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Mastering Cloud Computing for Your SMBs

–4 questions every CEO/CIO needs answered

The cloud market has almost literally caused a storm as corporations, both small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) and larger, multinational corporations (MNCs), rush to adopt the cloud paradigm to see substantial cost savings and higher access to data in an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

However, despite its escalating growth, cloud computing continues to be subjected to doubt and skepticism over its many benefits from many organizations. Questions pertaining to cloud security and data theft remain unanswered. Other issues regarding control of service providers and cloud relevance also remains important.

CEOs and CIOs of SMBs therefore need to think big about cloud adoption by carefully assessing the risks, benefits, and threats and not merely jump on the bandwagon like other corporations. Otherwise, SMBs would simply be running without looking, and crash into major, unanticipated difficulties that can cause them a lot of problems.

Let’s take a look at the top questions on the minds of CEOs and CIOs regarding cloud adoption.

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1. How will the cloud provide better security?

Cloud security has received a fair amount of bad reputation from organizations and is the biggest obstacle for cloud implementation. According to a survey conducted by CipherCloud of 2,000 companies, compliance and unprotected data were the two biggest challenges for companies.

Although security is indeed a major concern in cloud computing, it should not be taken to oppose cloud adoption. Cloud, like any tech phenomenon, will be open to security risks if proper security codes and encryption technologies are not implemented.

In fact, most of the cyber attacks encountered by corporations are not due to the constant evolution of cyber attacks, but because the security industry has not adapted its security systems over the years. A report from SOPHOS highlights how many of the platforms outside Microsoft have security flaws that have gone unnoticed by the security industry for 15 years.

SMBs thus need to consider implementing upgraded security protocols to combat data theft. As corporations, thought leaders, and governments around the world take serious steps in countering data flaws, it is only a matter of time that service providers will offer highly advanced security systems in the cloud network.

2. How can my organization prevent data theft?

It is always crucial to know how you can prevent data theft. There are a number of methods your SMB can adopt to minimize the risk of data theft.

Firstly, you can plan scheduled updates. You need to take a proactive approach by having frequent updates of your cloud security software systems. An update frequency of twice a month or more, depending on the risk of data theft you expect, is advisable.

Secondly, you can make regular checks for unauthorized VPN access. Do not make the mistake of giving access to employees lower down the hierarchy. There is a rising trend of employees accessing the cloud with the permission of their heads of department. Limited user access is strongly advised. You can only increase your chances of security if you limit the people you provided updated access credentials to.

Other ways through which you can fortify your cloud network include increasing your password strength by considering pass phrases and refraining from using ColdFusion software due to its increased exposure to security risks.

3. How to choose the right cloud services provider?

It is only inevitable that the growth of the cloud computing market will spawn dozens if not hundreds of cloud service providers. Amazon.com’s AWS’ eye-opening disclosure of its stellar performance for the first quarter will only entice potential entrants to provide cloud services to corporations.

The question CEOs and CIOs need to answer is how they should go about choosing the right services provider. Here are a few considerations:

    1. What technical capabilities does the service provider offer? How comprehensively can the service provider cater to the growing needs of businesses, and how well do its features conform to actual trends?
    2. How secure are the service providers’ cloud network facilities? How integrated are the encryption protocols and how successfully can it withstand the threat malicious software such as Trojans, spyware, DDoS and phishing attacks?
  1. What experience does the service provider have in offering quality cloud services? How good is the track record?

4. How do I decide cloud is suitable for my organization?

There are a few considerations that have to be taken into account before giving cloud the green light for your business. Cloud adoption should be pursued if the following conditions are met:

  1. Efficiencies in cost and business processes are highly important
  2. Voluminous data storage and access is integral for your industry
  3. Your technological infrastructure has become obsolete or near its end
  4. Simplifying a disaster recovery plan is your top priority

End Note

Cloud computing adoption has to be considered from its uses, challenges and relevance for your organization. Managers, CEOs, and CIOs need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and determine how they should be using cloud to restructure its processes and functions.

Solving Your Cloud Conversion Confusion

From CIOs to CFOs, there’s one question on the minds of most of them when tasked with whether or not they should migrate their networks to the cloud. The biggest struggle? Cost. No doubt, if you’re reading this post, the topic of cloud computing in your company is probably on your mind. If you’re read the news lately, you know it’s difficult to ignore the prevalence of cloud advertising. But is the move a smart one that can save your company money?

In this post, we’ll outline different aspects of the cloud to consider when trying to assess whether to make the move or stick with your current infrastructure. First, you need to understand the technology. For example, many different types of cloud services exist.

