Losing internal data is a crippling blow for a business. It can interrupt the normal flow of customer transactions and hamper the ability of marketing or sales to attract new customers. And once data loss becomes public knowledge and it’s known to contain sensitive information, the company’s reputation takes a major hit. Protecting data from losses requires a well-planned data-management strategy. Many strategic plans include using cloud services, but IT and other departments must understand the cloud’s strengths and limitations when it comes to protection.
The benefits of the cloud include inexpensive storage costs, instant scale, high availability and the elimination of on-premises hardware infrastructure. Used properly, the cloud is essential for many firms that simply couldn’t offer their service through any other platform. Despite these advantages, the cloud has limitations, and firms should build their plans around their understanding of these limitations.
Detailing the Limitations
The following are some limitations of the cloud that companies should be aware of.
The cloud relies on Internet access. Reaching the cloud of course requires Internet accessibility. The cloud is “always on” whether the staff member is working in Silicon Valley or South Africa, but a power outage, ISP interruption or cell-provider problem can all limit access. Also, the cloud provider can experience issues that don’t allow Internet connection, so clients can’t access their information or cloud-managed services. Companies that rely on the cloud should develop redundant systems such as physical-media backups that allow some core functions to operate during an Internet outage.
Public clouds are risky. Crowds can be dangerous. Public clouds are of course “public,” so the various clients that use a given provider for cloud storage become mixed with other clients. A hacking group that breaches the cloud data of one client then has an inside track to accessing the data of all other tenants. The cloud does offer immediate scale and low costs, but firms should still consider private clouds or on-premises deployments for the most sensitive data, owing to the multitenant risks.
Some providers are untrustworthy. Cloud services have matured, and a few firms are the clear leaders in accessibility, security and cost. There’s no sound business reason to select lesser-known providers that can’t match the customer service and reliability of the big players. Cloud services are relatively inexpensive, and searching for cost savings while neglecting security and trustworthiness is a fool’s errand.
There’s only so much bandwidth. Lower-bandwidth connections restrict some companies from embracing the cloud for their processes. This is especially true for firms that need on-demand information access and those that work with huge files and can’t accept the speed limitations of the cloud. If the resulting delays are only internal, the problem is manageable, but if the bandwidth issue hinders the customer experience, it’s an entirely different story.
Addressing the Limitations
Having context for the cloud’s limitations gives IT departments the opportunity to employ its strengths for certain types of data and situations. They can better match storage and capabilities to their business needs. Here are some best practices for getting started.
Develop a data-management plan. The sales team doesn’t present an annual goal to the CEO or board without backing it up with a formal plan. IT should take a similar approach to cloud services. A formal usage plan means transparency and accountability for the team, and it provides the opportunity for others to raise questions. The best plans will detail not only how data is stored and organized but also the role every staff member plays in data protection. It should match the type of storage (private, public, or hybrid cloud, or physical storage) with vendors and business needs-decisions that must be informed by the cloud’s limitations. Including every user in the plan means there are protocols for data access that (if followed correctly) can prevent data loss and security breaches. The plan should actively safeguard information and also include steps for the team to take if data is lost.
Back it up, and back it up again. The limitations of the cloud’s reliability and accessibility should be all the reason IT needs for multiple data-storage redundancies. Mixing physical on- and off-premises storage with cloud storage from multiple vendors will ensure no data is lost permanently. So if a breach occurs, fail-safes are in place to switch over processes to the other data backups. Storage is cheap, especially compared with the costs of losing data, so creating multiple backups should be a standard practice.
Centrally organize the data. Modern businesses handle multiple data sources, from transcribed call-center data to social-media posts to transactional records. A data-management plan should establish a central location for all of these disparate data sources and then dictate how that data will be interconnected. A plan that calls for sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) to be held in a private cloud must also describe how (and whether) that data will intermix with other data in the public cloud. Organizing the data reduces the chance of leaving information in an unsecured cloud account, and it offers the opportunity to use BI platforms and employ data analytics.
Test the plan’s procedures. The hypothetical sales plan mentioned earlier is easily testable. Management can compare the plan’s projections against actual numbers and review the sales expenditures versus incoming revenue. A data-management plan must also endure “real world” testing through benchmarking and goals. Perhaps it calls for all employees with cloud access to change their login credentials using a much more complex password. Did everyone adhere to that change? Or perhaps the plan dictated movement of all data to either private or public clouds within six months. If that goal wasn’t reached, IT knows it has a bottleneck somewhere. Following a plan that contains metrics and goals helps IT see the bigger picture to judge how the cloud (with its limitations) is performing for the business. Testing the plan shouldn’t just focus on reviewing storage capabilities and vendors, but it should also ensure every staff member follows best data-protection practices.
The limitations of the cloud don’t have to be limitations on a company’s ability to get things done. Instead, they should help IT and management make informed decisions through a defined data-management plan that employs the cloud’s strengths and avoids its weaknesses.
About the Author
David Zimmerman is CEO of LC Technology International. He has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data-recovery software market for 18 years. During this period, David has been involved in the creation, marketing and support of drive-recovery software products for the PC market both nationally and internationally. LC Technology is a global leader in data recovery, file-system utilities and data-security technology. Clients include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs); local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies; corporate-security specialists; and IT consultants. Published in more than 24 different languages, LC Technology products are available worldwide either directly or through several major manufacturers of flash-memory products. Founded in 1997, LC Technology is based in Clearwater, Florida.