With cloud computing now a reality, it seems like the sky is the limit for business IT services. Cloud-based applications and services have the ability to generate significant cost savings on software and hardware and that alone makes the option to switch from more traditional resource methods very tempting.

But with major players Amazon and Microsoft both crippled by outages in recent weeks, is the cloud really ready for take off?

My company currently offers private cloud based e-mail services for small businesses, however I do not push cloud services in general as I do not believe the technology is fully ready yet. Recently I turned away a 100 seat company that were demanding cloud only service because it just didn’t make sense for us to be involved on what we considered high-risk business.

I think it could be the future, but right now businesses need to ensure reliability and security, and the cloud does not offer this today. Until the reliability and security issues are ironed out and mitigated to the highest level anyone adopting cloud technology needs to prepare for outages.

I believe that the single most important factor local firms need to consider before handing over business critical applications to cloud partners is the service level agreement. There needs to a clear commitment over the length of time it will take for the partner to respond or retrieve data, or simply to provide advice. Businesses should also be asking what kind of security is in place to protect their data, how secure is it, how often back-ups are done, and if restores of back-ups are tested.

Businesses need to be aware that it can, and does, take significant periods of time to recover data following an outage. Depending on how much is lost, it could take days, weeks and perhaps even months to recover it: the longer it drags on, the more impact it has on day-to-day business.

But it’s not just the disruption to business, as there are also security risks associated with outages in that commercial secrets could be lost. It doesn’t look good for business professionalism either if the e-mail is down for days at a time.