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Myths & mysteries of ‘the cloud’ revealed

Get to know the facts before uploading to the cloud.

By now, most people realize that ‘the cloud’ isn’t a fad or gimmick — it’s a business model that’s here to stay. But the facts around this model are still a bit…well, cloudy.

Many people assume you can upload your data to the cloud and forget about it, but that’s not entirely the case. Of course, a cloud provider will maintain the physical infrastructure, and update software and security required for this service. But moving to the cloud could also require architecture revisions on your part, and it could cause integration issues, since some clouds don’t play well with other software.

And moving to the cloud doesn’t relieve you of your responsibilities as the owner of that data.

To be sure, the cloud can do many things. It offers cost savings, scalability and flexibility to even the smallest of companies — benefits that were once the domain of large enterprises with expansive IT departments. But it’s like handing the car keys over to your teenager — you wouldn’t do so without first setting some ground rules.

There’s often an assumption that cloud providers are more or less the same. So many customers choose the cheapest option, thinking that one service is as good as any other. That would be a mistake.

Myth: Cloud and virtualization are the same

There’s often some confusion around cloud and virtualization. Once you understand the difference, you’re in a better position to take advantage of hosted services — and avoid a common security-related pitfall.

The cloud is a remote cluster of servers that provide a service, accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection — thus, freeing up your own resources (such as storage and processing power). Cloud computing is a broader term that applies to capabilities and functions available in the cloud, like collaborating on a document without having to download it, for example.

Virtualization, on the other hand, takes physical resources (like servers) and partitions them into chunks — each performing independently of the others, dedicated to a different application or user. Virtualized resources can’t access resources not allocated to them, so it provides an added layer of security.

Many (though not all) cloud providers use virtualization for cloud management and security. According to Joel Lee of technology website MakeUseOf, this distinction is important. “When you sign up for a shared web hosting plan, it’s usually hosted on a single machine without any virtualization, and dozens of others are using that same server. If one user makes a mistake and locks up the server’s CPU, everyone’s website goes down until the server is fixed.”

He goes further to explain that, “when you sign up for a virtual private server plan, you’re still on a single machine but your portion of the server’s resources is virtualized. If one user makes a mistake, they only lock up their portion of the server’s CPU and only their website goes down. Yours remains untouched.”

Myth: The cloud is only for backup & safety

Another common assumption is that the cloud is mainly used for storage and as a backup solution. Cloud computing is capable of so much more, and as artificial intelligence and machine learning enter the picture, things will get even more interesting. But when it comes to backup, the cloud should never be your sole data backup solution — it should only be one prong of an overall backup strategy that includes offline backup.

That’s not to say the cloud isn’t secure. Indeed, cloud providers have dedicated security pros on staff with the sole responsibility of securing that infrastructure. But the cloud isn’t infallible and, despite what some might think, security isn’t the sole responsibility of the cloud provider (even if there are SLAs in place).

Think of it this way: security is a shared responsibility. With a cloud service, you’re not shouldering the burden alone, but ultimately you need to make decisions about which data to store in the cloud, who can access it and where it will physically be located. The cloud does exist somewhere, and if it’s outside of Canada, your data could potentially be accessed by foreign government agencies.

Myth: All cloud providers are guaranteed compliant

A good cloud provider will ensure your data is compliant with all the latest security and privacy regulations. But not all providers are created equal. Ultimately, it’s your job to ensure the provider you choose is proactive in meeting compliance requirements.

If it turns out they’re not compliant, it means you’re not compliant and, ultimately, you’re also responsible if something goes wrong. (If your teenager bangs up the car on a joy ride, you’re the one who must face increased insurance rates.)

Moving to the cloud isn’t as easy as simply uploading your data and forgetting about it. Understanding what the cloud can — and can’t — do for you will help you navigate through the myths and misperceptions to find the right approach for your business.

Up Next: Get those numbers in order with these great cloud-based accounting solutions.

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Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as CBCNews.ca, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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