Man sitting on a cloud, celebrating

The risks and rewards of business in the cloud

It’s the growing importance of business information; how we access, store and use it, that has driven many businesses large and small to move towards cloud technology. The right business information needs to be in the right hands at the right time in order for your business to succeed. When your critical business information ends up in the wrong hands, or becomes inaccessible to you and your employees, either by accident or sabotage, your information can also become your greatest weakness.

Graeme Philipson of Connection Research points out that every major trend in IT over the past decade is moving us towards a cloud-based technology model. His definition of cloud technology is anything that allows for “computer resources to be accessible through the Internet rather than from a local computer”.

You’d probably already be familiar with cloud computing features, such as saving documents online, webmail or the delivery of software over the web. But it doesn’t end there. Cloud technology can also allow remote access to computer power, computing infrastructure and applications. It provides real business value by streamlining hardware and software while simultaneously giving IT budgets some breathing room; it fundamentally changes the IT infrastructure and, ultimately, is changing the way we secure data. In short, it opens computing power and resources to businesses of all sizes.

Scared to step onto ‘The Cloud’?  (You already have!)

Whether you like it not, your business is already an active user of cloud-based computing systems. Realistically, there are very few people or businesses that aren’t using the cloud in some form or other. Your business may have one or all of the following more popular cloud-based services.

  • Email
    Got webmail or access to your emails outside the office? Yep, you’re already in the cloud. Some email solutions are hosted and stored entirely in the cloud, while others are a mix of local servers to store mail, with cloud technology employed to provide access through internet browsers or handheld devices.
  • Websites
    A website is the essential virtual store front and a key means of interacting with your customers in cyber space. If you don’t run your website from a server from your premises, then it is ‘in the cloud’ through a third party host.
  • Online storage collaboration and back-up
    Many businesses are realising it makes sense to subscribe to a cloud-based service which can keep your data secure and constantly available – to organisations and their partners – in the latest version wherever you access it. Devices have become expendable. The true value lies with the data that’s on them and that’s why a cloud based back-up service could help to reassure you by having everything in one safe and secure place – the cloud.

The advantages of moving a business to cloud technology are alluring, and deservedly so. Lower operational costs while having greater control, scalability and flexibility on demand, reduced power consumption and lower capital expenditure – appealing reasons for any business mind looking to turn more profit over from a business.

Are there risks involved?

Small businesses are under attack on a daily basis. Data-stealing malware is inescapable, with all-in-one attack kits readily available for criminals to purchase on internet forums. The criminals could be after your customers’ banking and other personal data, or even your intellectual property, all of which can be easily traded on the same online forums (See, even the black market has gone to the cloud!).

There are targeted email scams designed to trick the user into clicking on a malicious link or opening an attachment, which can trigger a malware download. There are infected websites (often legitimate sites which have been hacked) and all it takes is for an employee surfing the web with a vulnerable machine to visit those sites to be immediately infected.

The same threats exist on social networking sites, with malicious links and rogue applications popping up across sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn with the intention of stealing your data. Employees or individuals can sometimes leave their data exposed to all because they don’t fully grasp the complicated privacy features on some sites.

With more personal devices being used for business purposes (smartphones and tablets), there are more opportunities for seemingly harmless mobile apps to gain access to business data and devices through malicious means. You’re only as strong as your weakest point, and as more employees start bringing their devices to work to help their productivity, it can also be a point of concern from a security perspective.

Even a third party cloud provider itself isn’t invulnerable from being hacked or suffering some kind of internal fraud. A recent and very public example was experienced by those Australian customers affected by an outage at Distribute IT in June this year. The company was affected by a malicious and unethical incident which led to some customers experiencing issues with their web services. It can and does happen.

Are the rewards worth the risk?

While there are security risks around cloud computing, it is no different than in any other type of past technology. The criminals don’t care what technology you use–they will always seek new ways to gain access to your valuable information, while companies like Trend Micro, make it their sole purpose to thwart them at every turn.

The rewards of conducting business through cloud computing technology are clear. A business can be more agile, make informed decisions, manage customers knowledgably in real-time, and respond to changing market conditions with a resilience like never before. This is why every major trend in IT is heading towards cloud computing – because the business benefits are a no-brainer.

Cloud computing has changed the way we live our lives for the better. It provides us with fast, efficient, easy and cheap access to our information online.  It helps us safely back up our data and access it securely from any device. It allows us to manage, record and share our lives in new and exciting ways.

As your business makes its way into the cloud, know that the lifeblood of your organisation, your business information will always be protected with the right precautions and security partner in place.

The appeal of cloud to business

Rob Livingstone, author of Navigating through the Cloud, captures the appeal of cloud to businesses as:

  • It is available immediately – you could be up and running in hours, days or weeks;
  • It allows you to “buy before you try” – buy a few user subscriptions before committing the business with negligible walk-away costs if the system is not for you;
  • It avoids dealing with the IT department;
  • Avoids the need for up-front capital/financing – it’s a pay-as-you-go model;
  • Appears to be low-cost, but beware of hidden or exit costs;
  • Users already have had a positive personal experience with cloud (eg. YouTube, LinkedIn, Gmail… to name a few);
  • Cloud eliminates the need for on-premises IT infrastructure – the provider manages maintenance, operation and support of the system; and
  • Is a result of a compelling vendor offer – often bypassing the IT department and approaching other areas of the business directly.

For more of Rob’s tips, head to navigatingthroughthecloud.com. Rob Livingstone and Graeme Philipson recently attended the ‘Cloud Solutions for SME’ event in Sydney as guests of Trend Micro.

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