’s bottom line.
More reasons to use the cloud
Everyone has an opinion on the ‘cloud’ and its effect on business – some believe it is dark and scary and fraught with unnecessary risk. In contrast, others would argue its silver-lined path to more extraordinary business performance and cost savings. The truth is that the cloud undeniably has the potential to open up a whole new dimension of opportunities to businesses – but only if data security is appropriately addressed.
First, let’s dispel any misperceptions you might have about the cloud. It’s nothing mystical, nothing whimsical – nothing to be afraid of. The reason many fear the cloud is its reputation as a dangerous or ‘risky’ place. And that is true. Anything beyond the physical perimeter of the organisation is also, theoretically, beyond the physical protection of the organisation. And let’s face it, there are dangers and risks out there, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay behind a locked door. Instead, by arming yourself with the proper security, you can stay clear of danger and fully tap into the cloud’s potential.
The cloud and security are intrinsically intertwined, and only when both works in symbiosis can a business truly grow. There are five main areas where safety can team up with the cloud to offer companies the most significant potential to thrive – and it isn’t hard to get it right.
- Data protection
Data is critical and possibly the essential asset for organisations – a single breach or leak of sensitive data can cripple the entire business, so a data protection strategy must protect the data itself. The ability to move sensitive information into and throughout the cloud is essential for companies to function and collaborate efficiently, quickly, and freely – but a comprehensive data protection strategy must support this ability. The trick is to protect data at the moment of creation before it moves out of the enterprise or even enters the cloud. Only by doing that can you ensure that any data source is comprehensively protected and the risk of potential exposure is minimised.
- Regulatory compliance and data residency requirements
Sensitive data that is moved into and across cloud infrastructures can quickly introduce additional complexity and cost to regulatory compliance – potentially costing thousands in fines and damaging reputations. Companies that ensure sensitive data is comprehensively protected can significantly reduce cost, complexity, and overall risk in meeting and maintaining regulatory compliance.
- Scalability and flexibility
The cloud has opened up previously unseen opportunities for organisations to grow and expand quickly, smoothly, and with ease. With information immediately available wherever you are, the cloud offers the flexibility and scalability that in the past was an insurmountable obstacle for businesses restricted by their on-site resources. The key to successfully harnessing this opportunity is a flexible data security architecture that is adaptable across multiple applications and systems while not adversely impacting the user experience. Failure to put a comprehensive, data-centric protection program can cause cloud initiatives to be delayed or fraught with hidden security issues.
- Cost efficiencies
This element is two-fold. First, reap the robust cost savings by only paying for what you use. The second element is that most cloud computing platforms provide the means to capture, monitor, and control usage information for accurate billing. A single, comprehensive data protection platform can eliminate the threat of risky fines from compliance breaches or data loss while also reducing the need to invest in multiple security tools.
- Access to data anytime, anywhere.
Enhancing the opportunity to drive business innovation, the cloud provides remote access to your infrastructure 24/7 for your workforce. No longer will you arrive for a meeting only to find the materials on your USB stick are a previous version. Instead, you access the original file wherever you happen to be. Sales teams can check stock levels in real-time. An employee stuck at home waiting for a delivery or in an airport waiting for an ash cloud to disperse can still work effectively as in the office.
With so many critical business benefits of the cloud depending on security, one would easily be misled into thinking that a whole host of restrictions have to be implemented to address safety issues. But the truth is, it all comes back to the data. A single framework that comprehensively protects all enterprise data from the point of creation and throughout its lifecycle can eliminate practically all potential security hazards that could threaten the cloud.
Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is often positioned as a magic bullet to IT infrastructure challenges—which may not always be the case. There are quite a few reasons why cloud might be an excellent fit to effectively solve critical business operations and productivity issues your organisation may be facing.
The disadvantages and benefits of moving previously on-prem (“touchable”) systems to the cloud are often complicated by a lack of cloud expertise and uncertainty of costs that creates. This decision-making process quickly becomes overwhelming when adding topics of cloud security and future operational costs.
The common question is how to ensure that a new cloud environment meets or exceeds the security posture of the traditional on-prem environments. When it comes to compliance and security audits, features must meet (or exceed) security requirements.
Calculating Return On Investment
Cloud solutions may not allow you to take high amounts of risk in terms of ROI than ultra-low-cost solutions. Some organisations are okay with extended downtime. It’s not very compelling to talk about disaster recovery when the cost of a three-day outage is relatively minimal with limited impact on general business operations. Businesses that understand potential losses can better determine exactly what extended downtimes mean to the company in both the short and long run.
