The current popularity of cloud technology is understandable. In the same way that the advent of traditional computer systems were a vast improvement on the filing cabinet, cloud has the potential to further streamline and broaden access to data.

Industry colleagues and I have noticed that among some software providers, there is a trend for solutions to be branded as ‘cloud’, when in fact they carry costs and complications that should not be part of a true cloud programme. This phenomenon is described by IT publisher Tech Target as “the purposeful and sometimes deceptive attempt by a vendor to rebrand an old product or service by associating the buzzword “cloud” with it.”

There are six key areas to examine when considering whether a so-called cloud solution will really bring you the benefits of cloud technology:

  1.  Installation Requirements

A genuine cloud system should need nothing more than an Internet connection. Generally, the programme will be accessible via your Internet browser. If additional servers need to be installed, this defeats some of the advantages of operating on the cloud. More technology to install means longer setup time and, in some cases, add-on costs for setup.

  1.  Software

Does ‘cloud software’ need to be installed locally on your server or business devices? This may be marketed as a ‘hybrid cloud’ solution. However, if programmes need to be set up on your own servers, this defeats the object of a true cloud system, which should be remotely accessible from non-local devices.

  1.  Server Location

The key to cloud data systems is a network of servers in multiple geographical regions. This allows staff to view information reliably, covering the risk of localised malfunctions, and reducing the risk of data loss. A ‘cloud’ that is installed on a single server fails to deliver these benefits. Even if the server is located offsite, it is essentially the same as a traditional data system.

  1.  Costs and Billing

When investing in cloud, a breakdown of charges and costs should be agreed up-front, and adhered to. Most systems are billed on a per-user basis, or similar. Essentially, the idea is that you should only be billed for what you use. Additional installation fees and setup charges should ring alarm bells — what exactly needs to be installed, and why?

  1.  Flexibility of Services

There should be no need for the provider to intervene manually when users wish to add or remove services. The beauty of a Web-based system is that you can add or remove services via an online self-service portal. This reduces time spent on the phone dealing with customer services, and should also mean lower service costs.

  1.  Mobility

The true test. Is it possible for the team to access, view and edit the data (subject to permissions) wherever they are? And in the age of mobile and tablet devices, it’s vital to ensure that the software is accessible via these tools as well. There should be no need for third-party products or VPN to provide mobile access — this can quickly become cumbersome and costly.

Key Points

  • True cloud software can deliver lower costs, more streamline maintenance and better accessibility
  • Scalability is another benefit, allowing systems to be updated easily as the organisation grows
  • Not all ‘cloud’ is true cloud. Investigate by enquiring about billing, mobility, flexibility and installation costs at the beginning. This can help to pre-empt problems down the line.