IT Survey Shows 55% Of Companies Worry About Cloud Security

A survey of UK business IT chiefs commissioned by ramsac, a leading IT solutions consultancy based in Surrey, has revealed that fears over security are slowing the take up of Cloud Computing Solutions.

Whilst 94% of responders believe they fully understand the benefits and risks, only 44% believe it offers a secure enough alternative to more traditional on premises based systems. Despite these questions, a noteworthy 44% said they would consider implementing more Cloud elements into their IT services portfolio to realise its potential benefits.

Managing Director of ramsac, Robert May, comments, “Whilst there is a huge buzz around the potential benefits of using the Cloud there is also, understandably, a reticence to blindly passing over some of the most mission critical systems to be hosted and run by a third party. The traditional method of hosting your own servers and connecting them to the Internet has served most businesses well in the past, so the suggestion of such a massive change in the paradigm obviously raises a lot of questions and potential fears over the real-world connotations. It’s up to the IT industry to demystify exactly what the Cloud is and what it can offer, so customers can make informed choices and to help them find the right fit for their IT needs.

ramsac’s survey delved deeper into the specific concerns over using Cloud services with some interesting results. The most prominent fear highlighted by responders is the lack of liability for providers in the event of problems (cited by 55%). This was closely followed up by concerns over privacy, which was registered by half the companies polled. Understandably the loss of control over services and data ranked highly (39%) and uncontrolled or variable costs, as well as the availability of services and data were both cited by 22% of responders.

Another important consideration is the degree with which companies are prepared to rely upon Cloud services. The survey showed that of those looking to utilise Cloud services, a significant 83% want to use a hybrid Cloud model which uses both traditional ‘on premise’ servers for some applications, whilst hosting others off site in a secure data centre (allowing the retention of key systems in-house whilst making the most of other hosted services to find an ideal balance of cost and functionality). Robert May adds, “We’re not surprised the survey showed businesses are looking to mix both traditional and Cloud services. There is a vast range of choice available and we advise our clients that it is best to treat it like a menu, picking the items that suit your requirements best and offer the best mix to achieve value for money.”

The survey also suggested that the question of using Cloud Computing is very much dictated by the type of application as well. The results show Email was the top candidate for Cloud, with 77% of responders citing it as a key area. This was followed by CRM with 39%, Payroll with 17%, Accounts with 17%, Project Management with 16% and HR and Procurements both highlighted by 5% of responders as potential Cloud services.

Robert May concludes, “Despite the obvious concerns over moving completely to a Cloud Computing model there is an undeniable interest in it as an alternative to the traditional in-house IT hosting. It’s also something that once an organisation has its sights on it, it is often very keen to move at least some business functions over quickly to take advantage. Our survey showed that of all the companies making the decision to use Cloud, 50% want to do so within the next twelve months and the rest intend to do so within the next one to two years – so we are likely to see the trend really take off in the immediate future.”

By Robert May, Managing Director of ramsac

How To Harness The Power Of Cloud

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of Integral IT, which recently launched YorkshireCloud.co.uk, a cloud computing service tailored for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), gives his tips on how to harness the power of the cloud.

1. Cloud computing is 100 per cent reliant on an internet connection, so you should always have a plan of what to do when your main connection fails. A cost effective method is to buy a 3G capable router and pay around £10 per month for a broadband dongle. For larger organisations, always have more than one internet connection.

2. Make sure you’re certain that all your company applications and software work in the new cloud environment. Moving most of your IT into the cloud and then spending £8,000 on a new onsite server, because one of your applications doesn’t work, is a waste of time, money and effort.

3. Most people don’t know that cloud computing can be delivered using several different pieces of technology. These products have different pros and cons but more importantly, different pricing. Don’t pay over the odds for wonderful technology that you won’t use.

4. More often than not, you will be charged per gigabyte of data that you host in the cloud. It is always best to cleanse your data before you migrate. You will probably find data that isn’t needed anymore or can be archived onto different media. Is your company server really the right place for your wedding video?

5. Cloud computing becomes a utility similar to your electricity and you pay for what you use. If you have ten users, you pay for ten users. Make sure you understand exactly what your tariff consists of. How much are you paying per gigabyte of data? You don’t want any nasty surprises at the month end.

6. If your current IT company lets you down, then you can hire another one. It’s not as easy in the cloud. Your provider holds all your data. Make sure you ask them how long it takes for them to respond to any problems and ask if they have an uptime guarantee. It should be 99 per cent.

