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Everyone’s hopping on the cloud – but is it safe?

​​Is your business using cloud computing? If not you’re among a rapidly-shrinking number, with only 2% of UK organisations yet to utilise the cloud. But is it safe?

Business & Innovation Magazine invited Professor Kamal BechkoumHead of Computing and Engineering at the University of Gloucestershire to consider the pros and cons.

I was recently chatting with a business associate who said “if I hear one more thing about cloud computing I’ll lose it. First of all, I don’t understand it. Secondly it’s boring.”

I was a little taken aback. There are plenty of understandable reasons why cloud computing is a vital addition to any modern company’s IT toolkit, and in some cases it could ensure their very survival.  Not only that, but how can you get bored by something which can save you money, boost productivity and potentially save an organisation from the disastrous threat of cyber-attack?

That said, there are always two sides to every story, and you’d also be right to approach selecting a cloud service provider with caution as there are a couple of key security concerns to be aware of.

​Beginning with the pros…

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with technology that creates new advantages for businesses, but on the whole I’d argue that cloud software is a must-have.  Not only does it allow multiple users to simultaneously view live data and share projects, it also enables teams to work together remotely – a vital quality in the current COVID-19 environment.

The what, how and why:

If you’re new to this area cloud computing is essentially a technology that uses the Internet and remote servers to securely maintain your data and applications.

The cloud can be offered as a public, private or hybrid model – in other words open to all, or with restrictions in place that allow users permission to access specific applications, computer files or data. This can then be connected to using an Internet-linked computer or device without having to download any specialist software.

If you own a smartphone, PC or tablet and are accessing websites, online email or social media, there’s a good chance you’re already using the cloud as this is how most of these platforms operate.

Another significant advantage of cloud computing is that all of the overheads, software and hardware updates, security challenges and back-ups are taken care of by the cloud provider, meaning you can get on with your work free of any complex technical demands.

Don’t just take my word for it. According to the recent ‘Cloud Adoption and Risk’ report from McAfee, 87% percent of companies have experienced business acceleration from using cloud services, and a majority (52%) say they are experiencing better security through the cloud.

Here are three other critical cloud benefits that could boost your business:

1. Reducing costs

One of the best features of cloud computing is that you don’t need to buy-in additional resources to build and manage expensive on-site servers or recruit new staff. You only pay for the resources you use while receiving technical and non-technical support from your cloud provider. Cloud computing means you can expand what you need, when it’s needed. It’s fairly straightforward scaling-up services as a company grows, or reducing requirements when times are tough.

2. Boosting productivity

Most businesses could benefit from having more time to focus on their clients and better understand their needs. Cloud computing removes many of the demanding pressures associated with designing and selecting software, building databases, hosting websites and ensuring security updates are made. Running any business is an all-encompassing job so it’s important to be able to access data, whether this might involve opening a document while working remotely, through to managing your payroll and checking accounts information.

One of the most useful cloud services is ‘Infrastructure as a Service’ (IaaS) – this is a particularly handy feature for SMEs because it presents computing resources in a single frame, allowing you to choose a platform to host your website and configure a machine of your choice to do everything from setting-up security firewalls, through to adding unlimited online storage space to meet urgent operational needs.

3. Cyber-attacks and keeping data secure

No matter whether your business is big or small investing in solid disaster recovery capabilities is vital at the best of times, but for smaller companies that often lack the necessary cash and expertise, this is often more a wish than reality.

Cloud providers are now helping more organisations overcome this trend through cloud-based recovery solutions which do away with large, up-front investments and incorporate third-party expertise into the deal.  One of the most significant benefits of cloud computing is that the servers are secured off-site. Suppliers take care of them on your behalf and regularly implement software and security updates, so you don’t have to worry about spending time maintaining systems yourself.

Possible cons –

Cloud security issues…

So, on the surface it seems that everything about the cloud is great. However, there are some key security issues to be aware of:

Correct configuration

Your cloud supplier needs to provide an adequate level of security, which should be applied to the way the overall service is configured. For example, using unsecured data storage elements, failing to change default credentials, or disabling standard security controls can all result in the service being vulnerable to malicious attacks.

Secure migration

Migrating to a public cloud isn’t simply a matter of transporting your existing IT stacks to a remote location where security will be taken care of by the service provider.

The security of your data is your responsibility before it becomes that of the cloud service provider. This means you need to implement carefully considered ‘security architecture’ that gives you sight of your ‘data paths’ and clarifies what security measures are put in place to minimise malicious activity.

For example, encryption algorithms can help secure your data, but they come at a price – potentially affecting system performance and making some applications less user-friendly. The right balance needs to be struck and defined.

In Summary…

Cloud is clearly a growing platform in the UK and worldwide. One of the fundamental reasons for this success is its affordability, the provision of automatic system upgrades and, in some cases the offer of new hardware and software.

If you’re a late-adopter – and keeping in mind the aforementioned security issues – the question becomes ‘so what are you waiting for?’

If the ongoing pandemic has taught us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. If you’re currently working through the latest lockdown, then now might be the time to take action and get your cloud systems in place ahead of the New Year.

Find out more about how the University of Gloucestershire’s Business and Partnership capabilities could help your organisation HERE.