Cloud computing hooks you up to numerous computer based business functions, including email, website hosting and data storage, directly through the internet. Access to those computer functions, which you select based on your needs, is available from any computer that has an internet connection. When your computer functions are in the cloud, your business is truly mobile. You can tap into your data and work from anywhere in the world.
Needless to say, cloud computing offers big advantages to businesses and individuals. A big plus is the tremendous flexibility available. It’s possible to access numerous computer applications and software functions and operate your business entirely in the cloud. Users of cloud computing essentially rent space on a virtual server and order a la carte the applications and functions that are desired, be it Linux or Windows.
From the cloud, you can request functions specific to your business, without buying an entire software package that may cause you to pay for and install what is not useful to you. One can order online accounting and payroll management functions, for example, rather than buying Intuit’s QuickBooks software.
Cloud based website hosting can be customized to provide the appropriate bandwidth to support video, audio, e-commerce, survey, etc. Furthermore, cloud computing is significantly less expensive to operate as compared to buying separate software components like the latest Windows, traditional website hosting, plus whatever else your business must run to operate efficiently.
There will be less money tied up in technology and more money available for marketing, customer outreach and otherwise carrying out the business mission. Prices start at about $4.95 US per month. Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Yahoo are among the companies that offer cloud computing services.
Many familiar online functions already live in the cloud: gmail and Hotmail; VoIP telephone services like Google and Skype; social media sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; media services like Flickr and YouTube; and Microsoft WebApps, which offers internet-based access to Excel, Outlook, Power Point, Word, etc.
So should you migrate your online operations to the cloud? Maybe, maybe not. Cloud computing may be pervasive, but it’s not yet perfect. Reliability, security and privacy are real concerns. The major cloud service providers claim they deliver 99.95% availability with 5 hours/year downtime on average.
Nevertheless, during the week of April 21-24 of this year, the data center that houses Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud servers (EC2) went down and internet access for thousands of businesses was lost as a result. Although this exciting new technology is being promoted as safe, comprehensive, user-friendly and inexpensive, the underlying infrastructure may not be there yet.
Moreover, can some pimple-faced brat hack his/her way into your data and wreak havoc on your business? Let’s pray that never happens, but to provide the maximum available protection to the integrity and security of your cloud computing, be sure to use secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption to keep your user name and password safe.
Issues of capability and capacity have also been raised. Can the present technology support the fast expanding weight of VoIP, website hosting, video streams and data storage demands? What happens as developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America ramp up their internet access and 3 billion more global citizens elect to join the cloud?
All that remains to be seen, but my guess is that the necessary upgrades will be made to accommodate new cloud users, because money is the mother of invention. Data security is probably the larger issue.
On Friday June 10, the International Monetary Fund learned it was the victim of a major cyber attack. The data breach occurred over several months and has the potential to expose highly confidential information about the fiscal condition of many nations. In an article that appeared in the June 12, 2011 New York Times, the incident was called “political dynamite”. There was no mention as to whether the IMF computer system operated in the cloud.
Thanks for reading,