7. Six months after buying a new server for the office and replacing all your PCs isn’t the right time to make a move into the cloud. Consider cloud when your hardware and software are ageing and a refresh is needed.

8. Google and Microsoft are big cloud providers; but where is your data being kept? Somewhere in Europe or somewhere in the world is the best answer you’ll get. Chose a cloud provider who can tell you exactly where your valuable company data is kept and even take you to the data centre if needed.

9. Cloud computing is a service. Don’t be forced into long contracts. There is absolutely no reason why you should be signing a three or five-year contract with your provider. You should be able to leave freely with a month’s notice.

10. Many cloud providers don’t provide IT support. There will be still times when you need help with IT issues like printers or the internet connection in your office. Make sure you try and chose a provider who includes this in your monthly fees.

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of Integral IT

The Power Of Cloud Computing For Small Businesses

Cloud computing has fast becoming a buzz word amongst small business owners, but is it really transforming the way business is being done or is it just a fad? This article explores the true value of cloud computing to the modern entrepreneur.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the facts:

- 51% of British small businesses recently surveyed say that IT is an integral part of their drive for business growth and innovation (Epson UK)

- UK SMEs earmarked an average spend of £30,000 on IT in 2011 (GE Capital)

- Gartner Executive Programs research showed that SMEs are increasing spending on cloud services faster than larger enterprises (January 2012 research)

Cloud computing is broadly defined as remote computing power provided by third parties. End users access cloud based applications through a web browser or mobile app while the software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. This is particularly appealing to small businesses for the following reasons:

Cloud computing provides small business owners with the flexibility to operate anytime and anywhere that has an internet connection

Cloud computing removes the need to invest in hardware and software licences; an expense which is often too costly for SMEs to front

Cloud computing gives small businesses access to a wide array of online services that make running a business more efficient: customer relationship management, payroll systems, online back-up, web hosting, application management and collaboration tools to name but a few

However, as always with IT, there are limits to cloud computing. Principally, users must place their trust in third parties and rely on the robustness of their servers. Business users also need to proceed with caution when entrusting third party suppliers with their sensitive business data; obtaining a written security guarantee is advisable.

Overall, it seems cloud computing is here to stay, and what’s more, small businesses will be at the forefront of driving its growth because the opportunities it brings to reduce costs and increase agility are too great to be missed.

By Carole Wood, Marketing & PR Manager At BCSG

Pay-As-You-Go Cloud Delivers Agile Budgeting To UK Businesses

Cloud computing services have become incredibly popular for consumers today by virtue of the fact that they are so easy to use and easy to pay for (sometimes free). This means you and I can make easy choices that are reflective of our disposable incomes. In just the same way, UK businesses have come to value the newly available cloud services that help them to transform their business operations, while increasing their ability to forecast and budget for IT more accurately than ever before.

But becoming more agile is not simply about putting specific processes in place. It is much more far reaching than that. In fact, it is a whole new mindset and approach. In an agile world we stop worrying exclusively about how much things are going to cost or how long processes will take and, instead, focus on spending money wisely and working in a timely manner.

This means accepting the reality that requirements are likely to change over time and the processes we use may need to be refined or even re-engineered to help react to those changes. Companies must be more dynamic than ever before in our history and having the capability to adapt and change in line with the challenges of the environment and market opportunity is critical to success.

It’s not all good news

However, having the capability to make decisions and change business practices has a cost. That cost is likely to be very high if the cost of ownership of the underlying infrastructure is always included. Most organisations have a high degree of investment in their own IT and communications systems, which is purchased using company capital, fully owned and usually run on the company’s own premises. All these factors are restrictive to making future decisions and re-assigning resources to where you need them most. This way of working does not lend itself well to running a dynamic company with agile capability and flexible finance options.

The biggest barrier to success is the self-interested IT department. Typically it is the IT department that proactively blocks all mention of cloud computing, smothering any such notion before it has a chance to resonate with the leaders of the business. Typically this is due to a lack of understanding about what cloud can do and the misleading conclusion therefore that it is a threat to the IT department. Instead of stifling an idea because of job security issues, IT departments would do well to embrace the opportunity that cloud computing services can bring by way of better utilisation of resources and delivery of value, at a time when IT budgets are under pressure.

