Cloud Computing in the Heavy Duty Industry: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
These days, cloud computing is all the rage. It’s often touted as the best new solution for individual and business data management, for companies both large and small. While cloud-based technologies do offer quite a few benefits, there are drawbacks associated with cloud-computing that are sometimes overlooked.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the pros and cons when it comes to using the cloud for data management, and explore the options available, so that you are able to make an educated decision for the health and success of your business.
The cloud has become incredibly popular in recent years, and not without good reason. The cloud does offer some benefits for data management and software hosting, but only when the technology is utilized intelligently and with a clear understanding of its practical limitations.
Some of the benefits of cloud-based technologies include the following:
Reduced up-front costs
Because cloud-based hosting takes place outside of your place of business, you do not have to purchase and maintain expensive hardware or server infrastructure to run your software and other business applications. This can be beneficial to large, stable companies who enjoy a highly reliable internet connection with which to maintain constant connectivity to the cloud.
Migrating to cloud-based technology for these companies can help free up office space and hard drive space, which would have been used for hardware and software prior to switching to the cloud. It might also reduce staffing requirements, allowing companies to do business without maintaining specialized IT staff and server managers, which are often required to operate a sizable in-house server infrastructure.
Simple disaster recovery
Since your data is hosted on the cloud instead of on a hard drive at your physical location, backing up and restoring your data can be easier with the help of the cloud in the case of disaster or large-scale data loss.
When you choose the cloud to host the data for your company, you are putting your important files out on the internet to be kept safe. Because the data is out on the internet, instead of saved locally at your location, there’s no risk of data loss should your business suffer physical damage due to fire, natural disaster, burglary, etc. As terrible as these situations are for the bottom line, at least you will know that the important data your company relies on to operate (such as client records, financials, etc.) are going to be relatively easy to retrieve from your cloud-based hosting service.
Since it does not rely on hardware in your office, or installed software on your computer, the cloud is essentially unlimited in its storage potential. You can use as much data storage space as you need, when you need it, and for as long as you require it.
When you migrate your data to the cloud, you no longer need to worry about running out of disk space, or having to run out and buy more hardware to increase the information storage capacity for your business. The cloud can scale up with your business as it grows.
Easy group collaboration
The cloud can make group collaboration easier, facilitating data and program sharing among your employees and your wider network. Cloud-based technology offers the option to share folders, files, and programs across a working group, quickly and easily transfer large blocks of data to a new computer, and set up collaborative networking projects with other businesses to reach shared goals.
Despite offering some benefits such as ease of group collaboration, simplified disaster recovery and data backup, and basic up-front cost savings, cloud-based computing has a series of significant drawbacks. These problems can easily overwhelm the good intentions when a business switches to the cloud, as many companies have discovered the hard way in recent years.
Some of the problems associated with cloud-based technologies are:
One of the primary problems with the cloud is that it requires full-time, uninterrupted internet access in order to be utilized. If your internet connection goes down unexpectedly, or you travel out of range of continuous wifi access, you are no longer able to access any of the important data or business applications which you have stored on the cloud.
If your business depends on data such as client records, financial records, or customer accounts for basic daily operations, and you use cloud-based technology to manage that data, your company will be dead in the water when your internet connection is interrupted. The same goes for your point of sale software, business management programs, etc. Since the average internet service provider claims a 99.9% up-time of internet service, this means that even the best internet companies expect at least 10 hours of internet downtime each year. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these 10 hours of downtime can cost a medium-sized business around $24,000 per year in lost income and employee productivity. Ouch!
Internet outages alone can cause serious disruption to businesses who made the switch to the cloud, but the internet service itself isn’t the only source of downtime. In recent years, cloud-based hosts have experienced serious interruptions of service. According to CRN.com’s The 10 Biggest Cloud Outages of 2017 (so far), at least 10 major cloud-based hosting providers have suffered serious service interruptions already in 2017. These interruptions included the most popular cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. Of these outages, the longest-lasting interruption spanned a full 36 hours before service was able to be fully restored.
Lack of Customer Support
In the earliest days of cloud computing, lack of customer support was one of the biggest complaints from early adopters of the new technology. Cloud-based hosting companies have made improvements to their customer service departments, but support comes at a price. For example, Google’s cloud-based customer support plan with telephone assistance costs $400 per month and has a response time of 1 hour. Similarly, Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based customer support package for a business with cloud dependencies costs $1,000 per month. Amazon’s AWS customer support package for a business on the cloud costs $1,342 per month. Remember: these prices are just for customer support. They do not include the cloud hosting itself. We’ll discuss those costs later.
