Partly Cloudy: Advantages and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing for Business

The trend of moving data to the cloud is among the dominating ones in today's business world. Storages, servers, whole infrastructures are shifted there, and this tendency seems to be gaining momentum.

We are currently witnessing a rise of cloud computing popularity, and there are tons of statistical data analyzing it from different points of view. All of them prove the same thing – the adoption of cloud computing by businesses is increasing.

However, is cloud computing as good as it sounds? In this article, we’ll look into the most important takeaways from our projects to explore the pros and cons of using cloud computing for business and try to find the way it can be used to make the most of it.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a model in which engineering resources are provided and consumed over the Internet. In this context, the term "resources" is rather wide, and includes the following categories:

  • Storages – data storage capacities hosted on remote servers and accessible via Internet (for example, Google Docs)
  • Servers – virtual computers of various configurations (for example, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud)
  • Platforms – virtual computers or clusters with a particular technology stack that can be used for application deployment (for example, Microsoft Azure)
  • Applications – web-based solutions running on remote servers and accessible through browsers (for example, Salesforce)

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In a nutshell, with cloud computing a business "leases" computing capacities from a cloud provider instead of creating and maintaining own infrastructure. This way, they can save on the initial investment and on the ongoing maintenance while enjoying similar functions. These are just the most apparent benefits of cloud computing, and below we will look at them in detail.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

The advantages of cloud computing are many and various, and they are often the key factors in taking the decision to use this approach for business purposes.

Self-Service On-Demand Resource Provision

All clouds are organized so that anyone in need of cloud computing capacities can arrange them without requesting assistance from the provider's support team. The user can select necessary resources, configure their options and, what is also very important, immediately see the approximate price. Once the virtual system is set up, the user can manage the resources easily – add, remove or modify them according to the current business needs.

For example, when requesting a virtual server on Google Cloud Platform, you are free to choose the operating system, the number of CPUs, the memory size, as well as other parameters. The monthly price of the machine is immediately displayed on the same screen and updated with any added or removed options.

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Image credit: Google

Pay-as-You-Go Model

In cloud computing, you only pay for the resources you have actually consumed. With few exceptions, cloud providers never charge any subscriptions or lump-sum amounts, but issue a bill at the end of the period for the servers, storage, or services you have used.

Most cloud providers use hourly billing, however, there is already a tendency towards using smaller increments. For example, as of October 2017, Amazon Web Services has implemented a per-second billing model for its virtual machines and cloud storage.

While planning your cloud infrastructure, you can calculate its estimated costs even before you actually start using it. Cloud providers usually offer online calculators where you can see how much you will be charged for this or that service, and you can use it to see how different options influence the cost. This way, you can choose the most optimal cloud infrastructure for your project while staying within the budget.

Amazon Web Services offer the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator listing all available cloud services and providing their prices depending on the type, capacity, frequency, and duration of usage. Similar calculators can be found for other cloud providers, as well.

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Image credit: Amazon Web Services

Low Upfront Costs

Setting up a project infrastructure locally requires quite considerable upfront costs:

  • Hardware
  • Software licenses
  • Engagement of admin professionals to set up and maintain your system. This usually means creating a permanent system administrator position

Besides, consider that you will definitely plan your hardware with certain redundant capacities to be ready to scale your system up and out, when necessary. However, these extra capacities are going to be unused most of the time.

However, if you opt for the cloud, you will avoid most of these costs. The hardware hosting your infrastructure will be provided by the cloud service vendor. If you use platform services, all related software will be purchased, installed, configured and integrated by the provider at their cost. And, of course, the ongoing maintenance, hardware and software upgrades, security measures will also be the cloud provider’s responsibility.

Accessibility and Availability

Data stored in the cloud can be easily accessed from any device and browser, wherever you are. This gives unique possibilities for prompt responding to any inquiries or issues, remote control and maintenance, presentations and demos.

Another aspect of storing your data in the cloud is its availability in the event of a local disk failure. No matter how badly your local computers may be damaged, the last saved copy of your project data can still be retrieved from the cloud storage.

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Quick and Easy Scalability

Cloud resources are provided as a sort of a “pool” from which clients take what they need and how much they need. When you request cloud resources, they are provided almost instantly. Similarly, when you no longer need your virtual machines, servers or platforms, you shut them down, and the corresponding resources are immediately free to be used by others.

This creates perfect conditions for system scalability and at very reasonable costs, too. The following situations are common use cases for cloud computing:

  • Services with seasonal or otherwise predictable load peaks. Just add enough virtual servers and storage capacities to cope with your increased load and then dispose of them as soon, as the key figures get back to normal. As the result, you will receive higher bills only for the period when you had the additional resources.
  • Short-term high-intensity tasks. For example, you need to perform some massive complex calculations, but such necessity arises only at the end of each quarter and takes only three days. Get several large high-performance virtual machines to run your calculations and then shut them down. You will be billed only for three days of using these computing capacities.
  • Business growth due to the gradually increasing number of users. In this case, you can add cloud resources as needed to serve the current demand. With such strategy, you will have the very little redundant capacity, which means that your infrastructure costs will be used in the most effective way.

