Security issues and points to consider when cloud hosting

In the fourth and final part of our feature we explore how safe cloud hosting is for your business – and other issues

Security-wise, data in the cloud is encrypted and secured in multiple data centres, where – if you use a British-based cloud hosting provider at least – it is protected under the UK Data Protection Act. It can be argued that this is safer than storing data on multiple devices, such as laptops and iPads, which can be lost or stolen.

Mark McDermott, managing partner of digital strategist Codegent, remembers his father bringing his own business’ data home on tapes every weekend, for fear of an office break-in. “It’s quite a strange concept to consider the physical security of your office space and the quality of your internal IT structure, which probably isn’t going to be that sophisticated if you’re a small company,” he says, adding: “To map that against the concept of being internationally hacked is quite weird. What’s more likely to happen?”

This is the sticking point for many business owners. While cloud hosting offers distinct security benefits, it also carries its own risks. By bringing a large quantity of data together under the security of one body, it presents an irresistible opportunity to ambitious hackers. “Access to hacking hardware is much easier these days and there’s more data online, so hackers can find things they could never access before,” says James Devonport Wood, CEO of Facebook marketing service PageHub.

However, Greg Rusu, general manager of cloud hosting provider Zunicore, believes concerned business owners can manage this risk by only using cloud hosting for specific requirements: “Some parts of your business could be in secure hardware and others in the cloud. What pieces of your data and your business do you need to keep secure? If your customer database was stolen, what would that do for your business? One of the models that works well in terms of resilience, is to not put all your eggs in one basket. Keep different geographical locations, physical server installations or have multiple providers.”

It is worth considering that cloud hosting companies are likely to have a stronger security infrastructure than anything you could create. They also have a lot to lose by failing their customers, so if an incident does occur with their servers, they will work tirelessly to correct it as soon as possible. If you were running your own hardware and a similar incident occurred, that headache would be your own to resolve.

Problems with the cloud

That latter point can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s true that by using remote servers you are not responsible for their failures, it also means that you are unable to repair them, even if you wanted to. “At least when you have your own hardware, it is physically there for you to play with and try to fix,” Matt McNeill, CEO of cloud-based marketing services business Sign-up.to, says.

Dan Drury, director of web effectiveness consultancy Bowen Craggs & Co, adds: “The lack of access to support can be annoying. There are no personal relationships and you’re competing with the rest of the world for the cloud provider’s attention.”

This can be a distinct problem, particularly with cloud hosting giants such as Google, which, as a rule, don’t respond directly to customer messages. It’s something Zunicore’s Rusu is keen to highlight as a key differentiator for companies looking to compare hosting services. He points out that Zunicore has dedicated teams for clients to contact in the event of problems. There have also been instances of businesses getting their fingers burned when their cloud host changed its pricing model without prior communication. Business owners that value such service levels and pricing clarity for budgeting purposes should carry out research first and ask for further details of any cloud hosting provider they consider.

One final barrier to adoption is the cost and reliability of internet access in the UK, so it is worth reviewing and upgrading your connection. Once that is in place however, the cloud is your oyster.

The views in this article were expressed at a lunch sponsored by Zunicore , the business-built cloud hosting provider owned by PEER 1.

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