Benefits and Challenges of Cloud Computing

In an earlier post “What is Cloud Computing”, I promised to discuss the benefits and challenges of cloud computing. During my research, I discovered that I don’t need to add much to what has been written. Simply allow me to use the lens of my own experience to reiterate what I have read.

Benefits

The benefits of cloud computing have been spelled out extensively over a long time. Some of the stated benefits are closely related, and I have summarized the major ones here:

  • Scalability and elasticity – Cloud is massively scalable, and allows organizations to grow their users from a handful to hundreds virtually overnight. It only takes an order for additional subscriptions and a payment to the cloud service provider. Elasticity is similar and allows for a sudden change in cloud computing resources to respond to spikes in demand.
  • Accessibility and reliability – All you need to access a cloud service is a current subscription, a good Internet connection and an internet-enabled device (e.g. desktop, tablet, phone). Cloud service providers use redundant IT resources and a quick failover mechanism, and many of them offer a 24/7/365 and 99.9% uptime guarantee.
  • Cost and operational efficiency – Cloud is cost-effective, since one uses the shared infrastructure of the cloud service provider via pay-as-you-go modes of payment. Cloud also enhances operational efficiency, since administrative tasks (e.g. software upgrades, storage increase, data backup) are off-loaded to the cloud service provider.
  • Rapid and flexible deployment – Cloud service providers offer an ecosystem of ready-to-use services that can be rapidly deployed with simple migration and configuration. Users may have the flexibility of choosing online or installed deployment of cloud applications. Some service providers even offer the flexibility of Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud.
  • Security and compatibility – Cloud service providers take the security of their systems very serious to retain their customer base. They also keep their entire software stack updated and fully compatible to keep services up and running. Finally, cloud services can be expected to be compatible with a wide variety of mobile devices and web interfaces.

Challenges

The challenges of cloud computing are known, but easily brushed aside or overlooked. Here are the key challenges that you might have to deal with:

  • Internet connectivity – You need good Internet connectivity and a powered-up device to access the cloud. This can be a challenge in a developing economy like Kenya, particularly outside the urban centers. Accessing cloud services through public Wi-Fi could pose a risk, unless the necessary security measures are taken.
  • Financial commitment – For most subscription plans you must make a monthly or annual financial commitment. The service ceases once you stop payment, and in the worst case you might lose access to your business data. Compare this to buying a permanent software license, which you only maintain for good reason.
  • Data security and protection – Your cloud service provider could have the best security certifications, but there’s no guarantee that you won’t lose your data. Cloud service providers might even abuse your data in disregard of privacy concerns. Hackers are increasingly targeting cloud storage for their abundance of sensitive data.
  • Readiness and maturity – Cloud requires a new thinking about computing, and adoption will fail if the culture doesn’t change. Cloud buying decisions are increasingly made by functional managers and influenced by end-user requirements. Managing the requirements and delivering the envisioned benefits requires a high level of IT maturity.
  • Interoperability – Some of your existing applications might not be available as a cloud service. In addition, you have little control over the cloud services that you subscribe to. Therefore, integration between services from different service providers and applications that run on your organization’s infrastructure could present a real problem.

Conclusion

Cloud computing offers many tangible benefits, but you must be ready to deal with the challenges. Some challenges can be overcome through investment (e.g. Internet connectivity), but others are tied to the benefits. For example, the benefit of cost efficiency through subscriptions is tied to the challenge of having to make a monthly or annual financial commitment. What do think about the benefits of cloud computing, and are you ready to deal with the challenges?

About Author:

Willy Simons came to Kenya from The Netherlands in 1994. He is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Oakar Services, Esri Eastern Africa and Spatiality. He blogs about business, geospatial technology and cloud computing.