Is Cloud-based Software a Safe and Reliable Business Solution?

When Cloud computing first emerged onto the scene, many businesses and individuals doubted the safety and reliability of the Cloud. Over the years, the Cloud has transformed into a safe and reliable alternative to on premise business software solutions; however, many businesses still don’t understand the basics of Cloud computing as it relates to their business software. In this article, we’d like to clear up a common misconception regarding Cloud computing and describe some best practices when it comes to choosing a Cloud hosting company.

Are SaaS and Application Hosting the Same Thing?
Many people assume that Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Application Hosting are one and the same; however, these two solutions are actually very different in structure and purpose. SaaS is what we would call a true Cloud computing software solution. It was made purposefully for the Cloud. Designed with full Cloud functionality, SaaS solutions do not have on premise counterparts; they are purely Cloud-based. Application Hosting, on the other hand, involves adding Cloud functionality to an on premise solution so end users can access the application through the Cloud. Application Hosting can be deployed in a variety of ways and often requires the assistance of an experienced IT consultant to help you select the appropriate vendor and access model for your business. In the past, remote desktops and mock portals allowed businesses to access their business software outside of the office. Many businesses today, however, are finding the Application Hosting model to provide the best security and reliability when it comes to Cloud computing.

Key Considerations to Make Before Moving to the Cloud
Before you move to the Cloud, it’s important to ensure that the Cloud hosting company you choose uses a data center that has received a Service Organization Controls Report (SOC). The SOC report actually consists of three reports, which are not leveled but can stand alone as needed (not all are required) to address a specific portion of a Cloud provider. The three types of SOC reports include: AICPA SOC 1: Report on Controls at a Service Organization Relevant to User Entities’ Internal Control over Financial Reporting; AICPA SOC 2: Report on Controls at a Service Organization Relevant to Security; and AICPA SOC 3: Trust Services Report.

A Cloud hosting company who undergoes such an examination is evaluated on its controls over the solutions or services it provides to its customers. The controls must address the following components of the system:

  • Infrastructure – This includes the hardware and physical components of the solution (equipment, facilities, networks, etc.).
  • Software – This includes the programs and operating system (applications, utilities, systems, etc.)
  • Personnel – This includes the people who use the system and involved with the operation (operators, developers, users, managers, etc.)
  • Procedures – This includes the automated and manual procedures involved in running the system.
  • Data – This includes all of the information used and supported by the solution (files, databases, tables, etc.).

It’s also important to consider the amount of downtime you can expect to experience from the system. No hosting company can guarantee 100% up-time; that’s why there is a 99.999% up-time standard within the Cloud industry. This amounts to 5.26 minutes of unscheduled downtime a year. This does not, however, include scheduled downtime which most vendors attempt to schedule during nights and weekends to avoid too many user interruptions.

Most system downtime is not caused by disruptions to the Cloud network or by the vendor, but by the customer’s local environment. Oftentimes customers do not have the adequate bandwidth needed to connect to the system or their internet access is interrupted due to provider reasons. Some customers also find that their local environments are not setup or configured correctly for their hardware or software. If this is the case, the 99.999% rule does not apply (as these factors are out of the vendor’s control).

Knowing exactly what you can expect from the Cloud is important. Many companies move to the Cloud without knowing the details and become frustrated when they run into unforeseen issues. The most important piece of advice we can give you is that you need to trust your Cloud hosting provider or vendor. Ask an industry expert to help you find the right company to meet your Cloud computing needs.

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