What you need to know before moving to the cloud

The view from Australia

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If you are located in the land Down Under and searching for public cloud hosting, then it might seem that the options available to you are pretty good.

Amazon and Microsoft play in the market and the prices they offer are reasonably competitive. There are also a number of smaller cloud operators doing quite well for themselves.

If you believe the marketing hype, the public cloud can be a boon to businesses, from 25,000 seat behemoths to 15- to 30-seat firms.

Right… Next you’ll be telling me that bunyips are not mythical creatures and that the email I got yesterday about winning a lottery without having bought a ticket is genuine.

We all know what marketing speak looks like but what is the truth about cloud? Does it hold any pitfalls we should be watching out for?

Travel precautions

The cloud is probably the perfect fit for a large number of businesses. There is probably also an equally large number that can operate without having to put any thought into where their data is stored.

But what if you aren’t one of those? What if your clients are predominantly based in one of the verticals, such as healthcare, with privacy regulations and federal statutes preventing you from putting data in an overseas silo?

Under Australian law, businesses have a duty of care for the clients who give us their confidential data, and this must be taken into consideration when choosing a cloud provider. If that provider's storage or servers are not located in Australia, they may be subject to the rules and regulations of another country.

That might not sound like a big deal, but what happens if that country decides it wants access to your data? Things can very quickly get messy and expensive.

And so we come to the issue of compliance. In many verticals in Australia practices and individuals require accreditation to operate legally. Typically, the accreditation bodies issue guidelines and rules surrounding the electronic storage of data.

In healthcare, there are rules surrounding the storage and retention of private data. For example, the records of a child must be kept for 25 years from the date they were last seen.

Here today, gone tomorrow

The cloud is here to stay, but prices and circumstances change, and companies that are around today might not be the same tomorrow. Picking a cloud provider that makes it easy not just for you to sign up but also to move your data to another provider is essential.

You might also need to look at a provider that offers a multi-tiered solution involving on-premises and remotely hosted services. Several companies offer these types of solutions, but if you are operating an environment that is predominantly Windows Workstations and Server products then Azure may be the right fit for you.

Compliance and data sovereignty concerns are not going to magically disappear and these issues might be about to get a lot more complicated, with US courts asking US companies to hand over data located in their overseas data centres.

If you are in an industry where concerns about client data apply, they can be successfully navigated with planning and forethought. Research and thorough preparation will always see you through.

What happens to your data if the cloud provider goes out of business?

Storing your public cloud data in an overseas silo has drawbacks beyond data sovereignty and compliance with local laws. It is the things we don’t plan for that are most likely to bite us. So here is a quick list of things that nobody thinks about.

What happens to your data if the cloud provider that you are using goes out of business?

What are your options for making sure that it has really destroyed your data if you move to another provider?

There is also a larger issue to worry about. Can you get a reasonable, low-latency connection to the provider’s data centre from outside the central business district in your local capital city?

Latency lament

Let’s face it, Australia’s internet infrastructure is universally acknowledged to be horrible.

The latency some of my clients suffer occasionally while doing nothing more than downloading their email is bad enough, but suffering that latency trying to access their databases or other critical business data on a regular basis would be a real nightmare. Latency is a killer for a lot of applications being run in cloud scenarios.

Imagine you are a sales rep and your laptop has been stolen. The good news is that you have access to your data through the company's cloud. The bad news is that you didn’t back up the presentations you finished preparing last night.

You have bought a replacement laptop but now you are trying to prepare a last-minute image-heavy presentation. Under normal circumstances the latency you are experiencing would just be an inconvenience but if it is really bad then it could cost you sales.

Home is where the heart is

The good news for Australia is that public cloud space has become extremely competitive of late, and with Microsoft ramping up for the launch of its local data centre all the major American players have you covered.

If you would prefer a smaller player, then homegrown companies such as Zettagrid are only too eager to look after you.

Cloud services are certainly not for everyone, but if they are for you then it is all about doing your homework.

The recipe for finding a good cloud provider is this: choose one that is large or small but above all else go local. Your clients, internal and external, will be glad that you did. ®

Aaron Milne supplies IT system architecture, R&D, sysadmin and contract evaluation services to SMEs. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.

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