Most business leaders understand that a rapidly increasing share of computer power and applications is taking place on something called the cloud. They may not fully understand what that means, but they accept the fact it seems to work. It’s like electricity: who needs to know what’s involved in moving current from a power plant to your office? All that really matters is knowing when you plug your phone charger into a socket, it works, right?

From an operations standpoint, that’s understandable, but is remaining unclear on what the cloud is all about wise? A central element in keeping any business viable is understanding and managing the risks associated with it. If you lack a clear understanding of how the cloud works, how can you ensure you’re properly prepared for the inherent risks — especially risks that could put you out of business for an afternoon … or good.

It’s just computers

Although the cloud may sound like the stuff of science fiction, some sort of mysterious repository of data that floats between the troposphere and the stratosphere, it’s actually just a bunch of computers and server racks located all over the world. They’re networked and managed together, so when you need to store the Word document with your recipe for the office chili cook-off, the cloud finds a place where there’s enough space. Then it loads your document there and memorizes the location.

What about security?

Computers and servers fail. They get hacked. They encounter internal errors of the kind that turn your screen blue and stop your heart on a busy Friday afternoon. Your chili recipe could get corrupted, overwritten, or accidentally deleted. Stuff happens. Assuming what you store in the cloud is automatically safe is dangerous.

Learning what your cloud vendor does to protect it is critical. And that means really learning it and not just trusting a website message like “we use strong security protocols.” The more sensitive the data you move to the cloud, the greater the risk to your business, and the more important it becomes for you to develop a solid understanding (and contingency plans). Of course, if your cloud vendor is doing the right things, your data may be even safer in the cloud than it would be in your office.

It’s internet-dependent

Don’t you just hate it when your home’s internet goes down while you’re streaming that season finale? You’ll hate it even more when an internet hiccup shuts down your business for a few minutes … or a day. If you can’t trust your internet connection and the one your vendor uses, you probably shouldn’t trust the cloud.

It’s not right for everything

The cloud is attractive to business owners because it means they can cut equipment expenditures and simplify data organization. But just because you can do something on the cloud doesn’t mean you should. For example, since the cloud depends upon strong internet connectivity, applications that demand high-performance computing resources (like video production or CAD) may not be well-suited.

Know your costs

Before you assume the cloud is a more affordable alternative for your business, be sure you know the real costs. Some cloud providers may not charge you for data uploads, but add a steep per-gigabyte fee for downloaded data. Other may have affordable starter plans, but you may find yourself in a higher tier with much higher fees.

Handcuffs?

Be sure you choose a cloud provider that uses common storage formats and makes it easy to move data if you decide to make a change. Some providers use propriety systems to make it difficult to access or move what you’ve stored.

Somebody help me

While competition has improved customer service, it still pays to research the help that’s available and what it may cost you. And sure, “24-hour customer service” sounds great, but not if you have to wait for 24 hours to get the support you need.

Don’t go it alone

If you’re considering a move into the cloud, find a partner who can help you receive the greatest benefit without running into headaches like those we’ve mentioned here. Our Cloudologists will discuss your needs and help you improve your company’s bottom line.

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