Public clouds are obviously accessible by anyone. They can provide workload applications to your users such as email or provide communications for your staff collaborating on multi-user projects.

Private cloud environments are typically best for companies looking to centralize their networks while also keeping out unauthorized users. On-premises clouds are hosted at your location and exist behind your firewalls for enhanced security. Off-site environments still offer you security and privacy but are hosted by a third-party offsite providers.

Another form called hybrid offers a combination of private and public environments. Often companies that provide services to customers yet need to maintain parts of their network on a more secure system choose a hybrid formation.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) usually provides the lowest overall cost. But what does it do? Think of IaaS as an outsourced provider which host your hardware and software offsite. They also offer server storage and other components necessary for your users to perform their daily work.

The benefit of using an IaaS platform is it’s highly scalable. Thus, as your organization and resource demand grows, so does your IaaS plan. Most IaaS plans offer you a per-user rate which often is by the hour, week and even in some instances by the month. Essentially, it’s a pure pay-as-you-go service so there’s no worry of capital expenditures other than your service fee.

Two providers we use for many of our IaaS clients is Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Another type of cloud exists called Software as a Service (Saas). In this structure, your company uses software products from a provider rather than going the traditional route of buying one software license per machine.

SaaS is ideal for organizations with many users that need to use identical versions of a software product. Think global when you consider SaaS as it provides your company with the power to update your user software versions as well as manage updates for your entire network. SaaS offers full services over the Internet while putting maintenance and update management in the hands of the vendor providing your company SaaS.

Cloud confusion can be difficult if your company officers aren’t fully aware of the technology demand your organization needs on a daily basis. You should first pinpoint your requirements by evaluating your resources.

 

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Top 10 Cloud Myths and How They will Impact Your Business

Are you confused how the ‘Cloud’ can benefit your organization? If so, you’re among millions of senior executives who want to known the benefits of moving their IT networking to the Cloud.

A recent Gartner report reveals some of the worst misinformation surrounding Cloud computing, and this high-resolution Top 10 Cloud Myths Infographics will give you a great overview of it!

#10 – The Cloud Will Reduce Your Expenses 

This is not always true. In fact, in some cases, migrating your network over to the Cloud may involve costly integration. It’s wise to speak with authority cloud service providers Long-term, you can reduce your costs. However, it’s important you understand the initial set-up of your IT infrastructure will require a capital investment.

#9 – If You’re Not Using The Cloud You’re Missing Out 

Although the Cloud can enhance how your employees access company files and networks, there’s been enormous advertising efforts by CSPs to make you a convert. We recommend doing a network audit of your system before determining whether or not your company will benefit by migrating over to the Cloud.

#8 –  Is The Gartner Report Pro Cloud?

Yes and no. If you read the Gartner report, you’ll notice it does provide reasons why the Cloud is wise for SMBs. However, the report does advocate some of the challenges companies will need to consider such as mapping out your current business IT needs. Then evaluate if upgrading your resources to the Cloud will enhance employee access to your network.

#7 – Your Cloud Network Isn’t Secure

No network (wired or wireless) is secure unless your IT technicians have properly installed security encryption measures and protocols.

#6 – Security Is Limited With Cloud Networking

Although this has become a controversial issue, many CSPs report very few security breeches with Cloud networks. Despite 2014’s detrimental security breeches by large companies such as Target, Sony and Home Depot, most network infiltrations are still bypassed through poorly-designed firewalls and gateways.

#5 –  Cloud Integration Can Replace Data Centers

This is a widely-accepted misconception about the Cloud. Yes, you can enhance your network but the Cloud will not replace your data center.

#4 – Cloud Migration Will Resolve Expired Windows 2003 Support

This is an issue many companies are facing. According to Insight Enterprises, 24 million servers are still running the expired version of Windows 2003. In July of 2014, Microsoft discontinued support for Win 2003. Therefore, companies hoping an upgrade to the Cloud will resolve their expired Win 2003 OS version may be surprised to find out it’s not the case.

#3 – Outsourcing Your Cloud Migration Is Risky 

Not true. Although, it is vital you work with a trusted provider. Our infographic outlines what you need to know about Cloud management.

#2 – The Gartner Report Is Misleading

Although the Gartner report outlines many of the benefits using the Cloud, it’s important to note any IT upgrade your company considers should be approached with advanced research.

#1 – Get On The Cloud Or Be Left Behind

Some companies may not be ideal candidates to integrate their networks to the Cloud. We recommend analyzing your legacy servers and run a cost-benefit analysis report to determine if reduced expenses moving your network to the Cloud are viable.

