Why iCloud and Dropbox can't cut it for commercial use

Cloud on blue sky with IoT devices

Every day we negotiate our way through the fog of dubious commercial messages, hoping to remain oblivious to the false sense of confidence they can instill in us. Reassurance like: ‘There is currently a good service on the Northern Line’, ‘Lessons have been learned’ and ‘the manager has been given a unanimous vote of confidence’ can all make the listener drop their guard and sleep walk into a tragedy.

The same can be said of advice to small and medium sized businesses. They’re constantly being told to bung all their assets into the cloud in order to lower their costs and improve their competitiveness. But the opposite will happen, according to experts CloudPro has interviewed. Here’s the five main reasons why, they say, SMEs shouldn’t do iCloud or deal with any other type of FlyCloud.

1) Replication is never a good idea

“Replicating everything to every user’s laptop is never a good idea if your data is worth a damn, no matter what size your business.,” says Andrew McLean, director of AppLayer. The cloud makes it easy to reproduce your data, but that ease of use is the key to end users running amok with your best laid IT security plans. Soon your data is all over the place and completely out of your control. “Many people who've had their laptops nicked on a Friday night in the pub will testify to that,” says McLean. Then there are the companies who have fired someone on bad terms. There’s no point accompanying them off the premises if cloud storage gives them licence to attack you from the outside.

2) It’s never as cheap as they promise

The thing about cloud storage is that it’s flexible. This is a good thing when your greatest priority is speed of movement, but accelerating at top speed all the time becomes an expensive way of managing your resources. “The ongoing monthly costs of cloud computing can quickly become prohibitive for SMBs,” says Andrew Mulholland, marketing manager with hardware maker D-Link. Well perhaps he would say that, being a vendor of hardware for local storage systems - but other experts agree.

“The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable, despite what they tell you,” says Adam Cooke, director of service provider Atech Media, “so costs don’t go up linearly. This means that, beyond a certain point, the costs of storing on the cloud exceed those of reproducing data internally. So for SMEs the cloud doesn’t always give them the cheapest option.”

3) Do you really want to put your business in the hands of Virgin?

At the lower end of the scale of SMEs, there are businesses that will be run on bandwidth supplied by Virgin Media and other domestic suppliers. If you want to know what life is going to be like when you try to contact your elusive data in the cloud, try phoning the Virgin Media support line, at any given time, and timing how long it takes to speak to a human being. Then carry on timing, in order to measure how long it takes to get a sensible answer to your question.

You would be mad to put your assets at the mercy of a broadband provider, argues Vineet Jain, CEO of Egnyte. “What happens if there’s an outage in broadband and no cloud available? You will create a red light for employees as they wait for the BT engineer to come and fix your line,” says Jain.

As anyone with experience of visits from BT engineers will know, there are three answers to the question of how long will you be? ‘As long as it takes’ is the best answer. If you’re less lucky, you’ll be told ‘It looks like it’s an internal problem, that’s a different department.’ In the worst case scenario, the finger of blame is pointed at some imaginary third party who you are supposed to track down to rectify the problem. Whatever happens, you will wish you kept both data and its back up locally.

Though D Link offers consumers cloud services, it advises SMEs to stay away. “SMEs need a very fast internet connection and substantial bandwidth if they are going to host all their data in the cloud,” says Mulholland, “otherwise the lag and latency issues could be the cause of defenestrated laptops and stressed out staff.”

4) Risk, reliability and support

Anyone in a regulated industry would be unwise to risk putting data into an environment that offers no guaranteed service level agreements, says Paul Evans, MD at Redstor. Consumer services offer no such reassurance.

Neither is the support up to much, he says. “Should you have an issue that requires support, who will you contact? If you’re using a consumer service, you might struggle to get a response within a reasonable timeframe and speaking to a real person on the phone may be difficult,” says Evans.

Try as SMEs might to put the right policies in place, they will never be able to enjoy the right SLAs to satisfy a regulated industry, says Alain Laing, EMEA at Acronis. “SMEs need to address this need to keep public information safe and up to industry standards,” says Laing.

5) Legal reasons and patriotism

Though SMEs might consider themselves to be in an unregulated industry, their clients might in some way be connected to a client that is. Cloud computing has its own version of Kevin Bacon syndrome: You’re never more than a few connections away from the US Patriot Act.

It’s best to avoid cloud storage if you want to avert all risk of being handcuffed to an FBI man while you try to hold your orange jump suit in place, according to Redstor’s Evans. “Many industries have legal obligations to ensure that their data is stored offsite and encrypted, that it never crosses borders and can never be read outside of the organisation,” says Evans. “Consumer cloud services are offered from a variety of locations globally by companies headquartered all over the globe. Whatever country they’re in they’re all likely to be subject to the local equivalent of the US Patriot Act, he warns. “The user is sometimes offered no guarantee as to where their data will reside. Using a consumer cloud storage service could put you at risk of fines, criminal prosecution and loss of reputation through naming and shaming.”

Those are the downsides. Still, getting arrested is sometimes a great way of generating publicity and it could help your business become a global phenomenon. Maybe cloud service companies should offer a free orange jump suit to every customer. That would be a more honest marketing gimmick than many cloud computing campaigns currently offer - good service running on the Northern Line indeed.