Cloud computing is now evolving and growing exponentially, and businesses of all sizes, and across all industries are adapting to and adopting cloud technologies. Industry experts concur – cloud is here to stay, and will only continue to grow and develop more in the years to come.

Richard Vester, director of Cloud Services at EOH, says cloud refers to software, platforms and infrastructure that are sold as a service, over the Internet.

“The cloud provider will have the actual infrastructure and servers which host services and applications from a remote location. In this way, their customers don’t have to physically have the infrastructure, they can log on and access what they need without having to physically install anything.”

He says the documented benefits of cloud are many. Businesses can simultaneously align the timing and size of their investments with the value that they receive. “Pay as you go models allow companies to save millions of rands in infrastructure costs that may not yield fruit for months or even years. Cloud enables organisations to pay for only what they need, as and when they need it.”

Strategically, cloud lets businesses focus on their core operations, leaving services to providers who are paid to manage and run them. This also reduces staff and training costs, Vester explains.

“While the benefits are many, there are also risks attached to cloud that should not be disregarded, and cloud is not the right solution for every business. There are three types of cloud – private, public and hybrid, and some of the risks do not apply to all cloud platforms. Some platforms offer better security, and businesses with large volumes of highly sensitive data would be advised to opt for the more secure, private cloud options.”

He says the first, and most obvious risk, is the location of a businesses’ data. “With any data stored in the cloud, there are issues of residency and control. Data is typically stored in several areas, across several locations, and as it is off-premise, it is vulnerable should the cloud provider’s security fail and they suffer a breach. In addition, as data may be stored outside the country, there is a risk of falling foul of data regulations.”

Confidential or valuable data that is processed off-premise also carries a level of risk, as cloud services will bypass a company’s physical security controls. Vester says businesses must guarantee that their data is handled with the same security protocols and measures, regardless of where it is, and at the same time, must not compromise ease of access. “Authorised users in their companies must have access to the data they need, whenever they need it.”

Another potential issue is transferring data from one cloud vendor to another. Should there be some reason this is necessary, for example if the current cloud provider closes its doors, or is taken over by another vendor, there could be issues with transferring your data should the original vendor use proprietary solutions.

Bearing all these risks in mind, once a business has decided cloud is the right choice for them, the next step is choosing the right cloud provider. There are many factors to be taken into consideration here, Vester says. “The first thing to look for is transparency. The right questions will give you an idea of how what processes and controls a potential provider has in place to control and mitigate any threats.”

It is also a good idea to chat to their current and former customers. “This will give you an idea of how they respond to any issues, and in what sort of time frame. In addition, understand what technologies the provider uses, and make sure the technologies are compatible with other providers, to make a transition from one provider to another less of a nightmare in the event it is necessary.”

Finally, Vester says to read the fine print and be sure you understand any limitations and contractual agreements the provider may ask for. “Some contracts may be heavily slanted in the provider’s favour, which could also leave your business vulnerable.”