The counter argument IT Managers tend to use is that of data security. But, in reality, data is more secure in a data centre facility that cost millions to build and run than on a company’s own premises. There is one real issue that must be addressed, who can you trust in the cloud when all the usual global vendors do not have a local version of their solution? This is why we now see a range of UK based and UK focused service providers available to meet the needs of UK businesses. This will take the intervention of the leadership team of any company to educate and motivate their IT departments to learn more about what cloud can do for them and adopt the services that make most sense and frees up resources to focus on core activities.

Agility in action

A great example of a company that has addressed the issues of utilising cloud services to provide the ability to scale up or down, in line with growth or contraction, is Richmond Events. By partnering with Star for managed cloud services the switched-on team at Richmond Events was able to realise a new level of business agility to cope with good times and bad. Its story clearly demonstrates how cloud computing matches costs to market forces. After all, just as it is critical for companies to be able to scale up their capability in the good times, it is also a great benefit to be allowed to shed costs in line with negative results when times are tough — a story less often told.

Getting the right advice

Organisations can look to their cloud service providers for robust and honest consulting and change management support when they are considering their cloud service procurement needs. Get things right from the start and cloud computing has much to offer to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

By Martino Corbelli, Director of Marketing, Star

1001 Free Cloud Apps For Small Businesses

There are thousands of Cloud applications out there that can help a business or a team work more effectively, and many of them have free, starter options that might be perfectly adequate for a small business. That’s the “Freemium” business model, where the company offers a free service for a small number of users, or a limited set of options in the hope that your business will grow or you will roll the solution out to a larger group, and so upgrade to a paid for premium or enterprise edition. There are some apps that every business should be using, but at the very least you should consider trying some of these to test how the cloud can help your business. Here are a few ideas along with a pointer to some directories where you can search for several thousand more:

Collaboration

Google Docs - Allows a group of people to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings up in Google’s cloud for free. All you need is a Google account and you can invite people in to share the document you are working on by email. All of the changes are tracked by user. You can upload existing office documents and spreadsheets and straight away you are avoiding the syndrome we are all used to – if you emailed the spreadsheet to 4 people, the second it left your inbox you were out of control with 5 copies of that same document, so who’s got the latest version? With Google Docs you avoid all that. After a while you will consider upgrading to Google Apps for Business.

Writeboard – You create a sharable, web based text document that lets you save every edit, roll back to a previous version, and compare changes. It’s like a whiteboard in the cloud that everyone you’ve invited in can see and use. It’s completely free. It’s from 37Signals who hope that using it will trigger you to consider their other collaboration products.

Wikispaces – If you want to create a free wiki for a project, or a team or maybe product documentation, then try this. It has a all of the features you would expect from a good wiki, allowing a group of people to create and organise the content to create a “Wikipedia” style web space on the topic of your choice. The basic version is free supported by adverts, but you can upgrade to remove the ads and make your wiki private for as little as $5 a month.

Doodle – This is a free service that helps you schedule a meeting by email. You create a date/time poll of when you are free, mail it to a group and they all fill in when they can meet (in one place). It can dramatically cut down the back and forth that can turn in to a scheduling nightmare. The free version is ad supported, but you can upgrade for more features and to make it ad-free.

Skype – I hope you are using Skype already. If you aren’t you (or your company) should be ashamed of yourselves. It gives you free skype user to skype user chat, calls, videoconferencing and screen sharing. It’s great for customer support and collaboration. It doesn’t have all of the features of commercial web meeting software like Webex or GoToMeeting, but it’s free! You can buy additional services, like low cost International calls to landlines and mobiles.

Business Apps – CRM, ERP, Invoicing

Really Simple Systems - RSS is Europe’s largest provider of cloud based Customer Relationship Management software. If you are used to things like ACT! or Goldmine, then this does more than those for less. It’s free for 2 users and up to 100 accounts (customers, suppliers, partners) and additional users start at £10/month.

Zoho CRM – Like RSS, this provides comprehensive sales force automation, marketing and customer support too. It’s free for up to 3 users, and the paid for version gives you more users and added features like inventory, workflow and additional security. It’s also part of a family of products that cover collaboration including wikis, documents, chat, calendar management and more.

