Cloud is a word on many people’s lips, from marketers to IT managers, the buzz the concept is creating is largely positive. However, as with most trends, especially those in the technology arena, there are also potential downsides to adopting the cloud says Mike England, Content Director, Imago Techmedia.

These can become swiftly apparent to businesses that have chosen the wrong cloud service or provider. Therefore the decision to move to the cloud should not be taken lightly because it presents its own set of risks, which depend on the type of business, its operational structure, and even its industry.

Why move to the cloud

To date, around four per cent of global IT spend is on cloud technologies and this is gaining momentum. Clearly businesses are seeing advantages in moving to the cloud, so before dismissing it out of hand, it’s important to understand why cloud is growing so quickly as a business enabler.

‘The key thing about cloud is that it means people can do things faster, more economically than they’ve done in the past. Sometimes cloud allows us to do things that simply were not economical or even possible before,’ said Phil Wainewright of Boston Ltd at last year’s IP EXPO.

‘Technology is advancing, faster and faster, and as a result organisations need to react more quickly. Customers, partners and even employees expect information in real-time. They expect organisations to be responsive and to roll out services in weeks and months instead of years. Cloud allows organisations to increase capacity and resources for innovation, while at the same time as leveraging its current IT infrastructure.’

Weigh up the benefits

The key benefit of the cloud is typically communicated as being cost reduction. However, according to Matt McCloskey, Virgin Business Media, cost saving is only one of the advantages.

‘For companies that have already adopted the cloud, flexibility is a major benefit that is being enjoyed,’ he said previously at IP EXPO.

Additional value lies in creating an environment for enabling innovation, efficiency and removing complexity. Cloud can also assist IT in providing the agility and responsiveness that businesses across many sectors now demand.

However, McCloskey also explained that organisations that have not adopted the cloud have legitimate concerns, the two most pressing being security and performance, both of which become significant when considering the use of a public or private cloud.

‘In terms of security, businesses are asking, will my data be safe, is my connection safe, and can I trust the cloud? And as for performance, will my apps work as quickly when I outsource to the cloud?’

Other concerns include complexity and the ease of which cloud solutions will work and integrate with legacy applications and hardware. Also, cloud is not necessarily right for everything in an organisation. In some scenarios the company itself may be resistant to change and IT decision makers may feel that the lack of in-house cloud experience is a hindrance.

McCloskey explained: ‘Culture and trust are also major barriers to change. Traditionally IT has looked after its own equipment and has had control over, and responsibility for it. When moving to the cloud, IT is now using a third party to bring that service to the organisation.’

Security and privacy

While security of the data and the cloud itself are concerns, data sovereignty itself is important. Data is subject to the laws and regulations of the country that it is located in, this should play an consideration when selecting a cloud provider and has become even more of a contentious issue following the PRISM allegations. Therefore the physical location of the data centre itself needs to be a priority.

Managing risk

The worst case scenario for any organisation that has moved to the cloud is losing its data. The market is full of companies offering all levels of cloud services so selecting a stable provider with a good reputation and appropriate credentials is an absolute necessity. If the selected provider is inexperienced, cannot deliver what was promised, or goes bankrupt, the chances of recovering data are slim, never mind the cost implications of finding another cloud partner.

When selecting the actual cloud services, many companies make the mistake of not properly specifying business requirements and selecting entry level products. It is crucial to account for both immediate and longer term needs as adding or upgrading services can be costly once the contract has been signed.

The level of support required can also be a risk factor. If the cloud is critical to operations then it needs to be up and running within minutes of a failure, should one occur, and typically the provider should be able to offer 24/7 support.

Other factors include business continuity - making sure that the organisation’s network and / or internet infrastructure offer the speeds required for your needs and are demonstrably reliable enough to cope with the move to the cloud. This is especially important if business critical functions, such as email or payroll, are outsourced and could potentially become unavailable if internet access is compromised.

Before jumping on the bandwagon, complete a full audit to confirm a cloud strategy is really appropriate to the organisation. Once that has been established, it is a matter of asking the provider the right questions regarding security, and services offered, before weighing up their offer against your own requirements. By doing so, it will become readily apparent whether the advantages outweigh the potential risks.