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Infographic: Study Shows Cloud Computing on the Rise

A new infographic released by ComputerSupport.com shows that cloud adoption rates are on the rise, echoing predictions throughout the technology and business sectors over the past couple of years. The infographic, which is available below, demonstrates that not only is the presence of cloud hosting increasing, but many people are enthusiastic enough about the cloud to recommend it to their peers.

Current Adoption

The infographic is based on a Microsoft study, which gauged cloud adoption rates among a wide range of organizations, found that the vast majority of organizations of all sizes use both Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and hosted infrastructure services. Both SaaS and hosted infrastructure services are currently being used most by organizations with less than 100 employees.

Government and Education leads in outsourcing, with more than 60 percent of organizations reporting participation. This sector is also more likely to utilize Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Small businesses lead in utilizing colocation services, which has slower adoption rates than other cloud segments.

Cloud Recommendations

Respondents were also asked about their eagerness to recommend cloud services to their peers. For most organizations, better service and lower costs were the top reasons to recommend cloud services to others. In fact, both large organizations and government were overwhelmingly in favor of the cost-saving benefits of cloud services.

Future Challenges

The survey also explored the challenges businesses would face in the next couple of years. Cost control topped the list, with increasing profits coming in second. Security and competition ranked third. With cloud computing’s cost effectiveness ranking so high in the recommendations category, many businesses are likely to make the connection, realizing cloud adoption may be the solution they need to their economic concerns.

As cloud computing continues to drive technology in business, the relationship between cost, service, and adoption will likely be mentioned again. Click on the below infographic to learn more about the current and future state of cloud computing.

Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds: The Difference (and when it matters)

A decision maker at an SMB is trying to keep things simple (or at least no more complicated than they have to be). Saving money for outsourced services gets everyone’s attention, and the promise of Cloud Computing undoubtedly gets yours. While most of the technical details are delegated to your hard working CIO, Directors, and foot soldiers, there are some concepts it’s good to have an overview of – because of their effect on your data security and your bottom line.There are three categories of Cloud Computing Environments you’ll hear your IT staff talking about – a Public Cloud, a Private Cloud or a Hybrid Cloud. The differences between the three involve the capital investment of each, and the data security level provided by each.

The Public Cloud

According to TechTarget, A public cloud is “one based on the standard cloud computing model, in which a service provider makes resources, such as applications and storage, available to the general public over the Internet”. In the Public Cloud, all the infrastructure and maintenance are provided off site. This is the ideal choice for most SMBs.

Advantages:  A Public Cloud:

  • Takes all of the overhead of IT operations off of your shoulders.
  • Simplifies accounting in that you pay fees instead of overhead and effort involved in Capital Expenditures.
  • Increased demand is simply a matter of purchasing more bandwidth and/or services. For example, If you need more capacity during the Christmas buying season, you can purchase more capacity during the season (as opposed to purchasing equipment and systems that must have capacity that is not needed for a majority of the year).

Disadvantage:  You are using shared resources with other organizations, which makes a Public Cloud less secure than a Private Cloud.  However, It is important to note that the resources of a Cloud Vendor are far greater than a typical SMB, and that the environment of your Cloud Vendor is still more secure than an environment in the traditional IT space

In short, a Public Cloud is ideal when:

  • a standalone IT Operation represents major overhead to your business,
  • You use standard applications (Such as Microsoft Office),
  • You use Cloud applications by major vendors (such as Adobe Creative Cloud or SalesForce), or:
  • You do a lot of collaborative projects over a disbursed area.

Private Clouds

A Private Cloud is one where a Cloud Infrastructure is used by a single organization. It provides the most security, but requires that the organization have the resources to maintain the environment (and typically an SMB is turning to the Cloud to avoid that overhead!). Recently, Public Cloud Vendors have started offering Private Cloud Services at a premium– i.e., Cloud Environments which are segregated from their public services.

Because of the extra overhead and/or premium costs, Private Clouds are only desirable if you are in an industry with stringent security or data privacy demands, or your business is by nature financial data, intellectual property, or being a custodian of either. Consider leasing Private Cloud Services from your vendor if you have a genuine need for top level security, but don’t have the resources to support it in house.

Hybrid Clouds

A Hybrid Cloud is one that, as the name implies, have elements of a Public Cloud. For example, you have Financial Data you want to maintain in a Private Cloud, but also have collaborative efforts for which you want to use a Public Cloud. Large corporations with vertical markets are potential candidates for a hybrid cloud; a typical SMB would not have a need or have the resources to support one.

All businesses have unique needs, and you know your business better than anyone. The right Cloud Service Provider works with you to find the best solution for your unique situation.