Freshbooks - This is an invoicing solution that can help you track time, organize expenses and create professional invoices for print or for online billing and payment collection. It’s free for unlimited invoicing of up to 3 clients, and then you can upgrade to 25 clients for $19.95 a month.

myERP - This is an integrated CRM, invoicing, inventory, expenses and accounting solution (although the accounting hasn’t yet been fully Anglicised). It covers a fairly comprehensive set of functions for the average commercial business, and it’s free for 2 users. It integrates with Google apps and has quite a novel, search based user interface. The premium version gives you additional users for $29/month.

Cloud directories

If you want to find more than 1001 cloud based options, then here are two places to look:

AppStorm - Reviews and explanations of the web tools that are available, and covers mobile devices, Macs and PCs too.

GetApp.com - A business software marketplace with 4,557 applications and tools across just about every application area you can think of in the directory at time of writing.

And so in conclusion, there are plenty of excellent cloud based productivity, collaboration and business tools with a free option to get you started. For some small businesses that could provide a lot of support and help with no cost other than the time and effort to set them up. At the very least you should be using some of these to help you do your job better. You should also use this as a route to start exploring what commercial cloud apps can do for your business.

By David Terrar, CEO of D2C Limited, Co-founder of Cloud Advocates

Eight Ways To Dip Your Toe In The Cloud

Do we continue with the company server room and manage our technology from a single static location? Or, do we embrace the revolution that unshackles us from the desktop computer? Most CEOs and IT directors are ready to dip their toe. They don’t even realise they’ve already been there.

You’ve been using cloud services for years – whether you realise it or not. We’re so used to services like Hotmail that we never stop to think about where our emails are stored and now, Apple and Amazon are becoming the natural repositories for our music, films and books.

In the business world, the growing reliance on mobile devices makes cloud an ever more compelling offer for businesses. Many companies have already taken the leap. According to research collected by hosting firm UKFast, 80% believe they’ve seen improvements within the first 6 months. We may not yet throw all of our IT into the cloud but here are the top eight ways that businesses currently adopt cloud services.

1. Email – 46% of cloud users in the business arena are happy to place email in the cloud. We’ve had webmail for years and the move is a no brainer for business owners with a smartphone workforce who can be reached in the office or out-and-about at any time of the day.

2. Technology R&D teams were early adopters of cloud because scalability means they can develop and test projects cost effectively; winding up and down the capacity they require. 40% of cloud users apply the technology this way.

3. One key purpose for 38% of cloud users revolves around data protection. As we find more and more of it in the virtual space, every savvy IT manager is finding ways to back-up this crucial asset. Many are developing cloud-based disaster recovery solutions.

4. Using the cloud for collaboration is currently adopted by 34% of cloud users. This is set to increase though with 60% of SME owners viewing the cloud’s ability to improve IT collaboration as critically important to the growth of their organisation.

5. Salesforce led the way with 33% placing their CRM systems into the cloud. Allowing client data out of the in-house vaults was originally a large concern for CEOs but the advantages of availability and remote working have tipped the scales.

6. 31% have discovered that the elasticity of the technology makes it an excellent place to store data. Because information is such an asset to the modern business, we have plenty to store and usage is set to soar in 2012.

7. Software as a Service or SaaS is central to the idea of cloud convenience. 28% of cloud users are accessing our applications through a ‘thin client’. Alongside Infrastructure and Platform as a Service, SaaS is part of the fabric of the cloud.

8. Remote working is hugely attractive to business owners and the cloud allows them to deliver every element of the IT infrastructure into employees’ homes. As such, it’s no surprise that 24% of cloud-based businesses are adopting the virtual desktop.

For 50% of business owners, cloud actually means flexibility. It’s the biggest driver of adoption – above cost savings, which materialise in the short term. Dipping your toe is also just the start. 72% of companies already using cloud computing solutions are planning on moving additional applications to the cloud in 2012.

For most SMEs this flexibility means more freedom and increased efficiency. It’s a winning formula for any business that needs to tighten its operations in the face of recession. And, as seen above, there are at least 8 ways to get started.

By Neil Lathwood, IT Director, UKFast

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

In the past few years, there’s been yet another new ‘buzzword’ used in our industry, that of ‘cloud computing‘. It’s actually been around for a long time with a number of well known proponents of this supposedly new delivery mechanism, especially in the CRM market.

Essentially all ‘The Cloud’ is, is the Internet. So instead of storing software, data or really whatever else you might wish, locally on your PC, office or server-room, you use some-one else’s data platform. All you need is a web-browser, access to the Internet and you can get working.

