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What is the Cloud?

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Recently there has been lots of interest in “the cloud.” There are lots of companies pushing these services, ads in magazines, on TV, and radio, and lots of related products branding themselves as “cloud ready.” All of this advertising comes without a solid explanation of what the cloud is.

Simply put, the cloud is the Internet. When you put your resources on a cloud service, the only thing that this should imply is that it’s not going to be in your office. Many people have come to us for consultation on“moving to the cloud,” with the assumption that it is automatically better. The first thing we usually tell them them is that without further investigation, you cannot assume it’s something special or better. It could be a system that’s very well designed and robust, or it could be a dilapidated server running in someone’s basement waiting to get flooded by the next heavy rainstorm. Decisions about moving your organization’s data to a system completely under someone else’s control relinquishing your ability to directly oversee its operation and maintenance requires a high level of trust in them and due diligence needs to be exercised before making that call.

The glaring oversight with all of these companies offering services to “move to the cloud” is that there is no independent oversight or certification of their practices. As a layperson, it wouldn’t be difficult for one of these companies to use lots of jargon and make ambiguous representations to convince you that your data is safe with them. In addition to the safety of your data, if there’s any issue with their system, or your ability to connect to it, your ability to operate will be severely impacted. In short, until there is a set of recognized standards that these services can comply with, there’s too much risk for it to be viable solution. This doesn’t mean that “the cloud” is all bad though.

Rather than moving systems that are designed to be used in an office environment to a remote environment, they should be replaced or augmented by solutions that are built for a remote environment. For example, instead of using QuickBooks over some remote access mechanism, you would replace it with QuickBooks Online (if it met all of your needs). Evaluating what you use, resource by resource and service by service, you can move many of them outside of your office to the cloud while keeping the ones that work best in-house right where they are. This will give you the optimal balance between cost savings and reliability. No matter what cloud or hosted solution you are evaluating for your operation, ALWAYS have an independent expert evaluate it. The people selling it have an incentive to leave out the downsides and once you make the move, it will be dramatically more burdensome and costly to move back than it would have been to get the honest opinion of a third-party expert and avoid a catastrophe in the first place.

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