Cloud computing may sound like a pie-in-the-sky phenomenon, but despite any initial impressions you may have about it, the technology is one phenomenon that has not only landed but has also firmly staked its claim in the future of computer technology. After all, what industry exists that does not employ some form of cloud computing-be it software-as-a-service applications, basic e-mail, or data storage and archiving services? Indeed, cloud computing is here to stay.
Even so, some companies touting ownership of this technology are merely squatters in experts' clothing, and consumers need be vigilant to avoid investing their trust-and resources-in a company that may wind up being gone with the wind. And perhaps nowhere does this ring truer than in the area of data backup.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing
From major corporations to small, independent consulting shops, successful companies understand the critical importance of securing and safeguarding their data against loss due to natural disaster or human error. No doubt we have all witnessed or heard of the tragedy of a computer crash, flood or fire destroying not only equipment but also an entire enterprise. Cloud computing allows companies to avoid such catastrophes by backing up and archiving their data online through a third-party provider.
The benefits of this technology are numerous, ranging from business security and legal compliance to simple, yet priceless peace of mind. However, the technology can also be risky, since some providers jump on the cloud computing bandwagon without making proper preparations for long-term viability.
Hard Lessons Learned
Unfortunately, many companies recently learned this reality the hard way when their online storage provider simply shut down. The Linkup, a cloud computing data storage service, closed its virtual doors on Aug. 8, 2008, leaving as many as 20,000 paying subscribers with no access to the files they had paid the company to store and protect for them. While the company's collapse began months before its final closure, many customers still found themselves stranded up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
The reason, while difficult to swallow, is easy to understand. The Linkup may have provided backup services, but it failed to back up its own backup. Indeed, while claiming to protect customer data, the company failed to protect itself. That's the bad news. And, unfortunately for The Linkup's subscribers, they will now have to attempt to rebuild the information, files, music and videos lost on "the cloud."
Amid the meltdown, however, there is good news: Cloud computing companies do exist that are prepared not only for external disasters but also for internal challenges. These are the companies that not only ask for the public's trust, but also prove that they merit that trust, and these are the companies that customers should look to as their data backup and storage partners.
Finding these companies all comes down to knowing what questions to ask. And three questions, in particular, are indispensable:
Question No. 1: Is the company financially stable?
Prior to entrusting critical data to any third-party backup provider, consumers should research the company's financial standing. While this may prove easier to do with publicly traded companies, it is still possible-and perhaps even more important-to do with smaller private firms. Look for any indicators of potential financial instability, be it a lack of investors, a spotty history of service or a past financial crisis.
Question No. 2: Does the company have a backup strategy?
What happens in the unfortunate event that a vendor does go out of business? Are there provisions in place to ensure data would still be preserved and accessible to service subscribers? Check whether providers have a trust fund that would enable the company to continue operating-and consumers to continue accessing their files-for a period of time, even in the event something did happen that forced the company out of business.
Question No. 3: What are other users saying?
No paid promotion can be as effective or as trustworthy as word-of-mouth advertising. Friends, colleagues and associates with no vested interest in a particular company will be the first to tell you honestly which backup providers work and which simply do not. Take the time to ask others with storage needs similar to your own which company or companies they have found to be the most effective and reliable.
Selecting a backup provider does not have to be a "shot in the dark." And, while it takes a bit of time and research to validate the security and reliability of any cloud computing company, it is time well-spent to ensure that you are investing your valuable resources and invaluable company data in a provider worthy of your trust.
He previously served as the vice president of systems architecture for TD Waterhouse, charged with determining the methodologies to be used to develop backup system procedures scaled to meet the growing demands of both the corporate and branch infrastructure of the company. Before that, he was the manager of Massachusetts-based startup Storage Networks, a leading provider of data and network storage services. While there, he was instrumental in the expansion of the firm to the Asia Pacific region by providing strategic direction for both product development and marketing plans, ultimately attracting clients such as Yahoo, Ford Motor Co., Hitachi and Cisco Systems.
A resident of San Pedro, Calif., David attended the University of Chicago, with concentrations in business and IT. He can be reached at [email protected].