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The Promise – and Peril — of Cloud Computing

By Carl Mazzanti, president of eMazzanti Technologies in Hoboken

Small, medium, and large businesses are increasingly embracing cloud computing, which offers the ability to access computing services over the internet. The benefits of moving to the Cloud are significant. These range from reduced hardware expenses to ease of administration. In more detail, businesses moving to the Cloud can generally avoid upfront and ongoing costs of purchasing and maintaining certain assets — including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence — since cloud providers set up and maintain the necessary hardware and software on data centers over the internet.

When considering moving to the Cloud it is helpful to use an experienced Cloud services provider. “Cloud” providers can offer fast, reliable application updates with greater flexibility, and enable businesses to only pay for the cloud services they use while with the flexibility to add new features as needed.

Cloud providers can easily scale a client’s computing power or software up or down as needed. The scaling ability was dramatically illustrated during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic when large gatherings were banned. The NFL was able to tap its cloud computing partner to rapidly scale up its resources, which meant the league could safely and efficiently conduct virtual drafts, and more than 100 live feeds were running simultaneously for the following three days.

However, all Cloud providers are not equal. Business owners should “trust but verify” a potential or existing cloud provider. Why? Because just as Willie Sutton famously said, “That’s where all the money is,” when asked why he robbed the banks during the Depression. Cloud services today are just like the banks with the money- The cloud is where all the data is. Even a well-meaning cloud provider may unintentionally serve as a “honeypot” for cybercriminals who can crack a single digital “safe” and access reams of potentially valuable passwords, personally identifiable information and other data.

In addition to the scalability and potentially reduced upfront capital costs, there are plenty of reasons to go with an experienced cloud provider. A cloud computing environment can offer improved reliability with efficient data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity services; data will be mirrored (or copied) in multiple sites on the cloud provider’s network. And reputable cloud providers can offer robust policies, technology, and controls that help protect data, apps, and infrastructure from potential threats.

Business owners should be aware, however, that all not all cloud providers are equal, and should engage in a “trust but verify” approach to vet a potential or existing cloud provider. This would include verifying a cloud provider’s claims, ensuring the provider has the ability to meet the security and other needs of the business.

A good way to begin is to scour the provider’s contract and confirm exactly what the provider is promising. Will they move your information into the cloud and secure it? Or will they just move your data? A contract that limits a guarantee to a data transfer is like hiring a moving company to transport your household goods, only to find it all dumped on the lawn of your new house because the agreement did not state they would place it inside the house.

Another important step involves understanding who is verifying the provider’s claims. For example, a company that performs services should not be the one that checks them — the best practice is when a qualified independent third party reviews the provider’s cyber-practices.

It is also important to consider whether a provider’s cloud architecture, standards, and services align with your business’ workload and management preferences, and whether a significant amount of re-coding or customization will be necessary to prepare your business’ legacy workloads to mesh with the cloud provider’s platforms.

Cloud providers will say they can safeguard your sensitive data — but that claim is only valid if their cyber-defenses are robust. One way to validate this is to have an ethical hacker test the provider’s defenses, but a more realistic approach involves inquiring about the provider’s network of secure data centers. A provider that maintains multiple regularly upgraded datacenters will likely offer more benefits — including the latest generation of fast and efficient computing hardware, reduced network latency for applications, and larger economies of scale — as opposed to a provider that operates only a single corporate datacenter.

There is no question that cloud computing can offer significant benefits to businesses of all sizes — but selecting the right one, and successfully migrating your data may involve some time and work. Businesses that work with a trusted IT services consultant and prepare by gaining a thorough understanding of the issues involved can make the process smoother, though, while ensuring that their data is efficiently migrated and safely maintained.

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