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Cut Through the Confusion to Understand the Benefits of the Cloud

shutterstock_127598501One of the most powerful benefits of cloud computing is that it creates a virtual work environment that can accommodate an increasingly distributed workforce.

More and more employees work in the field or from remote locations, which creates challenges when team members must work together. The cloud facilitates collaboration among employees in different locations by allowing them to access common data and applications wherever they are.

Businesses of all sizes are embracing the cloud to capitalize on this and other benefits, including the ability to access files on different devices. But many companies, especially small businesses, remain confused about what cloud computing is and if it’s the right choice for their company.

Cloud Benefits

Any major shift in IT operations deserves careful consideration and evaluation of its pros and cons. Following are three major benefits to consider when contemplating a move to the cloud.

Scalability. A business considering an investment in IT assets should assess which assets are currently needed, as well as how much capacity is necessary to meet existing demands. Further, planning for long-term needs is equally important.

Determining current needs is not too difficult, but understanding future requirements is a different story. The downside to guessing incorrectly is overspending for capacity that is never needed, or underspending and having to buy additional equipment later when the budget might be unavailable.

The cloud offers a tidy solution for companies that prefer not to roll the dice on predicting future requirements. When buying into a cloud service, companies can purchase the capacity and services they know they need now and then scale up or down later to meet future needs. The cloud also allows companies to adjust to operational peaks and valleys by allowing them to purchase capacity on an as-needed basis.

Simplified Project Management. In today’s electronic world, documents and files move easily among people and devices. Yet files and applications are still largely decentralized. Cloud services allow companies to centralize their data and applications, which allows for increased collaboration among employees and easier project management.

Document and correspondence history are stored and automatically updated, tasks can be created and tracked, and calendars can be generated to keep project members up to date. These tools can eliminate less efficient manual project management tools that require multiple platforms, such as spreadsheets and even handwritten notes.

The Bottom Line. Saving money usually tops the list of goals for any company looking to make an IT system change, and cloud computing offers several opportunities to realize cost efficiencies.

  • Eliminating capital expenditures on expensive physical equipment and software is a huge cost savings from day one.
  • Cloud services can eliminate some costs associated with employing in-house staff to maintain equipment.
  • Cloud computing services often provide a predictable and manageable pay-as-you-go billing model that is easier to fit into a budget than a large purchase of in-house equipment.

While many companies have already made the jump to cloud computing, some companies are waiting on the sidelines, trying to sort out fact from fiction. In reality, the cloud provides several potential benefits worth considering.

There are a number of cloud models to evaluate when making a cloud decision. Understanding the company’s current requirements and future goals will help determine the best path toward unlocking the potential of the cloud for any business.

The Collateral Damage of Shadow IT

shutterstock_146042084Over the past few years it’s become evident that businesses are embracing cloud services, and that trend is predicted to keep growing. An enormous risk to the security and stability of a company’s cloud potential is a problem known as “Shadow IT,” the practice where the use of certain applications and services may be occurring outside of IT’s knowledge and approval.

Shadow IT happens because employees want fast, efficient ways to get things done. However, not everyone is tech-savvy enough to know a safe application from one that could allow malware or a virus into the company’s network. Here are a few of the many ways that shadow IT hurts a business.

Inadequate Security

Not all cloud services are created equally. Some applications are designed to be tightly locked down, encrypted, and otherwise protected against vulnerability. However, others may be very lax or incorrectly configured. For example, if data encryption is used, is it outdated encryption technology? Are the encryption keys stored on the same server? Either of these scenarios could be an access opportunity for hackers. Consider the traffic flow to and from the application as well as where it is stored. All of these points must be secured for that application to be safely used.

Data Gone Wild

When a cloud service hasn’t been properly vetted by the company’s IT group, it’s hard to know where data is actually going. Customer information is one of the most valuable assets a company possesses, and it should be up to date and protected. Failing to bring IT into the picture to assess an application could mean a gap in disaster recovery or business continuity programs. In addition, having multiple storage areas for data in a cloud service may lead to business decisions based on erroneous information.

Accountability

The IT department is liable for anything that goes wrong with a company’s technology, including shadow IT problems. Regardless of whether the group knows about cloud services in use, they are charged with keeping the company’s data secure. Should a breach occur as a result of an unknown cloud service, the IT team would still be held responsible for the damage.

Standardization Is Necessary

Using a pre-approved set of cloud services helps the organization save money in a number of ways. First and foremost, the risk of a security incident is drastically diminished through the vetting process. Second, when the business sets out to acquire licensing for all applicable users, it will typically receive a volume discount for a higher number of licenses. If workers use a variety of different cloud services, this savings is negated and the company spends more on software licensing.

Most Apps Aren’t Enterprise Grade

The use of cloud services began as a consumer movement and then spread to businesses. Employees today often take the apps they’ve been using at home and try to use them at work as well. However, these apps are not built with a large organization in mind. Security, scalability, data storage, and the stability of the developing company are all considerations that IT must be permitted to assess for a new app to be approved. Many of these shadow IT choices aren’t strong enough to defend against the type of maliciousness directed at enterprises, as in the case of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Shadow IT is a very real problem for companies today, and one that must be included in security planning. Encouraging employee input on new cloud services and having an efficient vetting process can mean the difference between rogue use of applications and a secure company network.