Experiencing data loss is a crippling event for any business. Loss of internal data can mean business interruption and an inability to fulfill orders or coordinate various marketing, sales, or IT efforts. If the loss becomes public knowledge and involves customers' private information, then there’s the hit to the firm’s brand reputation, which can be impossible to repair. Protecting data from these issues is of paramount importance, and requires a well-planned data management strategy. A core part of the modern strategy is the usage of cloud services to inexpensively and securely hold data.
The benefits of the cloud are well understood. Cloud storage is comparatively cheap (and trending downwards), offers high availability, instant scalability, and reduced capital hardware costs. But despite the cloud’s advantages, there are limitations to the cloud’s capabilities, and companies should understand these issues and plan accordingly.
Exploring the Limitations
The Internet and Accessibility
Accessing the cloud is dependent on the Internet. A core benefit of the cloud is, of course, the “always on” connectivity that allows staff to pull content whether they’re in Budapest or Bali. However, if there’s a power outage, cell service interruption, or an ISP outage that prevents Internet access, then the cloud’s out of reach. The cloud provider itself can also experience an outage, so have a contingency plan in place to handle such problems. Modern businesses run on data, so experiencing an outage can put critical processes and tasks at risk. Using redundant systems, such as physical media backups, can help firms to manage internet interruptions.
Crowds can be dangerous. Public clouds are of course “public,” meaning there are multiple tenants, and data from one company is in close proximity to all of the others that are using that particular cloud provider. A breach affecting one client can provide an avenue for hackers into all of the other tenants. The immediate scale and low cost of the cloud are tempered by this vulnerability and should give pause to firms that are moving their most sensitive data to the cloud.
Choose Your Provider Wisely
All providers are not built the same. The public cloud is now dominated by just a few providers who offer low pricing and the very latest security protections. Companies should avoid lesser-known providers that might not offer reliability and quality customer service. The overall costs of cloud storage do not warrant trying to save a little by choosing a lower-priced yet unproven vendor.
Invest in Bandwidth
Bandwidth remains a concern. Slower bandwidth connections restrict some companies from fully adopting the cloud, especially those that work with massive files or need large amounts of on-demand access to information. Companies are especially hesitant to use the cloud for services that will determine the quality of the end-customer experience.
Plan for Your Data
Write a complete data management plan. The marketing department doesn’t try to reach its year-end goals without a plan, and IT should embrace a similar approach toward data storage. A formal written plan is crucial because it provides transparency and accountability to the entire team. Every staff person should be considered in the plan, so they understand how their role pertains to data security. Even if they are simply a user, their adherence to written protocols for data access can help prevent data loss and the accompanying problems.
The management plan should provide details on how data is organized and stored, using what types of storage (private, public, or hybrid cloud, or physical storage) and information on specific vendors. The plan also needs to outline what actions will be taken after a data loss incident, including a review of procedures and protocols and any public relations efforts that are deemed necessary.
Always Be Prepared
Backup and backup again. The limitations of the cloud’s reliability should encourage IT to put in place multiple layers of redundancy for data protection. A mixture of physical off and on-site physical storage can be combined with the cloud to ensure mission critical data is not lost forever. Storage of any kind is very cheap, so companies should view backups (and backups of backups) as a small price to pay.
Organize the data into a central location. Modern businesses need to manage dozens of data sources. They might pull the content from Facebook and Instagram posts and combine it with sales data from the CRM and survey data. The data management plan should create a framework for organizing the data into a central location and detail how data will be connected. So, if the most private data is kept in on-premises storage, how will it “talk” to data in a public cloud? Organization of the data can improve efficiency and enable teams to uncover insights from previously unconnected data.
Keep an Eye on Compliance
Recognize the regulatory issues as they pertain to the cloud. Looking deeper into the cloud’s limitations uncovers how certain cloud environments are still not suitable for compliance and regulatory data environments. The data management plan should include clear details on regulatory requirements, with the understanding that compliance rules change frequently and the business will need to adjust accordingly. Management of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) within the cloud is an acute concern, and IT must be sure their chosen cloud providers are suitable for the management and “movement” of PII data.
Perform testing against benchmarks. The most detailed data management plan is not useful if it’s not tested in the real world. IT should follow the procedures of other departments that work off of a plan and create various benchmarks and goals. For example, did the cloud provider achieve the promised 99.999% uptime? Did employees uniformly follow data access controls, or is additional training required? If IT wanted to move the majority of the company’s data to the cloud within six months, how close did it come to achieving this goal? Following a plan with testing and metrics gives IT a chance to see how many of the cloud’s limitations came to fruition within their particular situation. Testing of the plan should also involve personnel by ensuring each staff member knows their role in managing and accessing data.
Proactive IT departments will understand the cloud’s various limitations and then make informed decisions based on this knowledge. By building a strategic data management plan, they can implement best practices that adjust to the cloud’s limitations to create a data-driven business that operates successfully and safely.