The risks of being in the cloud


This could be great!
This could be great!

The advent of “cloud computing” brings good news and a remarkable opportunity for small businesses.

As I mentioned in “Silver Linings in the Cloud?

“If you have a computer with a good connection to the internet, all the software and computers you’d use would “live” in the internet somewhere, NOT in your building.”

The benefits to you include not buying, maintaining and upgrading hardware, perhaps less IT staff, or less hassle with IT vendors, as well as shifting all the annoyance of software upgrades over to offsite professionals.  This eliminates so many headaches you have to look at it seriously.

BUT!

You:

  1. Want to be sure your data is protected, not just from hackers, but from outright loss. This means taking the time to diligently investigate the vendors (the old “look before you leap” warning fits well)
  2. Should have plans in place so that you can continue business in the face of loss of access to the applications and / or data. Include plans for short term loss as well as longer term problems. Ask yourself, “How will we do business if X, Y, or Z happens?” Start with the most likely scenarios, but don’t avoid the “edge cases,” because Murphy will get you.
  3. Must have a plan ready that clearly outlines at what point you notify your customers of difficulties. Who makes that decision? Based on what specific criteria? Who does the notifications? Which customers do you contact first? What method do  you use? (Give this some thought… For example, it won’t work to email the customers if a) the internet is down, or b) all their email addresses are gone.)

How real are the risks?

Good question. Google has had several problems, some reported, some not, where Gmail, or another of their services, was not available for an hour or more. And, while catastrophic failures are rare, they do happen.

For example, 800,000 people lost all of their data recently.

It's GONE?! I am so screwed...
It's GONE?! I am so screwed...

“T-Mobile Sidekick data outage tests mettle of 800,000 customers, carrier”

As Andrew Nusca’s article points out, after a series of flubs, T-Mobile sent out an email with the really bad news:

“Regrettably… we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos …almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure.”

Outages, small and large, happen. Be prepared.

  1. Check out potential vendors thoroughly. Ask things like: How often do you backup my data? Are the backups held on machines across the country somewhere (or in the next room, so if they lose the building they lose the backup, too)?
  2. Know not only how and when your vendor will restore your data, but how old that data will be (yesterday? this morning? last week?).
  3. Have a solution that includes a copy of your data stored in your office.
  4. Be sure you know how you’ll continue to do business until the outage is fixed
  5. Be sure you have a good plan for communicating with your customers

If you think about it, when you hire out to the cloud you’re putting your trust in people who have-to do this well, or they’re out of business. That may be a decided advantage for you, as opposed to you buying and maintaining all of your own IT systems. Just be sure you expect to have problems from time to time, and know what you’ll do when it hits.