Things to consider when choosing cloud computing services

How much of your information is in the cloud? Just a few years ago, this idea was still foggy, but what was a novelty is now a must-have. Many of us operate our digital business lives largely in the cloud today.

Most people know “the cloud” refers to servers we connect to via the Internet — often represented as a cloud on a diagram. The physical servers are real, stored at a facility with generators and at least two major telecom providers connecting these computers “in the cloud” to your home or office. Systems are built with this kind of support and redundancy with the intention of being available as much as 99.999999999% of the time.

This level of availability used to be necessary only for large ecommerce sites. But cloud systems are now a commodity — the cost is decreasing, and more flexible pricing models mean any business can set up storage and applications in the cloud.

Most Common Clouds

Popular cloud-based solutions for individuals and small businesses include iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and box.net.

While some of these services have options for businesses that need security, including PCI and HIPAA compliance, most large businesses need total control over a server instead of sharing designated portions of a server. If your business uses cloud servers, that’s a great starting point to define your needs.

Checking the Forecast

How much storage do you need (the amount of space you take up on a server when your data is at rest)? How much bandwidth (that’s the quantity and speed of information you’re moving in and out, how quickly)? These are two common needs you can fulfill, or supplement, with cloud-based systems.

Scattered with Heavy Showers

Expecting a downpour of activity? Think about ticket sales to a Taylor Swift concert, or demand created by a sponsored program on television that drives prospects to a website for a special offer. What if your company is mentioned in an industry-leading publication?

Even if your business uses a consistent services year-round, you may have occasional need for greater capacity. Cloud-based services can be designed to tie into your systems only when you need them — so you pay for only what you use, when you use it.

Pricing can be based on:

  • Actual storage space or bandwidth used (even for very small increments of time)
  • How fast the data needs to move in and out
  • Extra capacity to keep on reserve
  • Redundancy (How often/how many times data is backed up.)
  • Risk—How long you can go without getting to the data?

When Lightning Strikes

The biggest challenge is that your information may be exclusively located on servers that you don’t fully control. For any business using the cloud, it’s critical to know how much control you actually have.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I need Internet access to get my data?
  • Can I physically connect cables and / or pull the plug?
  • Who do I call to get immediate assistance, 24/7/365 and will they be available?
  • What are my cloud provider’s emergency plans? (Think natural disasters, hacking, espionage—it’s all possible.)

A Financial Monsoon

It’s inexpensive and easy to lease a cloud server. Many companies get reliability and cost savings with the cloud. You don’t have to purchase servers and equipment, and you “lease” part of an engineer to maintain it.

So, why doesn’t everyone do everything in the cloud?

As your needs change, it can be easy to lose track of your costs. Are you paying for storage or bandwidth you thought you needed or used to need, but now don’t? If you’re not monitoring your usage, your invoices can quickly get out of whack. Plan for regular audits of your needs, then assess and reconfigure services. An audit will likely save big bucks and utilize newer technology.

Even with these considerations, it probably makes sense for your business to have some information in the cloud, with critical data in a separate location that does not require the Internet (a server or backups of the data and apps). Make sure you know how your systems work, and understand how your needs are changing over time. When you do, you’ll turn a cloudy day into a sunny one, that saves instead.

 

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