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Tim Wright
Published 25 October 2011

Cloud computing is a term that has been bandied about for some time now. But

what exactly does it mean and is it something that is here to stay? Tim Wright sheds some light on the topic

What is this "Cloud" I hear people talking about?
The "Cloud" is a name that has come about to represent a "virtual" computing environment. If data is stored in the cloud, then it is accessed over the internet (or private network),and where it physically exists becomes irrelevant. Similarly cloud applications are not installed on your PC, but accessed via the internet.The cloud computing environment exists on infrastructure which is shared by a number of clients. Cloud computing can be used across all or part of your IT operation. As it is provided over a network, for example the internet, the location of the user also becomes irrelevant.

Have I been left behind? How much is it being embraced?
There is nothing to get left behind from. Cloud computing is a different way to offer the same elements of processing, often referred to as infrastructure as a service (IAAS), platform as a service (PAAS) and software as a service (SAAS). Cloud computing can offer many benefits: cost reduction, scalability, maintainability, performance,flexibility, etc; but they are only benefits if they are right for your organisation. The decision on whether to move all or parts of your IT to the cloud should be a strategic decision regardless of the size or nature of your organisation.

Our data is valuable. How do I know the cloud is secure?
Encryption for transmission of data, and the encryption, authorisation and authentication of stored data should be one of the primary criteria to be researched by an organisation prior to entering into negotiations with a vendor. If your organisation's data is classified and you know the nature and volume of your storage requirements you can be more specific on security needs; however no arrangement of this nature should be entered into without performance of robust due diligence on the vendor which should include verification of the security arrangements, particularly if this involves the storage of credit card or personal data.

Will it save my charity money?
The answer to this question is "it depends". Savings are often made by (eg) sharing of data storage space and avoidance of capital expenditure on IT equipment. But cloud computing is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Your organisation should look at cloud computing as a strategic IT option and as such the service should be considered fully in terms of the services offered by the vendors, and your current arrangements, to establish if cloud computing is likely to save your charity money. One thing is for sure, it is not an option that you should rush into.

What are the social implications?
The social implications of cloud computing will depend on the nature of the work that you perform, and your HR policies. On the face of it, the social implications will be no different to those that you have with your existing IT service arrangements. If you have an in-house team currently providing your IT service then there may be a negative impact insofar as you will require less resource to support the service; however vendors will still need to be managed and if only part of your IT service is virtualised then the remaining elements will still require support.

Is it delivering?
It appears to be delivering in many respects. However there are still some concerns which should be addressed by anyone thinking of embarking down this road. These include data protection (you may not know in which jurisdiction your data is located); service availability (if there's a problem, how do you access your data?); migration (if there is a lot of data this can take a lot of time); and deletion of data (typically data exists in multiple copies across multiple sites - there may be an issue in ensuring that every copy is deleted when you need it to be).

Source: Kingston Smith Consulting

Tim Wright is senior manager at Kingston Smith Consulting.

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