The Cloud is Ubiquitous – and so is its security

Of course you’re concerned …

The tabloids are abuzz with tales of hackers stealing salacious celebrity selfies stored on the Cloud, and of course the furor dies with next week’s issue of People Magazine.  The thought of Cloud based business data being compromised is a different matter, and you’re right to be concerned about ubiquitous computing resulting in ubiquitous hacking attempts. Fortunately, efforts to secure the cloud are maintaining the pace of the unprecedented growth of the cloud itself.

Now for the good news

The need to modify infrastructure to meet the alphabet soup of compliance regulations (SOX, GLB, HIPPA, FISMA) is already a reality to the vast majority of enterprises, and valuable time and resources are used that take away from their core business efforts. The good news is that security is one more IT function outsourced to your Cloud Service Provider, and that the provider has more resources to deal with security than your business.  The learning curve that comes with the design, implementation, and maintenance of data security (which most enterprises already are involved in) are the responsibility of the service provider, who deals with them on a daily basis.

The benefit of delegating this responsibility to the Cloud Service Provider will increase in value as regulation becomes more exacting in implementation and scope. According to a survey by the nonprofit Cloud Security Alliance (https://cloudsecurityalliance.org), 73% of respondents call for a Global Consumer Bill of Rights concerning Data privacy. Anyone who has dealt with modifying their infrastructure for data privacy knows the value of outsourcing the details of this effort!

Who’s setting the standards?

As cloud technology matures, so do best practices and standards. The Cloud Security Alliance promotes “the use of best practices for providing security assurance within Cloud Computing”. The Board of Directors includes CXOs of Microsoft, Coca Cola, Sallie Mae and Zynga. The CSA’s Cloud Controls Matrix contains 269 standards covering every aspect of Cold Security implementation, operation and maintenance, including Data Security, Audit Assurance, Business Continuity, and Access, Threat & Vulnerability Management.  The standards document is available at https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/download/cloud-controls-matrix-v3-0-1/

What Questions should I ask of a Cloud Service Provider?

In short, your expectations for a Cloud Provider are the same as those you are expected to implement in the traditional IT space. The Financial Times of London recommends asking the following:

Where is the Physical location of the data?

Who has access the data?

How is data encrypted and authenticated?

What policies are in place to handle security breaches?

What are your procedures for transferring service to another provider should that be necessary?

In Conclusion

The evidence of the benefits of Cloud Computing are overwhelming, and the marketplace has responded. According to iCorps Technologies, 2014 is the first year the majority of computing workloads take place in the cloud (51% versus 49% in the traditional IT Space).

If you are working in the tradition IT space, you are already dealing with security issues, and with the pain of a learning curve. As Cloud computing becomes the rule and not the exception, security issues will migrate to providers with resources and expertise beyond that of most organizations – and give you one less thing to worry about.

Private Cloud Market to Hit $69 Billion in Next Four Years

cloudEverybody wants their own private space, especially in business. So it should be no surprise that businesses of all sizes are interested in keeping their files and applications separate from others. Keeping client data and confidential business information away from prying eyes isn’t just good business, it’s required to avoid hefty fines for violating privacy regulations.

As cloud hosting has become more popular, businesses are increasingly turning their attention to private clouds. With a private cloud, a business is given its own space on a cloud server, completely separate from all other clients who are under contract with that hosting provider. The benefits of a private cloud include increased security, more control, and improved reliability.

A Growing Market

Perhaps because of this desire for a separate space, the private cloud is expected to grow over the next two years, with companies choosing a hybrid integration. A recent report from Technology Business Research predicted that by 2018, the private cloud market will reach $69 billion as companies seek third-party solutions that offer both savings and privacy.

Currently, the private cloud market is at $41 billion, with an expected annual growth rate of 14 percent. This will provide a prime opportunity for cloud service vendors, who will compete for business dollars.

Increased Pressure

For businesses, this growth will also bring increased pressure. As they see competitors able to offer increased services, many SMBs have already found that they can’t provide these same services affordably on their own. But many are still struggling to learn the many types of cloud hosting options available.

Whether choosing private or public cloud, security remains a top concern for businesses. Both options are secure, but the private cloud offers an additional layer of security that can only be achieved by knowing a business has its own separate server space. For this reason, private cloud options will continue to prevail.

Your Employees May Be Using Cloud Computing Without Your Permission

rsz_smartphoneCloud solutions are growing in usage across the globe, but a recent survey suggests some of those uses may be slipping beneath businesses’ radar. The survey, hosted by 451 Research and published by Microsoft, looked at more than 2,000 executives and found a noticeable amount of shadow IT and off-budget cloud purchases.