So, how do you know if this applies to you and your organisation? Sit down with key stakeholders that understand the flow of money coming in and the services or products going out. Take an objective and holistic look at how much it costs the business to operate each hour of the day. Ask how potential productivity loss may affect potential revenue gains about business financial goals and commitments. This is the only way to accurately evaluate possible ROI (Return on Investment) for any proposed cloud or disaster recovery solution.
Understanding downtime and revenue flow thresholds enable you to more accurately define and document Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) for cloud backups, Recovery Time Objective (RTO) for being back up and running, and prioritisation of RTO objectives based on critical business operations and departments.
Limited It Resources For Cloud Deployment
Lack of in-house cloud expertise? You’re not alone. Taking on the amount of training and certifications needed to effectively implement and managed day-to-day operations of cloud infrastructure can be daunting. Cloud innovation is driving a lot of changes in IT infrastructure around the world and across all industries.
Regardless of its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Services (IaaS), public cloud services, private cloud, hybrid environments, e-commerce, general IoT (Internet of Things), big data, or somewhere in between, businesses of all sizes struggle to keep up with the continuous innovation while also keeping things running smoothly. With the current speed of creation, the ability and skillsets required to adapt quickly and pivot have become necessary for those supporting business operations.
The ability to take advantage of new opportunities means having agile systems and people to change rapidly and implement new methodologies, knowledge, and skills within your organisation. Whether switching from traditional networking to virtualisation and containers, from physical servers to IaaS and PaaS—technology is ever-evolving. Having the organisational awareness and skillsets to keep up is crucial in supporting new services and growing business systems.
Take Microsoft Azure, for example. It’s relatively simple to spin up Microsoft Azure cloud services to run basic applications or act as a development environment. That said, there are additional aspects that responsible cloud deployment encompasses. From modules, security models, and storage approach to developing systems for managing the access and utilisation of all the above—a lot is required to keep cloud environments optimised without compromising security.
Cloud Security Threats
Public cloud threats continue to grow as more organisations move to public cloud platforms such as Azure, AWS, or Google. The majority of breaches are due to misconfigurations of the cloud platform. Azure, for instance, provides best practices for configuring all workloads based on each workload.
Microsoft 365 has been one of the most hacked sites in the world over the years. Since it is a public website, bad actors have been trying to access user’s email by using usernames/passwords they purchase on the Dark Web. Following best practices such as enabling MFA and using separate passwords for all online accounts per person can help keep tabs secure. The public cloud works the same way.
Cloud Connectivity, Network Availability And Outages
To reap the benefits of cloud computing, your business must always have an internet connection. Unfortunately, there is no way to get around this fact. You need a network to email it to send files to the cloud and retrieve them.
You need a network to use your virtual machines even if you pay for cloud infrastructure services. If you lose your network connection because of a storm or an outage, you may experience some downtime. However, working with a certified cloud expert that prioritises cloud security can help you develop a successful business continuity plan that meets availability and security compliance requirements.
Cloud Service Closes Shop
You usually deal with one of a handful of known players that offer time-tested, reliable services in a mature industry. Cloud computing is a young industry with lots of companies vying for business. There is a possibility that your cloud provider will run out of money and close its doors forever.
The more critical the cloud is to your business, the more devastating a sudden provider shutdown will prove. This problem is magnified by cloud vendor lock-in, where migrating from one cloud vendor to another is difficult and expensive.
Think of it as renting a warehouse and filling it with the merchandise. Once you have all of that merchandise stored in there, it’s a logistical nightmare to move it.
Imagine how difficult things would get if you lost access to the warehouse when the warehouse’s owner went bankrupt. That’s what it would be like if your cloud provider shut down tomorrow without warning.
In the end, while there are disadvantages to cloud computing, deciding to move forward with digital transformation solves a majority of IT infrastructure challenges. Not going it alone and partnering with cloud and cybersecurity experts is the best approach for supporting current and future business operations and maximising productivity.
When weighing cloud computing’s advantages and disadvantages, it’s essential to keep the sources of those pros and cons in mind. Cloud service providers are responsible for just about every benefit. The same isn’t true for the disadvantages. Cloud providers can’t control when your Internet access goes down. They can only exert limited control over your digital security habits. As for the providers closing shop, it’s always best to choose companies with an established track record.