Protecting the Business with Smart Cloud Choices

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Before reading the end of this article, someone will seriously ponder if they could market gluten-free cloud servers.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a colleague at another company who had a major virus headache. From what they could gather, a user opened a zip file from an email that turned out to be a fantastic cryptolocker variant. First, it managed to encrypt everything on that user’s laptop, and then it proceeded to lock down files on every shared drive on which the user had write access. And did it ever.

The IT staff were able to restore the shared drives from the nightly backup, but they couldn’t do much about the laptop. Good news is that the user backed up most things to the shared drives. The backup was from the night before, so about three hours’ worth of working day data was lost. It was spreadsheets and documents mostly, not transactional data. The good thing is that the restore took only about 30 minutes to perform because the backup writes it to disk first, then tape. The user laptop was wiped, and users were inconvenienced for three hours. The whole event took less than two hours to repair, from initial complaints of encrypted files to a restore resolution.

Now, here’s where IT gets the question from management: “Would we have had this issue if it was in the cloud?”

If what was in the cloud? The data? The backup?

Somewhere in this line of questioning lies a fundamental misunderstanding of what “the cloud” really is.

The cloud can be many things. The concept of a service bureau? Sure. That’s cloud. It’s just people in the cloud. So in that regard the cloud is just a cubicle somewhere where you’re not paying the heat, lights, water, and insurance.

Cloud-based email or storage? Email or storage running on servers you don’t own. Simple.

What about cloud-based backup? Many different things. You could be backing up on-premises storage to hosted storage. You could be paying for a virtual machine (on-premises but with a cloud labelI won’t name the vendors) that you use for backup. Or you could be putting all storage in the cloud and relying on the cloud vendor to back it up. Or you back it up to another service. Or your on-premises server!

Cloud is so blurred because it’s received so much marketing. Every major software vendor has a cloud offering now. It’s like gluten-free products. Do you really know whether you shouldn’t eat gluten? Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, gluten is perfectly fine to eat. In fact, processed gluten-free food is worse for you if you don’t have a gluten allergy because it contains increased salt, fats, and sugars. But gluten-free dog food is real. So are gluten-free diets. And if you really want to see a fad in action, look for gluten-free water. I’m not saying gluten-free products don’t have a place, as they certainly do. What I’m saying is we are all influenced by trends and marketing. So much in fact that there’s a viable niche in the marketplace where some company is selling gluten-free water. The key is to separate the facts from the noise. If you can do that, you’ll be able to use cloud effectively and to its biggest advantage.

It’s the overhead that cloud providers want to save you money on. The coffee in the lunch room, the staples, the salaries, the printers, and the real estate. It’s all overhead to run a business, and that’s fair game. If you can reduce staff and related office expenses, that will be part of your cloud return on investment...if you make the right, informed cloud choices.

Cloud vendors want to be the less-expensive alternative to what you’re currently doing. But it isn’t black and white. And it isn’t always less expensive. And it certainly is not the silver bullet for business that some make it out to be.

Back to the clarified question at hand: Would that company have had the virus issue if the file servers were in the cloud?

Are cloud servers susceptible to viruses? Certainly.

Do cloud providers back up their data? Many, if not most do.

How fast is the estimated restore time in the average cloud provider’s Service Level Agreement? I’ve seen various, from a couple hours to a week.

Will a cloud provider give the level of service that the aforementioned IT staff provided? Some might, but if they called a major host, I bet they’d still be on the phone five hours later. From my experience, the smaller the host, the better the response. In this case, if you have a cloud storage vendor who gets you a full point-in-time restore within two hours of asking, then give yourself a pat on the back. But I bet you pay through the nose for that privilege.

All things being equal, it’s time to deal with a number of cloud myths.

Myth #1: The cloud is more secure than on-premises.

The security of any system, service, or server on any piece of hardwarewhether it’s stored in a cloud data center or in a small business wiring closetis entirely reliant on many factors, one of which is the humans who created and manage (or mismanage) them. Society pivots on the ingenuity of a few. Almost 500 years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus hypothesized that the Earth was not at the center of the universe but was instead a planet revolving around the sun. For millennia, the former argument was taken as truth. We take the validity of arguments for granted until someone sees the weakness in them. No matter how much we all believe something is true, it’s not until we’re proven wrong that we can move forward stronger. The same goes for security, but at a far more rapid pace. Somewhere, against some system, somebody is working out how to take advantage of the human error in a security system. And no matter where it is, it’s being attacked right now.

Myth #2: “The cloud” is less expensive.

Again. That depends.

I could tell you about a very expensive cloud solution I pulled out of the cloud last year because the cloud provider didn’t have a fundamental understanding of general computing, software licensing, and partitioning, but that story is for another article. In short, we were talking a six-figure solution if we stayed in the cloud and a closer-to-four-figure solution by bringing it in-house and rolling up our sleeves. That’s an anomaly and more of an anecdote than a real example; however, it is 100% true.

That’s not to say cloud can’t be less expensive. The trick is finding a solution that makes sense. In fact, I’m about to pull the trigger on a deal right now that would cut one of our software spends by about 33% by taking advantage of a cloud service.

Myth #3: Everyone is going to “the cloud.”

I almost don’t even want to mention this one. It’s marketing hype. Nothing more. But people believe the hype. More importantly, some people who may not know much about technology but make major corporate decisions believe the hype. And we do hear that everyone is going to the cloud from people who are either not fully informed or are trying to sell it. That’s why it’s important to address.

Everyone is doing BYOD, right? Just as much as steampunk was a major fashion movement. While interesting concepts, both never really took off.

To sum up: Not everyone is going to the cloud. Period. Full stop.

However…

Everyone must be evaluating what services should be in the cloud. Some choose none. Some may in fact choose all. The intelligent majority will pick and choose their spots where it fits appropriately. The key is to ensure that the people who make these decisions are informed on the true cost of on-premises versus cloud for each and every service.

We need to be informing our user bases and decision-makers so they at least have a rudimentary understanding of technical topics that will contribute to the successes and struggles of any company. Cloud computing, mobility, and security are tops on my little list. When users know the rules of the road, we don’t have to pull the tow truck out all that often.

And for the love of gluten-free water, we must make sure our users know to never open a zip file from someone they don’t know.

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