Surprisingly, executives are aware of these implementations. The study found that 44 percent of executives are aware this is happening within their organizations. One-fifth of respondents reported a “significant” level of shadow IT spending related to cloud solutions.

Stealthy Clouds

Due to the ready availability of cloud solutions, it’s become easy for individuals to purchase and use a variety of services. No tech support is required to install this software, so tracking these installations has become a challenge for IT teams. One employee could install a piece of software on a work-issued or approved, server-connected personal device without anyone being immediately aware of it.

Cloud applications like Dropbox have increased employee temptation, since they can install the device without paying a fee. But even paid subscriptions are showing up in small departments, with employees skipping the step of going through the proper channels.

The Problem with Shadow IT

When employees go around IT and management, an organization begins to lose the ability to control its technology infrastructure. A well-designed server infrastructure is carefully planned to ensure all security standards are met. With these outside applications being installed on work devices, users could leave an organization open to security breaches or network instability.

IT support staff should regularly run reports on all software being used over the network. Approvals should be required for any new software, with IT shutting down any software that isn’t approved. Additionally, all users should be required to revisit an organization’s security agreements, which should include language clarifying that only approved software can be used on network-connected devices, including smartphones and tablets.

Are You Selling Subscriptions? More Businesses Are Switching to a Subscription Pricing Model

Cloud computing has simplified the billing process for many businesses, but more than half of all organizations are still using on-site or manual solutions for their billing operations. Despite the fact that there are many cloud services that can automate tasks at affordable prices, businesses cling to these old processes.

Shifting Trends

But there are other trends impacting businesses of all sizes. Gradually, many service providers are switching to a subscription-based model, rather than charging one-time fees. By offering a small monthly fee, businesses can win over budget-conscious businesses that might not be willing to commit to a $350 one-time fee. A monthly rate of $9.99 or even $29.99 sounds much less daunting.

These trends were captured in a survey hosted by Cerillion Technologies, which noted that 84 percent of organizations currently use one-off pricing models. The survey revealed that this number is expected to drop to 51 percent as leaders in the industry set the pattern for others to follow.

A Less Expensive Option

In the survey, respondents acknowledged that cost savings was a major lure for cloud-based billing solutions, with 85 percent citing it as a top benefit. But smaller businesses weren’t as concerned about cost savings as larger organizations. For smaller organizations, the main attraction is the ability to streamline operations, increasing productivity and improving overall business processes.

Small businesses also realize the positives that come from being able to conduct billing operations from anywhere. As the workforce becomes more mobile, this will be a big selling point for cloud service providers. A subscription-based model takes that convenience a step further, ensuring a business has a regular flow of cash that can help them remain solvent.

Cloud billing processes have many benefits to businesses of all sizes. With so many software solutions available, businesses can easily deploy a cloud-based billing solution, paying only a monthly subscription fee. They can then begin to decide if the services they provide should be switched to a subscription-based model.

How Cloud Computing Provides a Tax Advantage for Businesses

As more businesses switch from on-site technology to cloud-hosted solutions, many are realizing an additional benefit beyond security and convenience. Since the technology as we know it today is relatively new, businesses are just now realizing the cost savings that can be achieved by moving to a cloud-based solution.

Capital vs. Operational

Now that it’s tax time, businesses are seeing an additional potential for saving money. Traditionally, businesses have been forced to file technology expenses under the category of “capital expenses,” since the purchases were made for equipment to benefit the business.

Once a business offloads part or all of its IT operations to a third-party service provider, the expense switches from capital to operational. An operational expense is any funds a business puts into services required to run a process or system.

Deduction Benefits

Just as businesses have chosen to lease equipment rather than buy it, businesses are now realizing the same benefits exist for cloud services vs. on-site IT. The IRS places limits on the amount a business can deduct for capital expenditures, but operational expenditures have no such limits.

As businesses know, the more deductions an enterprise can amass, the better. By outsourcing IT expenses, businesses can reduce the amount of net income they’re incurring, resulting in a lower tax bill year after year.

Payroll Taxes

Another area that provides cost savings for businesses during tax time is payroll taxes. Migrating to the cloud reduces a business’s need to employ a full IT staff, which reduces the need to keep up with how much payroll tax is paid throughout the year. This also reduces the need to pay that salary in the first place, which provides a significant cost savings to any organization.

Even businesses employing hybrid cloud solutions can benefit from the tax savings that come from using third-party providers. These savings should be included for any organization as it crunches the numbers to determine whether a cloud solution is a good idea.