Cloud computing becoming the new norm, despite concerns

Growing number of businesses looking to the cloud for data storage solutions

Cloud storage servers

After hundreds of naked celebrity photos were allegedly hacked from Apple’s iCloud this Labor Day weekend, many are questioning the security of “the cloud.” But that hasn’t stopped the steady influx of businesses switching from in-house data storage to cloud-based solutions.

Integra, a communications and networking company headquartered in Vancouver, released data estimating that 70 percent of businesses are using or exploring cloud solutions, and 60 percent list the cloud as their top priority this year.

As 2015 creeps up, what’s next for cloud computing? And what are companies doing to combat the risk exporting their data inherently imposes?

“If it’s a highly competitive company, they won’t take the risk of storing the data in the cloud,” said Phil Sheehan, director of IT services at Clark College. “A company where there [are] heavily guarded trade secrets will keep their data in-house.”

Free cloud storage solutions are where consumers and institutions encounter the most risk. Sheehan noted that free cloud services often have less stringent privacy safeguards and involve robotic data mining for marketing purposes.

“Cloud storage for the corporate world is usually a paid service so they can structure their agreement to meet their privacy concerns,” Sheehan said.

Anecdotal evidence confirms the idea of businesses moving increasingly toward fee-based cloud services. Vancouver’s Creative Computer Solutions has seen a steady influx of new corporate users making what they call the “migration” from backroom servers in-office, to storing data in the cloud.

“There’s a higher demand for migration now,” said Creative Computer Solutions President Scott Huotari. “But there are right ways and wrong ways to safely migrate data and it’s kind of a rocky road for vendors who haven’t done it before.”

With help from companies like Creative Computer Solutions, Integra and CenturyLink, small and large businesses are able to find custom-fit solutions to their data needs. Huotari said the beauty of the cloud is twofold: making the infrastructure of the office available to employees everywhere, and having an external company manage data storage and upgrades.

“I can go to any desktop, anywhere in the world, login and see my same computer setup and information that I have at my office,” he said. “Those are the benefits of the cloud: remote access to your data, mobile access to data, letting someone else do the upgrades, which are generally taken care of in the background.”

But Huotari doesn’t discount the inherent risk in remote access to data. He sees the biggest challenge today as protecting clients from malware and viruses.

“When you put the data in the cloud, you lose a bit of the control,” he said. “What kind of antivirus employees have on their home computers and mobile devices and how they have those devices configured makes a big impact.”

However, educating users is an easy fix, Huotari said.

“Viruses don’t usually affect a computer unless they’re invited somehow,” he said. “Teach your users not to click on things they don’t want to click on when your data is in the cloud.”

Taylor Goldsmith, community manager at Integra, has also seen an increase in businesses moving to the cloud, but she too sees the drawbacks.

“Like we’ve seen recently, in the past weekend, it can get hacked,” Goldsmith said. “People are still a little uneasy when their data and information are not stored where they can see it. It’s still something people are getting used to.”

But she believes the benefits of the cloud far outweigh any risk.

“As technology advances and security improves, the cloud continues to become a more attractive place for businesses to store their data,” Goldsmith said. “Having a fully-managed environment lets the customer focus on their business while a company like Integra can focus on their network.”

Martin Flynn, marketing and public relations manager at CenturyLink, sees outsourcing data storage as fundamental in protecting data.

“As with any business, there are inherent risks of losing data through natural disasters, server crashes or possible data breaches,” he said. “Cloud services help mitigate these risks and CenturyLink’s security protocols help ensure customer information and data is secure.”

CenturyLink has worked with increasing numbers of start-ups, mid-sized companies and global enterprises switching to cloud-solutions. They estimate that by 2020, 55 percent of CIOs will source all their critical apps in the cloud.

Flynn stressed the importance of finding the right data-storage solution for each individual company.

“Cost is not the only factor to consider – service level agreements, security, redundancy, network and infrastructure play a key role in the decision making process,” he said.

Still, many companies do consider cost as yet another reason to make the migration.

“Cloud computing can be less expensive,” said Sheehan. “The reason for that is the company that’s providing the service purchases their data center equipment in mass quantities so their overall cost for equipment is lower than a typical company could secure because they aren’t buying in such mass.”

Moving to the cloud, though becoming increasingly popular, is still chosen on a case-by-case basis.

“I would say most customers should be migrating to the cloud over the next few years,” said Huotari. “Cloud computing is a spatial experience, blending with the digital experience in ways that are unexpected and mind-blowing.”

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