THE CLOUD – What you need to know – INTRODUCTION, ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Contact Universal Information Technologies for assistance. We have more than 20 years IT experience and will be able to assist you with “THE CLOUD”.
What is “THE CLOUD”?
“The cloud” is one of those trendy tech terms a lot of people use but can’t clearly define. What is the cloud? When do you encounter it? How can it benefit your business?
You may have heard people using terms like the cloud, cloud computing, or cloud storage. Basically, the cloud is the Internet — more specifically, it’s all of the things you can access remotely over the Internet.
The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. When something is in the cloud, it means it is stored on servers on the Internet instead of on your computer. It lets you access your calendar, email, files, and more from any computer that has an Internet connection.
When you store something “in the cloud,” you’re actually storing it in a very physical space. That file moves across the wire/air and then lives on a physical server — usually more than one — in some data centre. And depending on which cloud storage service you use, that file is now in the possession of a giant corporation to whom you probably pay a monthly fee.
The cloud is a network of servers, and each server has a different function. Some servers use computing power to run applications or “deliver a service.”
There is an entirely different “cloud” when it comes to business. Some businesses choose to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. There’s also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don’t forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Microsoft and Google provide a backbone that can be “rented out” by other companies.
What are the advantages to working in the cloud?
The business decision to “move to the cloud” is often financially motivated. Companies used to have to buy their own hardware equipment, the value of which depreciated over time. But now with the cloud, companies only have to pay for what they use. This model makes it easy to quickly scale use up or down.
It is a cost efficient method to use, maintain and upgrade. Traditional desktop software costs companies a lot in terms of finance. Adding up the licensing fees for multiple users can prove to be very expensive for the establishment concerned. The cloud, on the other hand, is available at much cheaper rates and hence, can significantly lower the company’s IT expenses. Besides, there are many one-time-payment, pay-as-you-go and other scalable options available, which makes it very reasonable for the company in question.
Storage and Scalability
Even though it might be a costly monthly expense, storing information in the cloud you basically have access to unlimited storage capability and scalability. No more infrastructure investments or time spent adding new servers.
Easy Access to Information
Once you register yourself in the cloud, you can access the information from anywhere, where there is an Internet connection. This convenient feature lets you move beyond time zone and geographic location issues. Your cloud, anywhere. Whether it’s your development platform, suite of office tools or custom content management.
This will be listed as an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Most providers offer a Service Level Agreements which guarantees 24/7/365 and 99.99% availability. Your organization can benefit from a massive pool of redundant IT resources, as well as quick failover mechanism – if a server fails, hosted applications and services can easily be transited to any of the available servers.
What are the disadvantages of working in the cloud?
You will need a very good Internet connection to be logged onto the server at all times. You will invariably be stuck in case of network and connectivity problems, in which case you won’t have any access to your data. Unfortunately, this might be the biggest current problem in many counties – the last mile!
Although it is true that information and data on the cloud can be accessed anytime and from anywhere, there are times when this system can dysfunction. Even the best cloud service providers run into this kind of trouble, in spite of keeping up high standards of maintenance. This can lead to your business processes being temporarily suspended.
Since the cloud infrastructure is entirely owned, managed and monitored by the service provider, it transfers minimal control over to the customer. Once your data’s in the cloud, you’ve lost some basic control over it. If you upload a file to a cloud storage service like iCloud, Google Drive, or Microsoft One Drive, you’re actually making copies of that file. The file likely lives on several servers, so if you want to delete that file, you’re trusting the company to delete all of the copies. As we’ve seen in the past, this doesn’t always happen like it’s supposed to. So you’re not really in control of your data if you’re not in possession of it.
Key administrative tasks such as server shell access, updating and firmware management may not be passed to the customer or end user.
Let’s say the authorities want to have a look. Depending on its particular privacy policies, the company you picked for your cloud storage can actually hand over your data whenever the authorities ask them. Companies like Google publish transparency reports on a regular basis that show how many hundreds of times this happens every year.
So just keep that in mind next time you’re uploading something to Google Drive instead of storing it locally. The authorities would need a warrant to break down your door and go searching through your personal hard drive. The process of getting information from Google is somewhat more streamlined.
Once you’re at the stage where you’re uploading files to cloud servers, you’ve already agreed to the company’s terms of service. Those terms of service probably failed to clarify who actually owns the data in the cloud.
Granted, tracking down deleted files and worrying about warrantless authority searches don’t necessarily affect the average person on a daily basis. However, the concern that a hacker could get a hold of sensitive information should be.
What you can do is encrypt data before you upload it to the cloud. We will address this in a different blog though. Some of the larger cloud providers like Google will now auto-encrypt data for its paid cloud storage service, possibly in response to public wariness over NSA snooping. Before data is even written to disk, Google Cloud Storage will automatically protect data using 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-128). Users can still manage their own encryption keys before transferring data, but this added automatic encryption feature will be available for free.
Prone to Attack
Storing information in the cloud could make your company vulnerable to external hack attacks and threats, which might have not been the case if your data was stored on locally based servers. As you are well aware, nothing on the Internet is completely secure and hence, there is always the lurking possibility of stealth of sensitive data.
Reliability as a disadvantage. Most providers offer a Service Level Agreements which guarantees 24/7/365 and 99.99% availability. Unfortunately, most SLA’s in terms of up times are only of monitory value of your subscriptions and does not take into account the consequential damages due to down time.
Service provider and Platform Lock-In
Although cloud service providers promise that the cloud will be flexible to use and integrate, switching cloud services is something that hasn’t yet completely evolved. Organizations may find it difficult to migrate their services from one vendor to another. Hosting and integrating current cloud applications on another platform may throw up interoperability and support issues. For instance, applications developed on Microsoft Development Framework (.Net) might not work properly on the Linux platform.
Several cloud storage services have a specific bandwidth allowance. If an organization surpasses the given allowance, the additional charges could be significant. However, some providers allow unlimited bandwidth.
Universal Information Technologies and “THE CLOUD”
Do you want to understand more about the benefits of cloud computing for your business? Contact Universal Information Technologies for assistance. We have more than 20 years IT experience and will be able to assist you in this process.
We physically service the whole South Africa, and can remotely assist you, wherever you are in the world. We are actively servicing clients in all major centre’s in South Africa like Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and in all nine provinces – Gauteng, Free State, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Northern Province, Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal.
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Telephone: +27 (012) 345-6172