Interest in cloud computing reached its peak in 2011 (according to Google insights for search – see the chart below) but that interest has fallen steadily ever since. While the cost saving benefits of using the cloud have been known from the beginning, slowly the drawbacks have started to emerge and it seems that many businesses have been turned off over concerns about security, uptime and legal issues.

But are these concerns warranted? Can they be overcome? Has cloud computing had its hour in the sun or is it simply experiencing a few teething problems?

In order to answer these questions we’ll need to delve a little deeper into cloud computing, starting with a definition…

What is cloud computing?

Those readers who are unfamiliar with the term can be forgiven for conjuring up images straight out of a sci-fi movie. The reality is rather more prosaic ho

wever. Cloud computing is simply a catch all term for services which provide computing infrastructure, platforms or software from a remote location.

Amazon Web Services are one of the largest players in cloud computing services, devoting spare capacity in their enormous data centres to providing hosting, content delivery and a range of other services to the websites of other businesses.

The Advantages

The advantages are abundantly clear – ustilising a cloud computing service does away with the necessity to buy and maintain expensive computer systems and networks.

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Instead you use basic desktop or mobile devices to access your data and programmes via an internet connection. Everything works as it normally would if you were hosting everything on your own premises except now you don’t need an extensive IT department or have to upgrade your software and hardware nearly as frequently – updates to software are ‘pushed’ to you from the service provider.

So far, so good. The cloud seemingly offers a much cheaper and easier to set up version of business computing.

So what are the problems and why, after an initial flurry of excitement, are the first raindrops starting to fall on cloud computing’s parade?

The Problems

The concerns over cloud computing stem from the very notion of giving up sole access to your own systems, processes and data in order for these to be hosted by a third party. How can you be sure that:

a) Your data is secure? With the benefits of cloud computing come a whole host of new vulnerabilities to threats and attacks that are completely different to those that exist with an on-site solution. These new threats are much less well understood and loopholes might exist where security measures are yet to catch up with the ingenuity of attackers.

b) Your privacy and the privacy of your customers is ensured? What if your cloud computing service strikes up a secret deal to share data with a security agency or other body? Sound farfetched? Well, it happened in the US where the National Security Agency was able to listen in on 10 million recorded phone calls through an under-the-table deal with AT&T and Verizon.

c) That the way data is stored complies fully with legislation? A whole raft of compliance issues can spring up with cloud computing. Apart from Data Protection issues there might be extra compliance required for cross-territory services, electronic payments etc.

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d) That you aren’t leaving yourself exposed legally? Trademark infringement, copyright laws, data sharing – how can you be sure your cloud computing service is keeping you safe from the threat of litigation?

e) That the service won’t cut out when you most need it? On June 209th of this year several companies websites were taken offline when an electrical storm took down Amazon’s data centres in Virginia.

The Future of Cloud Computing

Despite the problems thrown up by cloud computing the benefits are so clear and palpable – especially to small to medium sized businesses who struggle to afford their own IT infrstructure – that the future of the cloud can’t be anything but bright.

While initial enthusiasm has died down in favour of coldly weighing the pros and cons, there is still so much potential for cxloud computing to help us deliver services and content in a smarter, more efficient and above all lower cost way that it can’t fail to take over from traditional onsite computing eventually.

However, if that process is to take place sooner rather than later then the companies who offer cloud computing services themselves need to take on more responsibility for its potential drawbacks.

“The complexity and uncertainty of the legal framework for cloud services providers means that they often issue complex contracts … or agreements with extensive disclaimers,” said the EC in a recent report seen by Reuters.

“Contracts often do not accept liability for data integrity, confidentiality or service continuity.”

If a lack of trust and uncertainty is keeping businesses away from the cloud then the companies who offer those services have to take steps to meet them halfway. If the providers can redesign their contracts to take on more liability for the inherent risks of cloud computing they might find themselves much more in demand. Until then, widespread uptake of cloud computing remains a case of blue sky thinking.

Has your business thrown itself into cloud computing? How has it benefitted your business? Do you worry about the risks? What do you think of your contract?

Please do tell us using the comments box below.


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