Challenges and Benefits of Cloud Computing.
In the previous post, we looked at how switching to the cloud can mitigate a number of business risks. This time, we’ll look at some of the challenges you might face in making the switch.
Accessibility & security
The nature of Cloud services means that they are accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection.
By entrusting your sensitive client data with a Cloud provider, you don’t then need to carry sensitive data around with you or use an inherently insecure email alternative. All you need to do is log on securely to access the data from home, office or even on the move.
Cloud service providers go to great lengths to minimise the risk of theft of data at any point of its journey – giving peace of mind over any concerns over security.
After logging on, any data ‘in-transit’ is secured and protected from interception and once on the Cloud, ‘at-rest’ data is encrypted. With the sophistication available to service providers, the level of encryption that can be applied to this data is comparable to that offered by banks.
Instantaneous backup of this data is made to other distinct data centres where the same security measures are in place. Again, this ‘in-transit’ data is secured and protected from interception.
Further security can be extended to the PCs, laptops and other devices that access Cloud services. By registering these devices to use the Cloud service, if they ever become lost or stolen their access to use the service can be removed remotely so your data cannot accidentally fall into the wrong hands.
Arguably then – if managed as an extension of your business – Cloud services can deliver a data protection solution that is as robust or even more so than many small legal practices can achieve today.
Power of the internet
Another concern of would-be Cloud users is over the availability of service. The potential impact on business if a Cloud service that you rely on for day-to-day activities becomes unavailable can be significant.
For this to happen, there are two main potential points of failure – with your broadband provider and with the Cloud service provider.
It is likely that your business is already reliant on a good broadband connection, so by now you are likely to have a clear idea of how resilient your broadband service currently is. Generally this is good – the UK is currently ranked third on Huawei’s Global Connectivity Index. With the UK government currently investing in excess of £900m in infrastructure projects giving a commitment to providing “95% of the UK receiving at least 24Mbps (broadband speeds) by 2017”, this can only improve.
The second potential main point of failure, then, is with your service provider’s operations at the UK data centre. Cloud infrastructure is such that any potential hardware issues are mitigated by automated reallocation of resources and, therefore, outright failures are minimised. Up-time of services are normally quoted around 99.9%. As described above, it is unlikely – but if all else does fail, service providers can switch over to replicate sites to maintain continuity.
In today’s marketplace there is constant pressure on legal firms to produce more with fewer resources. When it comes to business planning, finding ways to work smarter and to reduce costs are taking centre stage.
Cloud services look like a potential solution to both of these.
In adopting Cloud services, though, the major barrier to getting them integrated with and generating benefits for your business is in managing the change process.
As you will be well aware, changing any work practice can be painful. It takes strength of leadership and an investment of time and energy. Depending on your starting point, moving to a Cloud-based service may prove to be a major undertaking.
Technology, however, may prove to be a change assistant in this matter. Your employees and colleagues are very likely to already be active cloud service users without actually being aware of it. Facebook and Twitter are the obvious social media services that are commonplace. They are probably familiar with the likes of Dropbox and Skype and more mundane government services such as car tax renewal are also delivered via Cloud. Moving to a Cloud-based business service, then, is not a move to a totally alien environment.
In addition, training in the use of the new Cloud service can be delivered online in small bite-sized segments that respond to the users needs as they work and learn about the service at the same time.
There are clear business benefits to be delivered by Cloud-based solutions – increased efficiencies, reduced costs and greater flexibility.
However, the adoption of these services changes the nature of the business risk profile – especially surrounding data protection issues.
Deciding whether a Cloud-based solution is right for your business is like making any other strategic business decision. It is all about measuring up the costs and risks to your business against the realisable benefits.
With the ever-increasing pace of change in business technology and the significant impact this has on business performance, making such a decision can potentially determine the sustainability of certain business functions.
Each business and each Cloud-service provider is different. In weighing up whether a Cloud solution is right for you should look closely at what your cost, risk and benefit profile is. And in choosing the right Cloud-service provider you should consider which best complements this.
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