August 22, 2011

Cloud Dancing: Storing Your Real Business in a Virtual World

We're introduced to it every day but few actually know what it means. Cloud computing. It's the new technology buzzword.

Why is it important for artists or crafters to know what it is? Well, many of the computer applications and programs that we use to make our lives easier than a traditional brick and mortar store has its basis in cloud computing.

According to Network, it is basically this: "a style of computing in which massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided 'as a service' using Internet technologies to multiple external customers." Clouds are marked by self-service interfaces that let customers acquire resources at any time and get rid of them the instant they are no longer needed. The cloud is not really a technology by itself. Rather, it is an approach to building IT services that harnesses the rapidly increasing horsepower of servers as well as virtualization technologies that combine many servers into large computing pools and divide single servers into multiple virtual machines that can be spun up and powered down at will."

So what are the pros and cons of using cloud computing applications?

If you plan to use an application or program that uses cloud computing - especially if your customers' credit card and other personal information is at stake, you may want to consider the privacy issues, security, and notification policies. What happens if the cloud is disabled for a period of time? Is your information backed up somewhere else?

According an article in BusinessWeek magazine written by Karen Klein, cloud computing and storage has a fixed cost advantage. "Software provided online is upgraded and maintained by the provider, so the small business owner does not have to purchase the newest version of a software program or download fixes and patches.... The fixed cost allows business owners to plan rather than be caught off-guard when a costly software or hardware upgrade must be purchased."

But experts say that many small firms do not have the budget to invest in adequate on-site security and backup systems, leaving their business data vulnerable to theft, loss, hackers, power outages, and natural disasters Chad Barr, president of CB Software Systems, a Web services consulting firm in Shaker Heights, OH, told BusinessWeek.

"With your company documents, customer relationship management, and shopping cart data stored in password-protected, secure sites online, it's not necessarily a disaster if a sales rep loses a laptop or there's a break-in at your headquarters, Klein wrote..

But at the same time, you are trusting your business records, database - including proprietary information - and legal documents to a third party whom you hope is backing up your data securely, it said.

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