Increasing operational efficiency is a top priority for modern organizations, and cloud computing has emerged as a cost-effective way to optimize the delivery of IT resources.
While cloud computing has its pros and cons, it enables an enterprise to deliver IT resources on-demand over the internet, centralizing access to applications, storage, and databases so they don’t have to spend time managing an on-premises data center.
This article will examine cloud computing pros and cons to help you evaluate whether moving to the cloud is right for your organization. But first, we’re going to look at a brief history of cloud computing.
A History of Cloud Computing
It’s difficult to pin down exactly when the term cloud computing was coined, and there is an extensive debate as to when the term entered popular usage. Perhaps the earliest use of the term was in a Compaq document called “Internet Solutions Division Strategy for Cloud Computing” which predicted “cloud computing-enabled applications” would become commonplace.
However, it would take until 2006 for the term cloud computing to completely catch on, when Amazon re-launched Amazon Web Services and released Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to the general public. Since then, AWS has become the market leader in the cloud computing space, with 32% of the market share, followed by Azure with 20% and Google Cloud with 9%.
As awareness of cloud computing has grown over the past few years, cloud service adoption has also followed suit. Today, cloud service adoption has increased to the point where the global cloud computing market is expected to reach $623.3 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 18%.
The Pros of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing has achieved widespread adoption it has because it enhances core business functions and enables enterprises to decrease their reliance on on-premises infrastructure. In this section, we’re going to examine some of the main reasons why enterprises are continuing to move to the cloud today.
1. Reduced Costs
Cloud computing services offer pay-as-you-go pricing models for infrastructure. So a company can pay a third-party cloud service provider for access to online computing resources without needing to purchase infrastructure upfront. This pricing structure also enables companies to outsource long-term maintenance costs.
It also enables companies to pick and choose what features they want to pay for, so they don’t have to purchase features or hardware that they won’t use on a day-to-day basis. For example, if they only need a certain amount of storage they can pay for that without having to pay more for unneeded resources.
2. Greater Security
When moving resources to the cloud you’re handing over the protection of your data to a highly experienced third party. Most reputable cloud service providers have specialist teams with internal security controls that limit physical access to resources. The controls prevent employees from physically accessing resources in a way that on-site datacenters cannot.
Cloud service providers are also proactive about updating infrastructure and operating systems to ensure that no viruses or malware compromise your data. This isn’t the case in many on-premises data centers as enterprises often struggle to regularly update infrastructure while completing their day-to-day responsibilities.
In addition, top cloud service providers will encrypt data in transit and at rest so that it can’t be read by any unauthorized users, and will regularly back up your data in case there is a system failure. Storing your data on multiple servers means it’s still available if one server goes down.
3. More Operational Agility and Scalability
Many organizations have computing needs that fluctuate. Sometimes during periods of peak demand your IT infrastructure simply can’t keep up with increased demand. Cloud computing services address this issue by enabling you to upscale hardware on-demand to meet spikes in workloads.
For example, if you run out of data storage then you can immediately purchase extra bandwidth, granting you greater operational agility. Provisioning new resources in this way is also cost-effective as you only need to pay for the number of resources you actually need.
It’s worth noting that provisioning new resources is also faster, as you don’t need to wait for new infrastructure to arrive and then spend weeks deploying it; you can simply request extra resources from your provider via an online portal.
4. Data backup and recovery
Most traditional onsite computing environments are poorly prepared to combat system failures and natural disasters. A single data loss incident can result in considerable downtime and the loss of valuable private information, not only making it difficult to continue providing services but also leaves a company open to regulatory liabilities.
Cloud services offer enhanced data backup and recovery capabilities by enabling users to automatically back up their data to the cloud on-demand. For instance, when you create a new document many services can instantly save it so it’s accessible in the cloud via another device.
On-demand cloud backups make sure that there is always a recent copy of your data available in the cloud so that if there is a local system failure, you can still access important data from another device.
5. Analytics Capabilities
The data that modern organizations collect is valuable, but many organizations struggle to use the information they collect. Cloud computing allows you to collect all of this data and store it in a centralized location so you can use analytics capabilities to identify insights that you can use to increase operational efficiency.
Cloud service providers like AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure offer cloud analytics platforms that provide you with a top-down view of your business’s performance data in real-time so you can analyze it and find ways to improve your decision-making and enhance your existing processes.
For example, you could use cloud analytics to monitor the effectiveness of your marketing strategy and pinpoint which campaigns acquire more customers or monitor the supply chain to find ways to optimize the delivery of goods.
6. Disaster Recovery
Avoiding downtime and data loss is incredibly difficult for modern organizations, which not only have to worry about sophisticated online cyber threats, but also about internal accidents, power failures, and natural disasters. All of these risk factors can destroy a company’s private data and result in costly downtime.
