To the technically disinclined, the cloud may seem like this magical-yet-mysterious place where all the photos from their iPhone live. While photo storage is one of the many uses for the cloud, many use it for far more complex tasks.
To put it simply, the cloud refers to software, files and services available over the internet. Items stored in the cloud are not merely saved to your computer’s hard drive. Instead, they’re stored on internet-accessible servers. Popular services like Gmail and iCloud use cloud storage to let users check their email from anywhere.
Are you thinking of integrating cloud technology into your workspace? Take some time to go over these six best practices before you jump in.
There are three basic types of cloud services: infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Which service you get depends on what you hope to achieve with cloud technology.
Using an IaaS model means you’re paying for the raw product, like servers or disk storage. For example, you would pay a web hosting company a fee to host the files for your website on their servers.
Under the SaaS model, you access software or a service hosted on the company’s systems. Web-based email and Google’s online suite of office tools are prime examples of SaaS systems.
Finally, with PaaS, you have the tools to develop various applications according to your needs, but those applications run from the cloud provider’s servers. An example of this system is the Google App Engine.
In the same vein as deciding what cloud services you need, you must decide whether you want your cloud system to be public, private or a hybrid of the two.
Public cloud services are operated by a third-party provider. When using these services, your company will be one of many leasing the resources. For example, look at Amazon's web-hosting services.
With private clouds, the hardware is dedicated solely to your company and exists either on your premises or in a data center owned by your provider. This gives all the benefits of a public cloud along with enhanced management and security. These systems work especially well if you have to adhere to strict data management guidelines.
A hybrid system is exactly what it sounds like: Your business could use a public cloud service for regular data operations and a private cloud for critical work.
One of the most important aspects of managing your cloud ecosystem is determining what you’ll have to shell out for and what the payoffs will be. You have your “hard costs” to consider, like software fees, time lost due to training and support payments. If you decide to use a private cloud, you’ll need to factor in the lifetime of the hardware as well.
You’ll also have your intangible, or “soft,” benefits. What does your business stand to gain by adopting a more agile structure? Will this move let employees work more productively? And how will you measure the impact of the new system? These are all questions you’ll need to answer during the planning stages.
When you sign on with a cloud service, you’ll have a contact within the company to work with. However, for larger businesses, a dedicated cloud engineer or team will help smooth the transition and mitigate losses in an outage. Knowing if you need to hire — and what skills to look for — are both big parts of the equation.
If you’re going to hire, run through a checklist first. Make sure you have a plan for them and only hire when the infrastructure is in place. If you’re a larger company, you need someone who’s knowledgeable about technology and cloud architecture to take the lead and make the right decisions.
During the interview process, make sure you have at least one technically inclined person to aid in screening. Once you have your hire, do some follow-through. Can they work alone, or do they need a team? Can you get some additional training for your IT staff, or should you hire more?
Having this all planned out will save project costs from ballooning.
Digital security is a hot-button issue, and for a good reason. You stand to lose a lot more than just files in the event of a hack or hardware failure. If you’re working with a third-party provider, review their encryption and security practices and ensure your office networks are secure.
Know that backing up data to the cloud doesn’t eliminate the need for redundant backups. It might seem silly, but you may have to depend on an encrypted local backup if your provider experiences outages. The same goes for a hacking attempt. In the worst-case scenario, criminals can’t wirelessly access your files if the drive they’re stored on isn’t connected to anything.
One final point to note: Personal employee devices like cell phones and netbooks also represent a security risk. If your company has a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy in place, you must also have a system for governing any corporate data they contain.
What if a personal netbook with company data stored on it goes missing? Will you have the files backed up on a company server? Can you remotely wipe the device? These are the tough scenarios you’ll have to work through — and then update your device policies to ensure maximum data security.
If your company is using the cloud just to back up files, you’ll have to know your data and the limitations of the cloud system. Initial uploads may be slow due to file volume, and a full restoration could take just a long, depending on available bandwidth.
Take control by knowing what you’re backing up. Don’t upload useless files and be sure to separate those that will benefit from archiving from those that won’t. Make sure any files that need extra encryption have that applied.
After you’ve determined the limits of your service provider, develop a system to test the backups, both theirs and your redundant ones. A backup that can’t restore properly is a waste of disk space, time and money.
The cloud may seem like a big and scary place, but in the right hands, it’s a powerful business tool. Now that you’re aware of some of the best practices, you’re ready to move forward with your own cloud endeavor.
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