news / tech talk

Cloud Computing - Part 2

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

One of the inescapable things being discussed in the technology world is “Cloud Computing”. It is endlessly tossed around in tech media and more frequently in business discussions. Nevertheless, it astounds me how poorly the concept is understood in spite of the coverage it gets. Let’s see if we can help with that. Wikipedia defines cloud computing as “a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the ‘cloud’ that supports them.”

To me, it is a more succinct to say that cloud computing provides computing services without the physical infrastructure and associated maintenance. What services? Well of course that depends but most people are familiar with and already use some cloud computing services. The most common is web-based email like gmail, hotmail, yahoo mail, etc. With this computing service, a business owner does not need to own an email server, a spam filtering program, does not have to patch the operating system or application, does not need a firewall, data backups, a battery backup, generator, and does not need to listen to his staff whine about types of RAID. Similarly, by keeping his contact information in the address book associated with his email service, a business owner has access to that information from any computer and does not worry about the mechanics of keeping it all running and secure. A business owner just pays a service fee and all of that is taken care of. That is the good part of cloud computing.

Sounds pretty nice, right? For many business owners, particularly small business owners who cannot afford much overhead, this will be a winning solution. However, if a business owner needs customized services like data backups every four hours (because they cannot afford to lose a full day’s data) then this may not be the right fit. Cloud computing services work off of volume so one must choose between the chicken and the beef; nothing off the menu and very little on the side. Also, if a business owner decides to leave a cloud computing service, it may not be that easy to pull their data out or transfer it. Customer service is seldom covered in the media and to me it is an unknown; how well will does a cloud computing service respond to your inquiries and issues? How quickly? When an outage does occur, it tends to be massive like the recent gmail outage that lasted for hours. Much is made of that outage, but most small and even medium size businesses I know have worse events running their own systems. Keep reality in mind. It simply shows that no one, not even Google, is perfect. Finally, if your business requires a high level of security or control including accountability, then a service where unknown administrators have access to your data and information may not be ideal.

As usual, my advice to business owners is to follow the Greek advice: Know Thyself (and thy business). If you know what you need, what you want, and what would be nice to have then you can examine what cloud computing offers and determine whether it fits you and your business.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business