The Downside of the Cloud
Some cloud applications were purpose-built for the enterprise, but others are essentially dressed-up consumer-based products.
You know a technology has hit mainstream when my mother knows about it; such is the case with the cloud (thank you, Microsoft ads!). From all the buzz around the cloud, one would think that the end of premise-based applications and communication services is nigh. Maybe, maybe not.
The cloud is great, but it may not be the right solution for everyone. The City of Los Angeles found this out; it was reported last week that after approving a $7.25 million deal to move to Google Apps for e-mail and productivity, the migration has hit some major snags.
According to TechNewsWorld, CSC, the prime systems integrator for the project, has migrated 17,000 City of Los Angeles employees to Google Apps, but another 13,000 workers who are either in law enforcement or agencies such as the fire department, haven't been migrated yet. The main reason is--surprise, surprise--security issues. CSC indicated that it can't meet the security requirements governing data and information for the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD, particularly as it relates to the handling of criminal history data.
In an article about this situation, author Jeff Gould points out what I've been saying for a long time: Google Apps were designed for the consumer market and are not enterprise class. As Gould points out, "It was designed to be extremely cheap to operate, so that it could be given away free to millions of consumers, whose numerous eyeballs would drive a torrent of keyword-triggered advertising revenue into Google's coffers. It was never intended as a product that could meet the endlessly expanding feature requirements and even more daunting security needs of large enterprises or government agencies."
Google Apps are very appealing to businesses, particularly in government and education, because of the low price. A friend of mine who is the Technology Advisor for her elementary school told me last week that her school district is moving entirely to Google Apps because of the price. However, she also noted that while there is some concern about security issues, they're willing to take the chance out of necessity to get the best value for their money.
Companies like Skype and Google recognized the need for business versions of their offerings and introduced new packages for the workplace. Google introduced Google Apps for Business, a cost-effective package of its messaging and collaboration applications. While businesses of all sizes are attracted to the low cost of these offerings, they recognize that there are tradeoffs. Security and reliability, as well as regulatory compliance for companies in health care, financial services, and other regulated industries are major concerns, as the City of Los Angeles is discovering.
These issues are relevant not only to cloud-based apps, but to other cloud services as well. When researching cloud-based communication services for SMBs, Dave Michels and I found that none of the firms offered strong assurances or SLAs regarding system availability or support. None of the cloud providers we spoke with have a way of ensuring end-to-end reliability.
However, consumer solutions are not the only choice. For example, in the business collaboration space, both IBM and Microsoft offer economical packages. Compared to Google Apps for Business at $5 per user account per month, IBM offers LotusLive iNotes for $3.75 per month; LotusLive Connections for social networking can be added for a total of $7 per user per month. Microsoft Office 365 Professionals and Small Business Plan P offers Exchange, Office Web Apps, SharePoint web site and workspaces, and Lync Online for $6 per user per month. As is almost always the case, the consumer versions may be first to market, but the more robust, secure business versions without the advertising content are not far behind and can be quite price-competitive.
The move toward the cloud is expected to grow by leaps and bounds. However, remember that these applications and services may not be for you, and you should do your research carefully before jumping into this. Some cloud applications were purpose-built for the enterprise, but others are essentially dressed-up consumer-based products. Look beyond the price tag to make sure that these apps meet your security, privacy, scalability, and reliability needs.