by Cary J. Calderone, Esquire
Cloud computing is HOT! Hosted exchange solutions are being advertised to every small, medium, and large business. Google, Microsoft and other big players are promising their cloud solutions will provide security and hassle free email and applications without having to worry about more infrastructure and personnel investments. They may even include archiving and record retention management features to help with DRED (Document Retention and Electronic Discovery). Lower cost and more service, it sounds great, but is it?
Time for a confession here: I have been in the Cloud for years. In fact, I have been operating in the Cloud since long before it was called “the Cloud.” Years ago, I decided I wanted to be able to travel on vacation to Europe or to Hawaii, without lugging a laptop. So I hosted my business account through Yahoo. This meant I kept my email at Yahoo (while using my own domain address) and only downloaded copies of my email as backups. Therefore, wherever I was, if I had access to a computer in an internet café, or a library, or could borrow a friend’s laptop, I could access my email and attachments and work. I even started to store my “working documents” in a secure online briefcase so I could review and edit work product if I had the need and if it was not already in my email box as an attachment. Even though this was years before Blackberrys and iPhones made transportable email commonplace, I was mobile.
Chances are some of you have been Clouding too. If you have an email account with Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail, then it is likely you have been in the Cloud. Or, as I describe it, you do not need your “personal computer” and installed applications to work with your email. Any computer with internet access will suffice. And yet, as a self-proclaimed longtime happy Cloudy, why am I not ringing the bells, extolling the virtues, and pushing companies to make the move to the Cloud? The answer is because, I workout. Or, more importantly, I have always had a membership at a health club. Non-sequitor you say? Please keep reading.
Back in the health club boom of the 1980s, many health clubs sprouted up creating an ample supply for those people who decided that a healthy and active lifestyle was desirable. However, I noticed a problem with almost all new clubs. When they first opened they had new equipment, reasonable membership deals and a few members. I remember going at 6:30 pm, jumping on the machines I needed, and in 45-60 minutes, I was out of there. But with the success of the new health club came more sales and more memberships. Over time the equipment ran down and the lines to use it grew longer. At some point it became necessary to schedule workouts for non-prime times, or just skip them. Do you still feel like this analogy is misplaced? Then check out this article by Brett Winterford, "Stress tests rain on Amazon's cloud" or the followup article, "More data released on cloud stress tests." The report following testing of three big service providers for seven months indicates that among these very big Cloud providers (Amazon, Google and Microsoft), there are already noticeable performance issues with on-demand services, especially during peak hours. And, even more distressing, the report finds these performance and accessibility issues are “regular” and that the Cloud providers do not provide performance monitoring tools so that Cloud customers may track performance. The report is enough to make this happy Clouder worry a little that the health club analogy is spot on.
There are other critical issues in considering the Cloud, like security. How secure is your company data in the Cloud? On this issue, I would need more information to know if the Cloud would decrease or increase your security risks. How experienced, well-staffed and well-funded is your IT department? Perhaps your data is actually more secure in the Cloud than it is on your old and out-dated servers. The best argument I have heard for mistrusting the Cloud is that, if a security breach occurred, would you even know it? Do we trust the Cloud providers to quickly stop any breach and report it? Do we trust them as much as we trust our internal IT and security staffs to report a breach? This is a very good question to ponder before making the move to the Cloud.
Truthfully, I feel odd writing this post. Here I am, a long-time Clouder writing about potential pitfalls with Cloud computing. I have been very happy with my Cloud experience and have had only extremely rare instances of any problems or issues and these issues would have likely occurred with even the best internal IT department running my email server. Still, happy as I have been, I have always had the option to use another email account if one Cloud account quit working. When the health club became too crowded, I just joined a different gym. Your company cannot easily just switch and join a different gym or Cloud! Yogi Berra could have been speaking about our modern Cloud solution providers when he commented on a restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”