Traditionally, disaster recovery solutions were so expensive that only large organizations could afford to invest the resources in them, but many low-cost cloud services are fully-equipped to act as a disaster recovery failover solution. Storing your data in an off-site cloud server means that if you have a local system failure you can still access important resources.
Automated cloud synchronization also means you don’t have to spend hours manually copying files to a backup; you can work normally with the peace of mind that you won’t lose all your data if there’s a system failure.
7. On-demand Access and Flexible working
Cloud computing is a location-independent way to access computing resources and enables employees to access applications and documents in the home and in the office. All an employee needs to do to access the cloud is log in to a portal on a mobile device, desktop, or tablet.
In contrast, an on-premises setup forces employees to be in the office to access files, software, and applications. In this sense, cloud computing supports on-demand access. It also makes it possible for a company to offer employees a flexible working environment, where they can work from home or in the office.
Flexible working is not only operationally efficient, but it’s also great to increase employee engagement by helping employees to enjoy a better work-life balance, so they can juggle work and personal commitments more effectively. It can also improve productivity – with 95% of employees saying their productivity has been the same or higher working from home.
The Cons of Cloud Computing
While cloud computing has many clearly defined benefits, it’s also not without its risks, particularly in the realm of security vulnerabilities and operational challenges. In this section we’re going to look at some of the cons that cloud adopters need to be aware of:
1. Less Control
By outsourcing your infrastructure to a third party you’re losing control over your data and the security measures that are used to protect that data. When handing over data to a cloud service provider you’re essentially trusting them to protect your data and ensure the necessary controls are implemented to meet your regulatory obligations.
Loss of control can cause regulatory liability, as certain regulations like HIPAA, don’t allow you to outsource your responsibility for protecting data. That means you’re responsible for making sure that private data is protected by you and your cloud service provider. Failure to do so can result in fines.
The only way to mitigate the loss of control is to do your due diligence on the security measures offered by potential cloud service providers and to know where your responsibilities start and finish.
2. Security Controls
When you make the move to the cloud the threat landscape facing your organization changes dramatically. Outsourcing your infrastructure to a third party means you need to implement new security controls to survive a new risk landscape and protect your data. The type of security controls you need to implement depends on what IT tasks you and your cloud service provider are responsible for securing.
Generally, users are responsible for monitoring user access, applications, operating systems, and network traffic, but this can change depending on the agreement you have with your provider.
It’s worth noting that some cloud providers don’t have security controls that comply with regulatory frameworks like HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR, and FISMA. That means it’s important to communicate with potential cloud providers to find out what controls they implement and what regulatory frameworks they can support.
3. Customer Support
Technical difficulties are inevitable with any form of IT setup, and cloud service platforms are no exception. In the event, you experience problems with your cloud service you will want to choose a provider that offers 24/7 support via email, phone, or chat to make sure that you always have access to assistance to resolve problems quickly.
If a provider doesn’t have round-the-clock customer support then if you experience connection problems you’re going to have to wait for their support team to respond, resulting in more downtime and financial damage.
When looking for providers, keep an eye out for those who have a faster response time to ensure that you have on-demand support whenever you run into technical difficulties in the future.
4. Internet Connection Required
To access the cloud you need an internet connection. That means if you or your cloud provider’s internet connection goes down then your employees won’t be able to access important IT resources. In other words, cloud computing can increase your risk of downtime.
There are many reasons why you or your provider’s internet connection can drop, all the way from a DDoS attack to a power outage, natural disaster, or weather event. Even the most widely respected providers can fall victim to downtime. For instance, in 2020 AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud experienced outages.
You can mitigate this risk by opting for a cloud provider who guarantees 95% or 99% uptime as part of an SLA, but that still doesn’t offer complete protection. While 1-5% downtime can still have a significant impact on your business an SLA can help limit your exposure to that risk.
Any company that stores a large amount of data in the cloud or relies on cloud services is at increased risk of a cyber attack. Cloud services have different security vulnerabilities to a traditional computing setup that you need to know about to stay secure. For example, companies using cloud-based applications are at increased risk of DoS attacks.
Another risk factor is that employees have to log in to a portal to access online resources, which means if they don’t have a strong password, attackers can target them with brute force attacks or phishing attempts to gain access to that information.
The only way to mitigate these threats is to familiarize yourself with the cloud’s vulnerabilities and develop a strategy to address them. So if you’re concerned about poor password security you could issue regular communication campaigns showing employees how to select strong passwords.
Is Cloud Computing Worth the Risks?
In many ways, the pros of cloud computing considerably outweigh the risks. When used correctly, cloud services can enhance your use of IT so that your employees can access important documents and services from anywhere, but you still need to design cloud-specific security controls to protect your data.
Do your research, create new security controls, seek out a provider with maximum uptime, and know where your providers’ security responsibilities end and yours begin. This will help you to get the most out of your migration so that employees can safely access your data on-demand.