Cloud computing, put simply is the use of computers located on the Internet for your day to day computing needs, including services like web based e-mail and data storage as well as more complex tasks.
Cloud computing has a number of advantages over more traditional computing; however it also has a number of weaknesses. In this article I'll try and give you a balanced view of the pro's and con's of cloud computing so that you may make your own mind up as to if it's for you and your business.
Price – Probability the most cited advantage of cloud computing is the cost, there are two main cost savings associated with cloud computing. They are, the capital expenditure, the amount of money needed to buy the IT equipment initially and the long term maintenance and support. While the cost saving of not having to buy the initial infrastructure may be obvious, there is also an ongoing saving associated with outsourcing your IT services, the economies of scale means that the price of maintenance and support can be brought down to slightly less than if you where hosting the data yourself, but still allowing your cloud suppler to make money.
Scalability – Image if you suddenly realized you needed to double the size of your network storage how easy would it be for you to do that? Normally you would have to find a suppler who provided the same type of equipment as you currently use, ring them up, hope they have enough in stock then wait for them to be delivered and then hope you can get them all working together without too many all-nighters. With cloud computing it could be as simple as login into your control panel and selecting the new amount of storage you need.
The situation is even more extreme if you turn this on its head and consider what would happen if you suddenly needed half your network storage. Traditional you would be stuck with a load of equipment you do not need that is slowly going out of date, with cloud computing if you no longer need it you no longer have to pay for it, you just login to your control panel and reduce the amount of storage you need.
The Environment – Because of the same economies of scale that make cloud computing cheap, cloud computing is also more environmentally friendly than traditional computing. When computers in the data center are not processing your data, they will be processing someone else's, why have two half full hard drives when a data center can combine them an you will only need one disk.
Security – The main concern regarding cloud computing is that of the security of your data. While your twitter "tweets" may not be the most important chunk of data ever your financial records may well be. Sadly companies go out of business, sometimes very quickly and with little time for you to do anything about it.
Uptime – While a guaranteed uptime of 99.9% such as that provided by Amazon S3 accounts, sounds very impressive it's worth thinking what this means in terms of downtime. 0.1% of a month, the amount of time Amazon can be down before they give you anything compensation is 43 minutes 50 seconds, which if it was to happen just as you or your boss needed that file for the big presentation then throes 40 minutes could feel like days.
Of course all computer services no matter if they are in-house or cloud based suffer downtime, but the problem is compounded within cloud based computing because you only became aware of it when your customers complain or you need the service, and there is nothing you can do directly to fix the problem.
Legal – One of the cited cited but possibly damaging aspects of cloud computing is the legal issues involved. For example, Companies based in the European Union can no "export" data that identifies to countries that do not comply with the European Union's data protection laws, this included countries such as the USA. This would mean that a company in the European Union could have broken the law if they where to use a cloud computing service based in the United States to store their customer database.
While cloud computing has a number of advantages, it's a cheap, it's Scalable and it's more environmentally sustainable than an in house solution, there are a number of other issues that need to be looked at before you move your business into the cloud. It is of course possible to mitigate some of the problems with cloud computing, while still reaping some of the benefits, by limiting the move to the less mission critical parts of your business.