10 “Wows” and “Buts” You Need To Know About The Cloud

The cloud is one of the most exciting and game-changing things to happen to IT in a decade. It’s growing five times faster than typical IT products — hoppin’ cumulonimbus!

But …

(You knew there was a but, didn’t you?)

… there are major caveats. Just ask some of the companies that use Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or GoogleMail. These cloud heavy-hitters all had major glitches that shut down services and websites or lost data during the past few months. The key to using the cloud wisely is knowing what goes up in the cloud and what stays on terra firma. If you’re running a business, getting expert advice is in order. That way you can take advantage of the oodles of cloud benefits while avoiding the inevitable risks.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the cloud — good and not so good — as you plan your atmospheric integration.

1. It’s super nimble. Your company can grow (and shrink) without the traditional hassles of buying software and the hardware to run it. This also includes the freedom from having to make some pesky capital investment projections.

2. You own less hardware to maintain. And fix. And replace. And keep in an air-conditioned, dust-free, elevated-off-the-floor environment. Plus it doesn’t matter if they’re PCs or Macs because cloud software is run on other servers, not yours.

3. It’s greener. You cut down on your energy use.

4. You can rent cloud space temporarily. When your business needs major computing power for a while, you can rent it through the cloud. Or you can rent your own unused cloud space.

5. You can save a ton of money. Software-as-a-service products can cut some IT costs in half.

6. You can lose a ton of money. If you can’t access your data or website — especially at a critical time — the cost can be enormous to your bottom line and reputation. Last month, Windows Azure (Microsoft’s cloud services platform) had a six-hour storage outage. Then on April 21, Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2, which is part of its web services offering) went down for many days, taking down thousands of clients with it. It was by far the biggest cloud disaster yet, earning it the nickname “cloudpocalypse.” Running replicas can protect you against cloud down time but those costs can be prohibitively expensive.

7. Your data can get lost. Poof. Gone. Some data was lost in cloudpocalypse. And in February, 40,000 GoogleMail users found that their email and contacts had suddenly disappeared (most have been restored) and that any email sent to them during a 20-hour period may never have made it.

8. Products are often launched before bugs are worked out. Fierce competition makes some companies push products out the door.

9. Hackers can steal your personal information. If your cloud provider isn’t protecting your information properly, there’s nothing you can do about it. Last month, Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked for the second time and details about its users, like names, birthdates and security answers, were stolen.

10. Your cloud services providers are your de facto partners. This is because they have all your data. In fact, they may even OWN your data. This is uncharted (and unlitigated) territory … so hop with caution!