MT Expert - IT: How to spot the cloud's pitfalls

The cloud has benefits for SMEs as well as big companies. Here, Neil Gallagher dispels the myths about the Next Big Thing.

by Neil Gallagher
Last Updated: 20 May 2011
The current buzz surrounding cloud computing is enough to make any small business owner’s head spin. Barely a day goes by without an industry expert discussing the business benefits of the cloud, only for another to express reservations the very next. With warnings of a lack of data protection laws, concerns about service level agreements (SLAs) and software providers masquerading as cloud aficionados, it’s no wonder business leaders are hesitant.  

Despite this, there appears to be a growing market for on-demand computing capacity. Last month saw the launch of SpotCloud; yet another service offering instant access to seemingly unlimited supplies of computing power at highly competitive prices.  

Amazon and Google have had similar offerings available for a number of years, and the apparent benefits of these for small businesses are manifold. Having the ability to scale IT to the exact needs of a business is a major attraction of the cloud to SMEs, as they have smaller budgets to work with when downsizing or upscaling, and often undergo changes more rapidly than large enterprises.  

Before the cloud became mainstream, growing businesses would have needed to invest in expensive hardware and would be tied into licensing fees for years. Similarly, if they needed to temporarily scale down, as many did during the recession, they would be stuck with expensive excess hardware which was quickly depreciating in value. The widespread availability of cloud services means that these are no longer issues which small business owners have to contend with.

However, on-demand computing also brings with it its own challenges.

Cloud services, on the face of it, offer businesses an opportunity to make cost savings, but those firms must, in return, accept an increased element of risk. For example, few cloud vendors offer robust SLAs, meaning that, should an issue occur, customers who rely on IaaS for their business-critical applications can be left high and dry without any form of compensation.

Entrusting company data (much of it likely to be personally or commercially sensitive) to an untried provider is not a step which can be taken lightly. Many SMEs will likely be of the opinion that the potential rewards of such a project are outweighed by its risks. However, for those that do decide to take the plunge, an effective, robust network that has back-up options and the ability to fix faults quickly, is a must-have.

Unlike larger businesses, most SMEs are unlikely to have a high performance network already in place, making the move to the cloud even more perilous. If data and services are being hosted online, it is more crucial than ever for SMEs to ensure they have secure access to these tools through high quality broadband that they can rely upon.

Hopefully, the more SMEs learn about the benefits of the cloud, the more they will also scrutinise its potential pitfalls. Cloud services have a great deal to offer small businesses, both in terms of agility and efficiency, but the potential consequences of any problems are also very significant. Equally, such businesses must understand that cloud services are just one piece of the business technology jigsaw, and should not be viewed as the only answer to IT headaches. The business network is the foundation upon which cloud services must be built, and without this the benefits of the cloud will never truly materialise for SMEs.

Neil Gallagher, sales director, Easynet Connect

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