Know the pros and cons before you go on the cloud

Cloud-ComputIt is the latest internet revolution, supposed to make life easier, through providing at-distance storage of data. The e-commerce major Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeffrey P Bezos was in India recently and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a part of exercise to evaluate the setting up of a data centre in India to tap the multi-billion-dollar cloud business opportunity. Amazon has already built new cloud data centres in various countries across the world and is now exploring India as an option. Not just Amazon, Google and Microsoft are not far behind. They too are developing data centres in several places across the world. Not to be left behind, Switzerland is talking of providing ‘safe’ cloud data centres on the lines of security that it claims to provide in banking.

What is the need to provide ‘safe’ centres, as Switzerland is talking about? Are the cloud data centres not ‘safe’ enough? Let us know what a cloud is and what are the pros and cons of being on the cloud.

If you are using the smartphone, tablet, laptop or tower, you might be aware that the photos and music or even your mails are no longer stored in its memory, but on a ‘cloud’ accessible through the web. Behind this cloud concept are huge electronic warehouses, data-treatment centres, which are implanted in various countries across the world. When you read your emails, make your tax declaration, post a photo on Facebook or even surf some files, the data and information about your interests and likes is stocked on a cloud, often without us even being informed… But is this data well-protected? Who really has access to web-users’ cloud? If Switzerland claims it is providing ‘safe’ data to corporations, we have reasons to think that the rest of data is not that ‘safe’ from the prying eyes.

While Google and the rest claim that the data that you store is protected from prying eyes, question arises what Google, Amazon, Microsoft and the rest are to gain from giving us free access to huge storage devices, the establishment and running of which costs millions of dollars on daily basis? The answer is that in today’s information age, it is the information that is most valuable. And it is this information that these companies gain free access to when they provide data storage facilities.

Recently, Great Britain told its citizens that due to enhanced threats to internal security in the wake of growing cases of terrorism they should accept that their mails and data will be readily checked by the agencies. Edward Snowden case has shown that this is already happening in the US and in few other countries.

If our own country’s agencies do the prying work, it shouldn’t be a problem considering the larger security concerns. The issue arises when the data that should remain within the boundaries of our country lands in the hands of foreign agencies. Russia, for instance, has made it a serious issue lately. With tensions brewing with the United States, and with all the web domains registered in the US, Russia is apprehensive that the US could block all its websites the day it wants. To find a remedy and safeguard its interests, Russia has already started work on creating an alternative internet system within its own country. However, the same stands true for every country in the world.

While security and privacy remain the biggest concerns of cloud computing, the counter argument is that the companies offering cloud computing services live and die by their reputations. It benefits these companies to have reliable security measures in place. Otherwise, the service would lose all its clients. It’s therefore in their interest to employ the most advanced techniques to protect their clients’ data.

This is the reason why established cloud computing vendors have gone to great lengths to promote the idea that they have the latest, most sophisticated data security systems possible as they want your business and realize that data security is a big concern; however, their credibility in this regard has suffered greatly in the wake of the recent NSA snooping scandals.

Privacy is another matter! If a client can log in from any location to access data and applications, it’s possible the client’s privacy could be compromised. Cloud computing companies will need to find ways to protect client privacy. One way is to use authentication techniques such as user names and passwords. Another is to employ an authorization format — each user can access only the data and applications relevant to his or her job.

Some questions regarding cloud computing are more philosophical. Does the user or company subscribing to the cloud computing service own the data? Does the cloud computing system, which provides the actual storage space, own it? Is it possible for a cloud computing company to deny a client access to that client’s data? Several companies, law firms and universities are debating these and other questions about the nature of cloud computing.

This is the lesson that a US professor learnt the hard way recently when he travelled to Singapore. The professor had downloaded and stored several books on the cloud from which he was supposed to give a presentation in Singapore. When he tried to access the cloud in Singapore, he learnt to his dismay that the service was not available there. His presentation got almost ruined. Not only this, he could retrieve the data as well, which got lost, as he had tried to access it from a non-service country.

In any case if your data goes missing you don’t have any chance of local or physical backup. Simply depending on cloud can let you down and there is always a risk of failure. In order to save the data only solution is downloading all cloud documents on your machines. However this is a lengthy process and every time your documents upgrades you will have to download a new copy of the application.

In the US, cloud DVRs have even started storing and playing back TV shows over the internet while the courts are yet to accept this as regular.

Another disadvantage of cloud computing is that you require constant high speed internet connection without which the service is just like lifeless body. Because you are using internet for accessing both your documents and applications, in case if you don’t have an internet connection you can’t even access your documents. Departed internet connection means no work on the cloud computing and areas where internet connections are slow and are unreliable it can affect your business. Cloud Computing simply stops working without internet connection.

Despite these disadvantages, there are a lot many advantages that Cloud Computing can boast off. In case of large corporations where it becomes necessary for the company to provide the right hardware and software to each executive, cloud computing can save a good amount by doing away with the need to purchase computers, software or software licenses for each employee. Instead of installing a suite of software for each computer, it would now be possible to load one application. That application would allow workers to log into a Web-based service which hosts all the programs the user would need for his or her job.

Moreover, local computers no longer would have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to running applications. The network of computers that make up the cloud would handle them. Hardware and software demands on the user’s side would decrease. Cloud Computing system’s interface software would be the only thing the user’s computer would need to be able to run. It would bring hardware costs down significantly as the company’s neither won’t have to buy computers for each employee nor a set of software or software licenses for every employee. Instead, the company could pay a metered fee to a cloud computing company. This will also decrease the burden on servers and digital storage devices that need good space. Cloud computing would give these companies the option of storing data on somebody else’s hardware, thus removing the need for physical space on the front end.

Like it or not, the cloud computing is catching up and you will soon have to decide on the extent you wish to use it. Be careful when you’re choosing a cloud computing vendor that you’re not locking your business into using their proprietary applications or formats. You can’t insert a document created in another application into a Google Docs spreadsheet, for instance. Also make sure that you can add and subtract cloud computing users as necessary as your business grows or contracts.

Also, check the customer service being offered and the regions where the service work before you take a decision. Sending an email and hoping for a response within 48 hours is not an acceptable way for most of us to run a business. As New York Times puts it: “The bottom line: If you need hand-holding or if you are not comfortable trying to find advice on user forums, the cloud probably is not ideal.”

Courtesy Life Watch/RNI