Computing in a cloud

I have to admit I’m somewhat ambivalent about cloud computing, in which a company’s websites, data, and applications can be spread out among several web servers across the internet.

In some instances it makes sense–most companies can’t afford their own data centers. My company, for example, pays a hosting service to host our website. We’re also taking advantage of some free data hosting sites to serve as an off-site backup for our critical data. This, however, is only an experiment at this stage.

Clouds
Is cloud computing a beautiful solution or a gathering storm?

You see, there are advantages to hosting your own sites and data. In my company’s case we’re probably too small to attract the attention of hackers. It’s the big companies they go after (such as Sony, whose PlayStation Network was knocked offline by hackers last week). And when you control your own data you know exactly what it happening with it and what you’re doing to protect it.

Even as I’m writing this I’m thinking about what might happen if our backup data were hacked into. My first thought was “nothing”. It’s a backup, and the chances our server crashing irreparably at the same time our web storage service goes down are pretty slim. For example, Amazon.com’s web services crashed recently for most of a day, and I never even noticed.

But then I started thinking about what data is in our backup files. We have personal identification and financial data on our customers. The loss of the data might not be a problem, but theft of that data could be catastrophic to our customers and our business. I am going to remove that data as soon as I finish writing this and go back to our previous physical storage solution. It’s not worth the risk.

In the end that’s the question we all need to ask ourselves before engaging in the various solutions cloud computing has to offer. Can we afford the risk? In the case of hosting our company website, I think we can. In the case of our company’s sensitive data, I don’t think we can.

If you’re using hosted services in your business it might be a useful exercise to consider what risks you might be exposed to, and if your business can afford that risk.

What do you think? Am I too paranoid? Do I not appreciate the risks enough? Leave a comment.