By Max Clarke

The recent failure of Microsoft’s online services has once again opened up the debate about the reliability of cloud computing.

It is not the first time either, that users have been left unable to use Hotmail, Office 365 and Skydrive as the company suffered a similar fiasco in mid-August. In the wake of this and other high profile failures, Flexsys Managing Director, Adrian Smith, addresses the issues raised and why businesses shouldn’t turn their backs on cloud just yet.

“The majority of businesses choose their IT infrastructure based on the benefits that it can bring to the company, and while the cloud has been in the press for all the wrong reasons, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the negatives outweigh the positives.

“The cloud will only make sound business sense when it is backed-up by a solid business continuity and disaster recovery plan, and while many mass-market providers offer this, it is normally at a cost that out-prices many businesses.

"And yet, the main benefit of cloud computing is that businesses enjoy complete reassurance that their assets are not only secured safely but protected against every eventuality. With Office 365, users are charged £4 per month to host their data. And for this you’d expect a more reliable service from the world’s number one software company.

“If budget constraints mean that your supplier can only offer a single data centre hosting it may be worth considering a more specialist IT provider who can better cater to your requirements and budget. As Microsoft has shown, without at least dual-centre status, you are leaving yourself and your company open to service interruptions, and as such, you lose the majority of benefits that the cloud has to offer. In fact, it is exactly the same as just sticking your server in the corner of the room and offers about as much protection.

“My advice to anyone considering the cloud is to do your homework first. While these high profile failures have damaged the reputation of cloud services, in reality a hosted environment is far more secure than the traditional server set-up. What’s more, data is easier to reinstall should disaster strike but only if you’ve got a provider who offers the level of business continuity that you should be getting. Make sure you set out from the beginning that you want multiple data centres, as well as full access rights with a contact name and telephone number.

“It is unquestionably businesses who are in the strongest position to lead the way with the cloud because of their flexibility and need to constantly adapt. The upfront savings on physical hardware and the ability to pay for the cloud as a ‘utility’ should make it an attract proposition for any small or medium sized business. However, big corporations offering the cloud aren’t necessarily the best option for start-up and small businesses. Instead businesses should look to smaller IT companies who understand their needs and are able to respond to problems and queries quickly. Often, they are able to provide local engineers and UK support line capabilities to even the smallest of clients, truly valuing each customer’s business.”

Adrian Smith is the Managing Director at Heywood-based IT services provider, Flexsys.

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