The ICT community if they haven’t already, are all gearing up for the new onslaught of a supposedly new era in computing. I just think we were doing this years ago in the age of the mainframe and while I hate to revert to hackneyed phrases, ‘what goes around, comes around’.

So what is the key driver to this? Well, cost of course. The recession while being debilitating and destructive has offered new opportunities for those in IT as well as other industries. Companies, regardless of size are beginning to seriously consider cloud computing as it is a great way of potentially reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and lowering CAPEX (Capital Expenditure).

My view, for what it is worth, is that it is the next step — the further evolution of outsourcing. I think people have overcome the fear of leaving their technology in the hands of a trusted third party and paying for it as a service. Now the Internet has matured and people are no longer fearful or paranoid about the web, cloud computing should become the norm for a great many organisations and certainly well worth considering.

If you think about it, probably most companies do use some form of cloud computing methodology. We use a hosting company who provide Conjungo with the ability to bring our services to your screens. They provide a 24/7/365 service. They supply the hardware, infrastructure, security, load balancing, software licences, the whole caboodle. Do we rely on them? Absolutely! You don’t enter into these types of relationships without a great deal of due diligence simply because any problems would reflect badly on you or company.

And so to finish on yet another well known expression completely off the cuff of course, the opportunity should leave many in the industry ‘on cloud nine’.

By Ben Weiner, CEO, Conjungo

Thoughts On Choosing Your Cloud Provider

Let’s assume you’re ready to take the plunge with a cloud provider. How do you choose?

Choosing a cloud provider is no more difficult than choosing any other kind of service provider. In other words, it can be a long, confusing and painful process – for a mere mortal. But that’s why we have sourcing specialists, right?

There are plenty of things to consider when you move to the cloud, and we can’t possibly cover all of them in a few hundred words. However, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on some of the issues you might not immediately think to include on your checklist.

Usability:

Some of the better-known cloud providers still require a fair bit of technical nous to set up and use. Finding a provider who offers a simple graphical way to manage your cloud (through a web interface, for example) isn’t just beneficial to any non-technical users you may need to cater for: it reduces the management overhead for your IT staff, too. Your something-as-a-service might not be quite as simple as turning on a tap, but it shouldn’t be too far off.

Failover and resilience:

If a server fails in a properly-designed cloud, you shouldn’t notice (or not for more than a minute or two) — the rest of the cloud should just take up the slack. Whether you’re looking for infrastructure, software or development platforms as a service, you should definitely investigate failover: is it automated, and how quickly does it happen.

Pricing model:

pay-as-you-go might be an attractive option, but if you make heavy use of utility cloud services you might end up paying more. For many businesses a plan-based model (e.g. monthly pricing) makes more sense, anyway. There are plenty of cloud providers out there, so if the pricing model doesn’t suit, look elsewhere.

Support & SLAs:

The best general advice is to examine the small print and truly understand what it will mean for your cloud service in action. Everyone guarantees ninety-nine point something uptime, but the devil is in the detail: SLAs sometimes preclude the things that will actually impact your service, like emergency maintenance and DoS attacks, or they allow a small (but significant) amount of downtime without compensation.

Finally, I suppose we have to address the enormous elephant-shaped cloud in the room: security. Here’s a slightly different take on the subject. There is no such thing as “cloud security.”

I shall repeat that, for emphasis. There is no such thing as cloud security - there is just security. There is no fundamental difference between security in cloud services and security in any other kind of Internet-based service delivery. Your data and applications still live on servers. Those servers still live in a datacenter or server room somewhere. You’re still placing your trust in the people who operate those facilities, whether it’s your own IT department or a third party.

If you’re worried about putting your data in a public cloud, don’t! That’s what private clouds are for. If you’re worried about handing over data to a private cloud provider, you can always build your own. If, when it comes to the crunch, you’d really prefer to know that “this” data lives on “this” server in “this” place, you might be better off sticking to a dedicated server model, and host the boxes in your own secure facilities.

In some cases you might have to, anyway, for legal and regulatory compliance. Sometimes, even though there is nothing in principal to stop you using a cloud provider, you need to make sure your data won’t actually leave a specific geography. If that’s the case you’ll be looking for a local provider with the capabilities (and assurances) you need. This is particularly true in the public sector.

By Roger Nolan, CTO, OnApp