It’s safe to say many non-techie people are pretty baffled by the concept of 'the cloud'. Last summer, Hollywood even made a comedy about our confusion in the hit film, Sex Tape. When Jason Segel tried to explain to Cameron Diaz why he couldn't delete a video from iCloud, the whole world nodded in agreement:
Jason Segel: “...the next thing I knew it went up - it went up to the cloud”
Diaz: “And you can’t get it down from the cloud?”
Segel: “Nobody understands the cloud. It’s a f**king mystery!”
Segel’s character is right. Nobody really understands the cloud. As recently as August 2014, a survey by Sage found that more than half of the UK's small and medium-sized businesses had only a ‘partial’ understanding of the difference between cloud technology and dedicated servers. Anxieties over security and where data is stored remain the biggest barrier for more than a third (38%), followed closely by the risk of downtime (25%) and slow connection speeds (19%).
Part of the issue is that data hosting vendors love to tout the term ‘cloud’ because it sounds cool despite being so ambiguous. Marketers and sales teams have latched onto it as a buzzword to talk about IT infrastructure and help them sell ‘new’ services. This, coupled with the unfortunate tendency to use fluffy cloud imagery in sales and marketing literature just causes more confusion.
So, are people right to be mystified about cloud services? Well, yes...and also, no. First of all, we need to understand that the cloud is not floating like nebulous mist above our heads. It’s a physical infrastructure consisting of many computers housed in huge data centres around the world.
Then we need to understand where our data actually goes when we’re accessing and sending information: how it gets there and what happens to it on its way.
A grasp of these fundamental concepts will make it easier to decide whether cloud or dedicated servers are the right choice for your needs. In the meantime let’s bust some popular myths about the cloud:
1) Privacy and security: your data isn’t safe
While there are disadvantages to using free services (which might use your data to make money), to say that the cloud is less secure than a dedicated setup is misleading. On one hand, having services and data concentrated in a few data centres makes them easier targets for ‘cybercriminals’. On the other hand, it’s more likely that security patches and updates are properly applied to servers built on a large scale.
2) The cloud never goes down
Marketers in web hosting companies frequently make false claims about cloud hosting being completely immune to outages. However, as with anything in IT, nothing is ever 100% perfect. Parts of the cloud can go down and cause failures. This is true of any hosting service, cloud or otherwise.
3) Switching to the cloud is the greenest decision a business will ever make
The prevailing logic is that cloud data centres optimise the use of their computing resources, making them more efficient than a dedicated server. However, it really depends on the energy matrix of the host country. Any data hosting service is only as green as its power source.
4) Cloud services will save you money
Figuring out direct cost comparisons between cloud and dedicated services is tricky. Cloud computing is about optimising data storage resources, not reducing them. It creates savings in the sense that you don’t have to base your server capacity on peak demands, instead increasing and decreasing as necessary. That could suit some companies but if your resource needs are fairly steady, there isn't much to be gained.
5) The cloud takes away the hassle of managing systems
Marketers who champion the benefits of the cloud claim that it removes most of the hassle of managing systems. For example, every time a new update is available it is seamlessly implemented by the vendor and rolled out in an easy, efficient manner. While this sounds great in theory, there may be cases where you need control over when and how updates are implemented so you have time to prepare for changes.
As Sex Tape has shown us, there are scenarios where it is wise to be cautious about how and when we use cloud storage. There have already been cases where criminals have forced firms (Sony Pictures, JPMorgan and Home Depot) onto the backfoot by hacking into systems and taking data.
However, for those who are fed up paying over the odds for hosting limits that are never reached, the cloud might just be the answer.
One question remains: will we ever see the back of confusing marketing-speak and vendor hype around the cloud? Let's give Philippe Parker (@proops) from Contented Management the last word:
“The Cloud is undoubtedly a buzzword for application service provision, but I don’t think we should knock it. If you say it’s just the internet, while that’s true you have to remember that most people don’t know what the internet is.”