Cloud computing is a new model of web hosting in which clients are charged on a scalable utility subscription basis. Their bill is calculated on the amount of hard drive space, memory, bandwidth, time and other resources and services used. This business model offers customizable web hosting with on-demand service. The way it typically works is a client is billed for a base amount of hosting services and then any additional, subsequent usage is billed on a utility basis so that website operators are not paying for services they do not need and energy is conserved. In other words, website owners can add additional resources as they see fit for traffic spikes or increasing site popularity.
Since hosting in the cloud allows for an unlimited number of sites, databases and email accounts, cloud computing is becoming rather popular among big businesses and government agencies. As with any form of web hosting, there are pros and cons to the cloud, especially considering it is such fresh technology. For those considering signing up with a cloud host, there are some important things to make sure of.
When it comes to security, there are some controversial aspects to cloud computing since certain privileged users have full administrative access. If your company is storing secure information in the cloud, can you truly trust those employed by the hosting company when you most likely do not know them? You need to ask yourself “Who hires and manages these administrators?” When it comes to secure and confidential information, you need to ensure that you know who is managing the data in case of a security breech or other unwanted activity.
If you are involved in any form of e-commerce, you will need to make certain that you are utilizing a fully PCI Compliant Web Host, even if your site is hosted in the cloud. You must also make sure, especially in the e-commerce realm, that the vendor is willing and able to be audited, pass security clearance tests and that data is properly encrypted. They must be compliant with the PCI and have taken all necessary steps to ensure compliance with the new PA-DSS so that your e-commerce company has the ability to legally process credit card transactions. A QSA from the PCI board must be able to access the network in order to perform regular scans.
In regards to the new PA-DSS, all shopping cart applications must adhere to the guidelines established by the PCI. If your site is utilizing non-compliant shopping cart software after the July 1st, 2010 deadline for compliance then you could face increased merchant fees and penalties and even risk hefty fines and having your site shutdown. Miva Merchant 5.5 is a fully compliant shopping cart that has recently been DSS certified. If you utilize Miva Web Hosting services then your site is on the road to PCI compliance.
Another question to ask of your cloud hosting provider is if they will allow you to control where your data is physically located. The physical location of your site’s data centers and servers could be an issue in many ways. The first thing that comes to mind is site speed. The data for your site and/or company should not be too geographically distant from your target audience in order to prevent slow page load times. This is increasingly important since Google is now using site speed as a factor in ranking web pages in their results. Also, you want to be able to easily converse with those operating the data centers to eliminate any problems where things like time zones and languages can come into play.
When it comes to cloud computing, traditional backups as we know them do not exist since there is usually no secondary cloud. This makes it all that more important for clients to take the proper steps to complete backups on their own. What happens regarding client data recovery in the case of a disaster? When it comes to lost data in the cloud, huge, costly messes can ensue. There have been several high profile instances of the cloud crashing and exorbitant amounts of money, time, litigation, lost business and lost clients are the results of lost website information..
If you plan on moving to a cloud environment, you need to find out what the provider will do in the case of compromised or lost data. Will the vendor be able to safely move your data into a different environment? Furthermore, find out what will happen to your data if the company goes out of business. Make sure that your files and systems will be returned to you because even if you do not own the cloud, you definitely own your data even though they are part of the cloud. Find out what happens in the case of a disaster -Does the vendor offer complete restoration, and, if so, how long does that process take?
Despite the cons and uncertainty regarding some aspects of the cloud, there are advantages to cloud computing. The most obvious is that users can access systems via a web connection. There is no need to access a certain computer or program. The cloud can be reached with any web-enabled device including laptops and smartphones. This also allows the cloud to be accessed from anywhere in the world at anytime as long as there is an Internet connection available.
Proponents of cloud computing believe that data is generally more secure in the cloud than in traditional servers because of the centralization. Also, it is safe to suppose that there are increased security resources in the modern cloud environment. Since the companies running the cloud have more resources financially they can instill security systems that the average client cannot afford and their staff may be more trained to handle such issues. On the other hand, opponents (as stated above) worry about sensitive data being in the hands of cloud technicians that they do not personally know and are relying on the company to hire trustworthy administrators.