Cloud technology offers a wealth of benefits to small businesses, but a few questions need to be asked of a service provider to ensure the relationship is a lasting one.
As you start researching the cloud you can be overwhelmed by jargon thanks to some quite misguided and ambiguous advertising. Even Microsoft is no exception with ‘Virtualisation alone does not a cloud solution make’ .
Thankfully the benefits of the cloud are a lot clearer; flexibility across devices, limitless storage, a back-up facility and no more software discs, servers or even in-house IT.
It’s therefore little wonder that entrepreneurs and SMEs are recognising its potential as a way to help them have the same, if not greater IT capabilities, as their established competitors.
Not as well-known are the potential pitfalls of the cloud, from foreign jurisdiction over data to real online privacy and security risks. However, these can be easily avoided once you know what questions to ask – more on this later.
A long term relationship, not just a fling
When buying an IT solution the initial cost can often incorrectly sway you from the best value proposition. However, if you let cost dictate the solution, then you will certainly end up getting what you paid for. There is a reason why one company will charge $15 for a mailbox and another charges $5.
Type “hosted cloud provider” into Google and you’ll get so many results you won’t know where to start. Digital-this, cloud-made-easy-that, high performance servers for $75 a year….
It’s worth remembering that you’re deciding who will be guardian to your data and your clients’ data. Are you really going to just buy a service from, and entrust data to, a website simply stating that they can do something.
You should ask the following:
- How long has the cloud provider been in operation?
- Does it own the infrastructure it’s selling?
- Is the infrastructure located within my national borders?
- What support and service level agreement does it offer?
- Is it financially viable?
- Does its offering match my requirements, or will I have to change my business to fit.
Also, call the advertised support lines of your short-listed providers and see who you get. And if you’re really serious about it, request an on-site visit from a representative. Whilst the infrastructure might be in the cloud, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have face-to-face contact with any business you’re dealing with.
Taking the above steps will help you build a strong interactive partnership – not just a contractual relationship – with a cloud provider.
Data sovereignty and why you should care
Today, a massive 35 percent of Australian enterprises are subscribing to some type of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service) cloud service, with the majority of subscriptions, and data, heading to overseas providers.
In theory any business considering cloud computing should understand its responsibilities under legislation including the Electronic Transactions Act 2003, Spam Act 2003, Cybercrime Act 2001, Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000, Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000, Privacy Act 1988, Archives Act 1983, Freedom of Information Act 1982, and Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979. The list goes on…
Now, imagine how many laws you would have to be aware of if your data was stored in a cloud which housed its data off shore. In a worst case scenario, try getting your data back from overseas when this same cloud provider goes out of business.
To reiterate, once data is stored on foreign soil, it immediately becomes governed by local law. That’s why it’s so important to ask the question “Where is the infrastructure located?”
A number of recent cases bring to light the complications of off shore data storage. Reckon, developer of accounting package Quicken, recently severed ties with its American partner Intuit to reduce its users’ exposure to foreign laws and legitimate users of MegaUpload have had their data locked away from them because servers are now evidence in an international copyright fracas.
Unsurprisingly, organisations are becoming increasingly wary of where data is stored.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Given that Australia’s 2.7 million small businesses make up over a third of the economy and employ almost 5 million Australians, forward-thinking IT solutions for start-ups are being developed and there are services available that marry the best features of cloud computing with the added security and support of an exclusive ‘private’ infrastructure. And the good news is that they can be cost effective too.