Working From The Cloud

 By Don Shadrake, CIO  the Reserves Network

There is a lot of buzz right now about working “in the cloud”  If you have a Yahoo, Gmail, or AOL account for email, or use web backups, or share pictures and updates on social media, you are in fact working in the cloud – you’re just borrowing resources on someone else’s hosting machinery.

Pushing your company resources to a cloud platform can make sense, especially where you have a large territory to cover, with lots of highly mobile employees.  It’s usually not a hard transition to make, and depending on needs, can be very cost effective.  The benefits can include quick setup of new offices and workers; reliable systems that aren’t affected by weather, disasters, or circuit outages; and 24/7 access to important information on laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Before your company makes the leap, you just have to weigh options, costs, and your own requirements.  Some big ones:

          SECURITY – do I need to ensure all data is encrypted, including backups, to comply with regulatory or business requirements?  Does my security needs mean I CAN’T work from a shared host environment, where systems are shared by many companies?  How do I prevent, respond to any attempted breach of my security systems?

          BANDWIDTH AND REDUNDANT CONNECTIONS – how many people will be connecting to my system at one time?  Do I need to provide “failover” circuits so that an outage with a local carrier doesn’t affect anyone’s ability to get to my systems?  How much Bandwidth is sufficient for my needs?

          MANAGEMENT – if I have my own systems and servers, who is managing them day to day?  If I am in a HOSTED environment, what kind of support can I get from the Hosting organization, and during what hours?  Do I need equipment FAILOVER, so that if one server stops working, another automatically takes it place?

          SOFTWARE – do my systems speak cloud?  Can I migrate the programs we use to a cloud-based environment?  Is now the time to re-design how we work, to better support mobile devices?

Most local and national hosting companies can answer a lot of these questions, as they have years of experience with the things you want to consider.

My company has been “in the cloud” for many years now, I’d be happy to answer questions as well.  We’ve been very happy with the many advantages of cloud computing, and can’t imagine doing it any other way as we’ve grown and evolved.

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Let’s Talk about Cloud Computing

For anyone working from the Midwest today, we’re watching the landscape transform into Ice Station Zebra – the PERFECT time to talk about working from THE CLOUD.

First of all, a quick definition – cloud computing simply means you are working with resources that are based somewhere on the Public Internet – which in most network drawings is referred to as “THE CLOUD”. Maybe it’s because everyone used little lightning bolts to depict your Internet connections to the Public Network, or maybe drawing an actual network of thousands of servers, switches and routers seemed a bit daunting for the folks who had to come up with a network diagram. Anyways, we now call this collection of public networks that connects phones, computers, and any other “smart” devices THE CLOUD.

The cloud is actually bigger than the web – it’s the tangle of fiberoptic, cable, copper and wireless connections that make telephone, radio, cellular, computer and other communications work. When you connect to the cloud, you are riding this global network.

If you share information via social media sites like Facebook…if you share files with co-workers from a web server….you’re using the cloud. Companies have been taking advantage of this public network for years, but new tools have made it easier for users scattered across the planet to share information, create projects together, and communicate with a much wider audience than what they can reach in their local zip code, state…even country.

Using web pages, social media identities, and a variety of hosted sharing platforms (YouTube, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Terminal Servers, etc.) we can work from ANYWHERE, practically, and still connect to our co-workers, clients, friends and a host of potential partners / collaborators.

It’s WONDERFUL to be able to help our users across many states, from the comfort of my living room, when the snow is flying and travel is hazardous. We’ve built a network of servers that makes setting up for business almost anywhere a matter of days, not months. Our little piece of the cloud is working very nicely, even in the worst weather.

There ARE some issues with cloud computing that need to be considered – like, how reliable is your Internet connection when Mother Nature drops a hurricane, blizzard, or other natural disaster on you? You CAN flee the disaster and connect from higher ground….but sometimes, you don’t realize your connection is about to be cut. Sometimes, you’re going to be out of service for a while.

Second, having all your systems (computers, files, etc) in one section of the cloud – as in, perhaps, the basement of an office building near the lakefront – can mean that a catastrophic event (like the great Midwest power failure – or a flood) takes EVERYONE down, regardless of what the weather is like in THEIR zip code.

Last, when you share information from a public platform, you need to make sure it’s accurate and secure, and that the people you share it with know how to safeguard things like customer files, employee records, inside gossip – anything that should NEVER be made publicly available.

It’s a challenging environment to work in – which is why I love it (most days, anyways!) The flexibility, reach, and potential it brings my company is awesome, and we’re learning new ways to capitalize on these technologies as they evolve.