If your business needs are such that you require rapid attention to service interruptions in order to keep your company running smoothly, you should expect to pay a premium price for the privilege of customer support from cloud-based hosting companies.
Limited Control of Infrastructure and Dependencies
To varying degrees (depending on the chosen host), business owners frequently discover that they have little control over the infrastructure and dependencies of their cloud-based technologies. For some, this may not seem like a major concern. Problems arise, however, when a business owner wants to utilize an application or software which is not compatible with their specific cloud-based hosting plan.
Similarly, many businesses have discovered that they unknowingly became trapped in what’s known as an “implicit dependency” after signing up for service with a particular cloud service provider. Implicit dependency, or “vendor lock-in” can make it impossible to migrate your company’s important data from one cloud-based platform to another, or even to install a new piece of software.
If your cloud host becomes problematic and you decide you want to choose another company to work with, you will likely be faced with a complex and expensive technological problem, where you end up having to hire IT staff to reconfigure your data and applications to meet the requirements of your new hosting plan. This migration and reconfiguration can expose your data to security and privacy vulnerabilities as files and folders are reformatted and shifted to a new host.
We’ve discussed some of the benefits and practical problems with utilizing the cloud for your business. Some of these problems may or may not be deal-breakers for you, depending on the needs of your company. Aside from the basic problems of internet dependence, frustrating lack of customer support, and the fact that you relinquish infrastructure control to a third party when choosing cloud-based computing, there are some more serious threats that come along with choosing the cloud. It’s important that you understand these dangers if you are to make an educated decision for your company about cloud-based computing.
Although the up-front cost saving offered by cloud computing may be attractive, requiring a smaller investment than a purchase of server hardware, installed software, or IT staff, the costs can add up more quickly than you’d expect.
To determine if you would really save money switching to the cloud, it’s important to read the fine print and understand the details of the hosting plan you’re considering. It’s also important to look at the price tag associated with future expansion of your hosting plan. If your business grows, chances are good that your hosting plan will need to expand to accommodate new data, new software, and new employees. It is fairly common to discover that your cloud-based hosting price doubles when you move up to the next tier of service.
According to the cost calculator provided by Amazon’s AWS cloud hosting service, a small business looking to create cloud accounts for 20 employees, with the capability of sharing data across company workspaces, can expect to pay around $720 per month for a basic package. If you want higher performance for the same setup, the price goes up to $1,300 per month for 20 employees. Additionally, many hosting companies charge a fee for data transfer, charging a certain amount each time you download data, files, or applications from your storage on the cloud. As you can see, it is very easy to accrue a $2,000 – $3,000 bill every month for business-level cloud-based computing services.
How safe does your data need to be? Truth is, the cloud is not as secure as you would hope, as massive security breaches and theft of data have occurred many times now. Unfortunately, millions of people have already had their sensitive data exposed by hackers since cloud-based technology became commonplace.
Because your data is hosted on the internet when you opt to store your information or use software on the cloud, you should treat your data as if it has the potential to become public, like anything else you put online. If someone in your company is careless with login credentials, you have a disgruntled employee with a bone to pick, or you experience a breach due to hacking, all of your sensitive business data can suddenly become public.
Cloud-based hosting companies go to great lengths to promote the idea that they have the most secure, safe hosting options in the industry, but the credibility of these security protocols have been called into question in recent years. Major data breaches have already occurred in high-level companies, including Yahoo, Sony, T-Mobile, LinkedIn, and others. Some of these breaches involved data theft numbering in the tens of millions of user accounts, and for which the victims of the data theft had little recourse.
“Critical infrastructures, cloud services and internet of things will be under severe pressure in 2017, as cyber attacks continue to mature and expand,” Michael Fimin, CEO and co-founder of Netwrix, explained in a recent interview with Channel Partners Online. For this reason, you should give careful consideration to the potential security pitfalls your company may experience if you choose cloud-based technology.
If your business maintains sensitive data, such as billing information for your customers, or records of financial transactions your company makes with vendors, make sure to exercise extreme caution when making decisions about how to store and manage that data.
Ultimately, the decision to migrate to the cloud should only be made with a clear awareness of the potential problems and damages your company could incur by making that choice. In some situations, it may be the ideal technological solution for a company’s data management and software hosting, but it is not a choice without serious risk and potential for damage.
If you do, in fact, determine that cloud-based computing is the right choice for your company, make sure you plan for potential problems by backing up all of your data in a secondary location, running regular security checks of your hosting service, and utilizing traditional redundancy practices so that your business can still operate and won’t be crippled by an inevitable service outage.
On the other hand, if you want or need high performance and high availability, an install-based program would better suit those needs over cloud-based hosting and software.