As you can see, with your business running in the cloud, you can be very flexible in scaling your system up and down according to your current needs. Cloud providers allow cloning virtual machines through custom images, thus increasing the number of servers will take a minimum configuration effort.

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Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

Nothing is perfect, and cloud computing is no exception. When planning cloud operations, you should also weigh the disadvantages of this approach to see whether they are outbalanced by the benefits in your particular case.

Availability Issues

Yes, we’ve mentioned availability as one of the selling points, however, there is also another aspect to it. When your business is running in the cloud, you are totally dependent on the Internet connection and on your cloud provider's service availability.

When the Internet connection is down, your service will be down, too. We recommend choosing a reliable Internet provider with a good history if you are planning to run your business in the cloud. Regular Internet outages can be highly damaging to your reputation, even if it is not your fault.

Another thing you should consider is that cloud providers have their downtimes as well. Of course, large global cloud vendors have plenty of backup capacities to ensure uninterrupted service during maintenance, software upgrades, data center migration, etc. At the same time, accidents do happen, and your business may suffer from a cloud service outage. To ensure continuous operation, opt for large cloud providers with a solid reputation.

Cloud providers state their guaranteed availability in their Service Level Agreements, so check them while choosing a supplier. In many cases, they offer compensations for downtimes exceeding their SLA levels, thus check the terms carefully.

Security

In the recent years, the world has been shaken with massive-scale cyberattacks on more than one occasion. Thus, consider the security issues carefully if you decide to host your business in the cloud. When your sensitive data is stored in the cloud, you are, in fact, entrusting it to third parties relying on their security measures. However, there are certain practices that you can apply to increase your data protection:

  • Choose cloud providers with strong security mechanisms. If a cloud vendor implements additional safety steps, such as multi-factor authentication, or insists on sending security reports for the clients to review and respond to – this is a very good indicator. True, it may take more of your time and effort, but it will be totally worth it. Think of it from this point of view – in the event of a security breach, the cloud provider's reputation will be on the line, and the damage may be disastrous. Therefore, they are the best protectors of your data, and if they implement any additional check or authorization step, it is because it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Grant unrestricted access only on the need-to-know principle. The human factor, either malicious or simply careless, is the cause of many security issues. Thus, only a few trusted people should have administrator access to your cloud resources.
  • Use encryption. In the Advantages section, we’ve mentioned high accessibility of the data stored in the cloud – any browser, any device, any place. Well, this has its flip side – using unsecured channels, such as public Wi-Fi networks. The first rule, of course, is avoiding such channels at all. However, to ensure additional protection for those cases when your Internet channel security is questionable, encrypt your data and your access to the virtual resources, for example, with SSH keys. Needless to say that the keys must be stored locally and as securely as possible.
  • Backup your data. Make copies and snapshots of your most valuable and sensitive data and store them securely offline. Of course, set regular backup intervals to make sure the most recent copy is stored.

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Migration Difficulties

Although cloud providers do not generally practice vendor lock-in, it may be difficult to move your project to another cloud if, for whatever reason, you decide to do so. In any case, this is not a quick and easy process, and it definitely requires certain preparation. Different software types and versions, file formats, authentication mechanisms – these are just a few examples of what you will face if you decide to migrate to a different cloud.

If you do decide to move, take certain preparatory steps to make the migration as smooth as possible:

  • Prepare your new cloud space for the move – set up networking facilities, load balancers, disaster recovery options.
  • Decide whether you will be moving your infrastructure or recreating it. Moving is faster, while recreation requires preparing data copies, machine images, etc. and generally takes longer. At the same time, if you choose the path of recreation, you may reduce the chance of possible incompatibilities.
  • Test your new environment before making some irreversible actions, like moving your production resources. This may prevent interruption in your service.
Compliance Issues

This issue concerns the outsourcing companies more than others. There may be cases when a customer prohibits cloud hosting for any reasons. If the product to be developed requires enhanced security, the owners will most probably expect it to be created and deployed locally. Or, projects involving a lot of sensitive data, such as healthcare or finance products, may also have a requirement of local development in order to protect their customers' data.

In this case, the customer has the final word, and the project should be deployed locally.

So, What's the Verdict – Should Businesses Use Cloud Computing or Not?

Of course, the answer mainly depends on the project type, legal concerns, and preferred approaches. However, for small businesses, cloud computing is a great way to make use of advanced technologies, powerful platforms and unlimited storage capacities with very modest initial investment. Just weigh up the pros and cons and take the necessary precautions – and your cloud experience will be safe and productive.

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