Businesses are well aware of the potential benefits of cloud computing. For small companies especially, the opportunity to receive advanced, up to date IT solutions online has been a crucial game changer. Since they no longer have to make regular investments in quickly-outmoded software and hardware – instead paying for on-demand services through a third-party – businesses are able to improve their IT while reducing costs.
But despite the greater flexibility and efficiency afforded by software, infrastructure and platform-as-a-service, some businesses have appeared reluctant to join the hosted services revolution. Some business leaders may prefer to keep their IT in-house, particularly those who have made significant investments in hardware and IT personnel that they are unwilling to write off. In other cases, concerns over the security of the delivery model may be holding companies back.
Quite simply, some business decision makers are uncomfortable about seeing their data stored and/or managed away from their premises. Since IT became a major function within the corporate setting, businesses have spent time building knowledge about technology and constructing IT bases in order that this can be conducted on-site. They are likely to have hired IT professionals in order to support this process, and to ensure than confidential information remains safely under lock and key.
In a recent study conducted by YouGov on behalf of Kaspersky Lab, 62 per cent of IT managers said that security fears were acting as an obstacle to cloud adoption. Along with data protection concerns (60 per cent), this was cited as the major worry among potential cloud customers. But it has to be questioned whether, in 2011, such concerns are particularly valid.
While the early days of cloud computing saw questions raised over data protection and security, vendors now have a number of years' worth of knowledge and experience in the field. They have been able to develop significant expertise providing on-demand IT, and developed systems and processes designed to mitigate any risks which may have existed. To compare the early, immature cloud systems to the highly advanced hosted services of today effectively ignores half a decade of product innovation and refinement.
For cloud vendors, security is absolutely critical to their business models. If they are unable to keep their clients' data and account information completely secure, it can seriously jeopardise their very existence. Business will only use cloud providers if they can offer guarantees as to the integrity of their systems, and provide a better service than could be provided in-house. Customers have plenty of cloud computing vendors to choose from, and there is no reason for them to settle for anything other than excellent service from the firm of their choosing.
Clearly, it is in the interests of cloud computing providers to deliver the high-quality, reliable and secure IT service demanded by their customers. They wish to attract new customers, and keep hold of the ones already on their books. As a result, such firms employ highly skilled IT professionals who have a great deal of expertise working with cloud systems. Vendors also make significant investments in on-site security defenses, not merely in terms of firewalls and anti-virus software but also guarding physical infrastructure. They leave no stone unturned when it comes to protecting business data and vetting access to the data centres which house confidential information.
As ThinkGrid chief executive Rob Lovell recently noted, data stored remotely in the cloud is "far more secure" than that held in the typical office IT setup. Businesses may be reluctant to ditch their legacy systems and processes due to security concerns, but they can actually improve their defences by outsourcing IT. Mr Lovell suggested that a lack of knowledge and education currently holds many companies back, but as more firms embrace the cloud, these are likely to be in an ever-smaller minority.