As we continue exploring specific topics in this series on #business in the cloud, we wanted to take a quick step back and touch on a larger question posed by one of our blog followers. They asked “how does all this really affect me in my business?” So we’re going to start off this week’s story with a little bit of background and see if we can’t bring a little more clarity to the cloud.
Cloud computing is the most important development in business information technology over the last decade. It is fundamentally changing how we deal with and even think about documents, business processes, and business strategy. It is an opportunity to increase productivity and streamline how you work. But as with any big business move, you need to have all the facts.
We have written previously on the basic idea of the cloud and suggest checking out our post on “What is the cloud?” should you be just starting your research. From there, you have many options and your cloud experience will depend on many factors. Some of the concepts you will want to familiarize yourself with include:
Two broad categories of cloud services that are important to understand are Software as a Service (SaaS) versus Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
When dealing with anything computer-related these days, you are basically talking about the software you use and the hardware to run it on.
With Software as a Service, the only software or hardware you have to think about is your personal device – your laptop or smartphone – and a web browser, or maybe a small piece of connecting software. The SaaS company takes care of everything else. Need to edit a Word document? Go to Office 365 and edit it right there in the web page.
With Infrastructure as a Service, you are simply moving your traditional server set up to a cloud location. You and your I.T. provider would still have to manage the server and the software, but instead of equipment being located in a server room in your office, it is up in the cloud. The advantage here is eliminating some of the hassle of maintaining the hardware, such as air conditioning, power backup, physical security, and redundancy. An example would be Microsoft’s Azure service.
A traditional corporate network requires that you be ‘inside’ the network to access services, either physically connected in the office or through a piece of equipment called a firewall. Cloud breaks that limitation.
Shared Cloud is the most common and most cost-effective form of cloud. The ‘owner’ of the cloud service operates a set of servers and software tools that many users share. However, shared does not mean insecure; your portion of the shared cloud is only accessible to you. Services like Office 365 and Dropbox are examples of shared cloud services.
Private Cloud offers more control, but more control also means more responsibility. Large companies, or companies with specialized security needs or custom software, can essentially set up their own private cloud by mimicking the set up of shared cloud services for themselves.
Hybrid Cloud simply refers to any situation that combines elements of the above alongside traditional on premise infrastructure.
One of the areas that benefits the most from cloud is business continuity. The flipside of being able to work anywhere is that no one location has to be a critical point of failure for your company.
That said, it has to been done right.
In working with our clients and researching Business Continuity for Cloud, we have found a lot of assumptions out there. The term “cloud” creates a visual that can be misleading in terms of tackling your Business Continuity.
As you are working at any moment, the cloud service is delivered to you from a data center somewhere. Is it one data center or multiple? If and when a data center has issues and goes down, will they deal with it or will you have to? Can the owner of the cloud move it to a new data center? (If you are researching providers, or don’t know the answer for a current provider, ask the questions). When it comes to disaster recovery on the cloud always go with NO, unless you have already created a disaster recovery plan with clear guidelines and answers.
Not all clouds are created equal. A cloud sharing service is not necessarily the same as a cloud backup service, so simply being in the cloud may only guarantee access to data, not protection.
What if someone accidentally deletes a bunch of your files? Is there a time period that you can recover old versions of files? What if the cloud owner’s data center suffers a failure? Does your business have a Service Level Agreement (or SLA) for backups? Are you still following the 3-2-1 rule for protecting your data?
While this is true in most cases, accessing the cloud does require an internet connection. A slow connection could make a cloud service as good as useless. What if you lose internet access to your main office? How long could you function? Do you have a plan for backup internet access? Some business cloud platforms may only be available from inside the company network, is yours?
Using a cloud backup service will help protect your data, but it can take time to get it all back. All your customer documents and accounting files are there, but can you wait for several days or even weeks to get your data after disaster strikes? Some services have the option to courier you a hard-drive rather than restoring over an internet connection, but do they ship to your location? And at what cost?
Identify all the internal, third party or hosted applications that you need to run your business. How long you can run without them, and what needs to be done should you need recovery?
Work with a cloud expert to take your impact analysis to evaluate and select appropriate recovery strategies for your identified areas of risk. This is where cloud will play a major role because cloud services are by their nature ideal for this function. Make sure you have the right cloud service for each need and get your Service Level Agreements in place for each of these solutions.
The cloud will give you the tools to keep your business running in a disaster, protecting your documents, allowing critical business functions to continue and giving you and your staff the ability to keep working, if planned out right.
A business continuity plan will do you no good in a binder in the location that has been hit by disaster, be it flood or fire or theft.
Next week we will look at Industry Specific Critical Applications for the cloud.