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Cloud computing made easy

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If you hang in the right circles, you may hear variations on the concept of cloud computing.

Cloud computing also goes by the name of the cloud, hosted services, utility computing, grid computing, Software as a Service (Saas), Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).

With so many super-catchy titles, just what the heck is it? So glad you asked.

Simply put, cloud computing lets users access files and applications over the internet, delivered as a service. That means email minus the server, storage sans server, a server without a server. All you do need is an internet-connected device.

Research firm IDC recently predicted the Australian cloud service sector would be worth more than $2 billion by 2015. Word on the street is 94.2% of companies plan to implement cloud computing services by 2013.

So how do you know which cloud is right for your business and who you can trust?

Own the outcome

As with anything, it’s important to recognise your requirements before seeking a solution. For example:

  • Where will I be travelling?
  • How much of my stuff do I need to allow capacity for?
  • What will it cost?

You can approach the search for the right cloud computing solution in a few different ways:

  • Start by ruling out based on cost
  • Narrow your options based on features

The problem with cost-focused decision making is that you’re automatically ruling out features that reduce risk factors or could be of use to you.

You may very quickly discover that the initial cheaper option can cost you more in the long run.

Public vs. Private

A lot of small businesses are investing heavily in expensive traditional server technology. Others are devoting considerable time to educating their teams on a range of ever changing ‘public’ cloud computing programs.

While ‘public’ cloud computing programs may be cheaper than conventional server equipment, the risk factor should be weighed-up. It’s not news that data on ‘public’ services, such as Dropbox, Highrise, Batchbook, 37signals, and LastPass, is often compromised. The Sony data breach, Google’s ‘lost’ mailboxes and Dropbox’s ‘let everybody in’ were some of the most widely publicised last year.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, in addition to the risks ‘public’ services can pose to your business’s security and operations, the mix and match approach of using various free applications can also appear amateurish to prospective employees and clients.

Data sovereignty and why you should care

Today, a massive 35% of Australian enterprises are subscribing to some type of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) or PaaS (Platform as a Service) cloud service, with the majority of subscriptions and data heading to overseas providers.

In theory, any business considering cloud computing should understand its responsibilities under legislation including the:

  • Electronic Transactions Act 2003, Spam Act 2003
  • Cybercrime Act 2001
  • Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000
  • Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000
  • Privacy Act 1988
  • Archives Act 1983
  • Freedom of Information Act 1982
  • Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979

The list goes on… Happy reading!

Now imagine how many laws you’d have to be aware of if your data was stored in a cloud which housed its data offshore. In a worst case scenario, try getting your data back from overseas when this same cloud provider goes out of business.

To reiterate, once data is stored on foreign soil, it immediately becomes governed by local law. That’s why it’s so important to ask the question “Where is the infrastructure located?”

A number of recent cases bring to light the complications of offshore data storage. Reckon, developer of accounting package Quicken, recently severed ties with its American partner Intuit to reduce its users’ exposure to foreign laws. Meanwhile, legitimate users of MegaUpload have had their data locked away from them because servers are now evidence in an international copyright fracas.

Unsurprisingly, organisations are becoming increasingly wary of where data is stored.

The silver lining

It’s not all doom and gloom. Given that Australia’s 2.7 million small businesses make up over a third of the economy and employ almost 5 million Australians, forward-thinking IT solutions for start-ups are being developed and there are services available that marry the best features of cloud computing with the added security and support of an exclusive ‘private’ infrastructure.

And the good news is that they can be cost effective too.

Nik Devidas is a founder of leading IT solutions provider RockIT and is Managing Director of DHM Group. Cloud computing service Datasafe is the realisation of a six year vision to provide a cost effective IT solution for start-up businesses.

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