Dark Clouds Overhead

The past year has been a difficult time for cloud computing. While the technology went some way towards gaining mainstream acceptance much of the talk focused on the numerous high profile outages which affected many businesses and countless customers. Too many high profile businesses have had their reputations affected following prolonged cloud outages. Unsurprising then that the availability and security of mission critical data stored within the cloud has been called into question.

Some of the most reliable organisations such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft have suffered cloud outages, each affecting thousands of businesses who were unable to access their data or service their customers. To provide a financial perspective on the issue, a 49 minute outage suffered by Amazon.com last year cost the business more than $4m in lost sales. The figure is staggering; even more so when you consider that it fails to account for the loss of future sales as fickle customers take their business to rival firms. Research from Microsoft has found that half of organisations believe that data accounts for up to 75 per cent of their total value. If a business can’t access its data then it can’t serve its customers.

And as we’ve seen over the past year, downtime which affects business can destroy the trust and relationship between organisations and their customers. Though it’s the major outages that have hit the front pages in the last year, even the smaller outages can have a huge knock-on effect. If a business suffers a short outage and is unable to fulfil a customer’s order or loses their data the damage to that relationship can take months or even years to fix. When an outage can be so costly to a business’ reputation as well as their revenues it’s no surprise that CIOs are approaching the cloud with caution.

Three Steps to a Brighter Cloud

While these examples demonstrate the worst case scenario, when implemented correctly the cloud can provide organisations with an unprecedented level of real-time data availability as well as robust and secure infrastructure.

  • Pick a cloud provider that you can trust – technology is complex and problems can happen to anyone – operational and security related. If you are going to put sensitive company information, or mission critical business processes under someone else’s management you need to understand their IT operation and their future strategy well.
  • Data availability must be one of your top priorities – don’t treat data availability as an afterthought, if you can’t access your data when you need it then why bother storing it. Make sure you challenge your provider to ensure they have built availability into their plans for cloud and are not just blinding you with the cost benefits of their offerings.
  • Don’t think that highly resilient clouds are just for large enterprises – it’s perfectly possible and affordable to have a secure, resilient cloud environment – without the expense of your own data centres or staff to operate them – and still know exactly where your data is stored and your applications are running. Even more important, make sure you understand your cloud provider’s true level of resilience.

Clearly, a cloud outage is not just about the loss of revenue but can have devastating consequences for reputations of organisations and, in the worst case scenario, could end up costing you your business. With this in mind it’s understandable that CIOs are reluctant to host their data in a third party service. The key lesson here is that it’s data availability, which is important. If organisations are savvy about the choices they make and ask the right questions, there is a great chance everyone from the IT Administrator to the CEO will be on board, safe in the knowledge that with the right cloud solution in place, relationships with customers and key stakeholders will only become stronger.