Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cloud Services: Clearing Away the Fog

Editor's Note: The following is an edited excerpt from Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: Safer Computing Tips for Small Business Managers and Everyday People, slated for release later this year.

I'm more or less a fan of what the cloud can do for a small business. At the same time, I don't think it's wise to hail it as an end-all-be-all replacement for having your own software on your own platforms within your own IT infrastructure. As of this writing, there are too many minefields and unresolved issues. Here are a few:
  1. Privacy -- No matter what, the cloud service provider you're paying has access to all of your data. Anyone that works in their company potentially has access to your data, too. And depending on the terms of your service agreement, there's no telling how much data they might collect based on your activities and how they might use (or sell) that information.
  2. Local Availability -- if your Internet connection goes down or your cloud service provider goes offline, your business is down, leaving you without access to your information until the service provider is accessible again. And since most cloud services are subscription-based, God forbid if money gets tight and you can't pay your bill.
  3. Cloud Access during a Disaster -- Not all cloud services are created equal. How fault tolerant is your cloud service provider? All it takes is a prolonged blackout, network outage, or even a simple unpaid Internet bill and any cloud-dependent part of your business might as well be buried on the dark side of moon.
  4. Control over Your Data -- if you decide to cancel the cloud service, there are all kinds of issues to contend with regarding your data. How much of it can you get back? Will you be able to get your data back and, if so, can you import it into something (or somewhere) else to resume business? And since you've decided to go in another direction, how can you be sure that the service provider will not keep your data?
  5. Data Security -- some types of cloud service providers have become a magnet for attacks from cyber criminals and Botnets all over the world. For example, back in 2009 there was an incident where cyber criminals had exploited Google's AppEngine and used it to house a Botnet command center that controlled legions of zombie computers. These kinds of incidences aren't isolated.
  6. Marketing Hype versus proven substance.
Many industry-specific laws and regulations are rooted in 20th century business concepts. They don't take into consideration the use of third-party cloud computing services as part of a core business model. If your data gets destroyed, how are you compensated for your loss? Could you sue for damages even though there was probably an indemnity clause in your service agreement when you started using the service? And whose laws apply: the laws where you live, the laws where the company is registered, or the laws wherever your data is physically located?

Using offsite freebie cloud services as part of your business workflow is a little like building a room addition onto a house that you're renting and can never own -- you'll become dependent on it although you have little or no contractual control and the landlord ultimately holds all the cards.

Max Nomad is an IT Consultant, Graphic Designer, and author of Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: Safer Computing Tips for Small Business Managers and Everyday People. His past design and consulting clients include the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, STIHL Inc., Atlantic Video (and ESPN), the United Way of Richmond, TGIFriday’s, the Racing & Gaming Commission of the Northern Territory (Australia), and Spirit Cruises (nationwide). He can be reached at

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