Cloud Computing Issues

This is a sidebar to our Article “Exploring Cloud Computing“.

Here is a rundown on most of the current issues concerning cloud computing:

Security – While a leading edge cloud services provider will employ data storage and transmission encryption, user authentication, and authorization (data access) practices, many people worry about the vulnerability of remote data to such criminals as hackers, thieves, and disgruntled employees. Cloud providers are enormously sensitive to this issue and apply substantial resources to mitigating concern.

Reliability – Some people worry also about whether a cloud service provider is financially stable and whether their data storage system is trustworthy. Most cloud providers attempt to mollify this concern by using redundant storage techniques, but it is still possible that a service could crash or go out of business, leaving users with limited or no access to their data. A diversification of providers can help alleviate this concern, albeit at a higher cost.

Ownership – Once data has been relegated to the cloud, some people worry that they could lose some or all of their rights or be unable to protect the rights of their customers. Many cloud providers are addressing this issue with well-crafted user-sided agreements. That said, users would be wise to seek advice from their favorite legal representative. Never use a provider who, in their terms of service, lays any kind of ownership claim over your data.

Data Backup – Cloud providers employ redundant servers and routine data backup processes, but some people worry about being able to control their own backups. Many providers are now offering data dumps onto media or allowing users to back up data through regular downloads.

Data Portability and Conversion – Some people are concerned that, should they wish to switch providers, they may have difficulty transferring data. Porting and converting data is highly dependent on the nature of the cloud provider’s data retrieval format, particular in cases where the format cannot be easily discovered. As service competition grows and open standards become established, the data portability issue will ease, and conversion processes will become available supporting the more popular cloud providers. Worst case, a cloud subscriber will have to pay for some custom data conversion.

Multiplatform Support – More an issue for IT departments using managed services is how the cloud-based service integrates across different platforms and operating systems, e.g. OS X, Windows, Linux and thin-clients. Usually, some customized adaption of the service takes care of any problem. Multiplatform support requirements will ease as more user interfaces become web-based.

Intellectual Property – A company invents something new and it uses cloud services as part of the invention. Is the invention still patentable? Does the cloud provider have any claim on the invention? Can they provide similar services to competitors? All good questions and answerable on a case-by-case basis.

Once someone understands that cloud computing potentially suffers from much of the same fate as proprietary systems, the question becomes “do the advantages of using the cloud outweigh my concerns?” For low-risk operations and for insensitive information, the answer can easily be “yes.” Realize that cloud-based services can be backed-up, verified, double-checked, and made more secure by combining them with traditional non-cloud IT processes.

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