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Cloud computing is the big buzz these days and we have more choices available to us now than ever before. How many of us use Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google Drive on a daily basis? How many big businesses rely on Amazon’s CloudFront for content delivery? Even Google Docs is a marvel with its cloud-based office suite. But despite the usefulness of cloud computing, it does have its drawbacks.
The cloud computing movement suffers from the same issues that all trends suffer: people like to join in on the fun without fully understanding what it is. I know when I first heard about Dropbox, I dove head-first with my “try it now, figure it out later” mentality, but I’m telling you to do as I say, not as I did. Protecting yourself against cloud computing’s issues will save you a lot of time and headache in the future.
Tip #1: Choose the Right Cloud
There are a lot of cloud services out there and the number of choices will only continue to grow in the coming years. This means that you owe it to yourself to carefully research and consider all available alternatives before committing to any particular service. For example, if you need a cloud storage solution, it’s in your best interest to thoroughly check out Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, etc.
Due to the nature of cloud computing, data migration between clouds can be a huge timesink and pain in the neck. First you have to download all of it off the first cloud and then upload it all to the second. Even if there’s an import option, you’ll lose a ton of time depending on how much data needs to move. Do hard research and make sure you start off on the cloud that best fits your needs.
Also, watch for compatibilities. Some clouds won’t interface well with certain software, whether because the developers didn’t implement enough support or the cloud itself is dependent on conflicting software. Make sure you know about these limitations or else you may be pigeonholed into using specific tools that you don’t like.
Tip #2: Keep Multiple Copies of Data
One of the biggest risks of using a cloud is that the cloud’s longevity is entirely outside of your control. It could be there one morning and gone the next. Therefore, you should NEVER use a cloud as your sole location for data storage.
Yes, cloud storage is hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough when it comes to backups. I don’t disagree here as long as the cloud’s copy of your data is actually a backup (i.e., not the original copy) because if the cloud goes down, your data goes down with it in the blink of an eye. Use other backup solutions in tandem with cloud storage.
Another reason to keep local copies of data: temporary cloud outages. What happens when you find three hours to work on that project of yours, sit down, log into your cloud… and it’s down? Suddenly you’re impatiently waiting for the cloud to come back up so you can make use of your time well. With local copies, you’re never at the mercy of your cloud’s uptime.
Tip #3: Secure Your Data
Cloud computing has many upsides, the chief advantage being that all of the data management is done by the cloud provider. It relieves you, the user, from having to worry about overhead and administration. However, this comes with the potential sacrifice of security and privacy.
Since all of your data is being held by someone else, cloud services are inherently risky. We already discussed the possibility of losing all of your data when a cloud provider goes belly up overnight, but there’s also the issue of data confidentiality. What happens if the cloud provider is hacked? What if their data – which is actually your data – gets leaked by a rogue employee? What if they give up your data in light of a government subpoena?
It comes down to this: don’t put data on a cloud if you wouldn’t be comfortable with that data being exposed at some time in the future. You just can’t know beforehand that your data will remain secret forever. Encryption for the cloud may help, but it’s not a guarantee by any means.
One last tip for you: don’t use cloud computing just because it’s there. What would you think of someone who ate their cereal with a hammer? Similarly, cloud computing is a tool and it fulfills a certain number of functions. If you can make use of those functions, then go for it! But don’t use a cloud service unless you know why you’re using it.
What say you, readers? What other cloud computing dangers can you think of? Have you ever been burned by a cloud? Share your experiences with us in the comments!