Cloud Computing and the Construction Industry

A while ago, I read an article called 3 Reasons Your Company Still Hasn’t Moved to the Cloud. As a provider of cloud-based construction software, I’ve heard many reasons why companies don’t want to move to the cloud, most of which can be put into two categories: real and perceived problems. I’ll leave the real problems for next week and focus on the perceived problems in today’s blog.

Is my data safe in the cloud?

There’s some confusion about the facilities—the large “farms” of servers and storage arrays—that house data. The common refrain I often hear is, “what if the server goes down—do I lose everything?”

The good news is that I know of no business-class hosting facility that does not have multiple forms of redundancy and backup. If a machine fails, data is often mirrored or snapshot images of your data are taken to allow for recovery. If power goes out, you can be assured that reputable facilities will have an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) system in place. And if a natural disaster strikes and takes out an entire data center, they will typically have another geographically remote center that is housing regular backups of your business information.

Chances are your company doesn’t have this level of protection in place, and if you wanted to do-it-yourself the price tag would be prohibitive.

Is my data secure at a hosting facility?

When folks ask me about the security of their data in the cloud, I typically reply “where’s your money?” After reassurance that I’m not attempting to rob them, I clarify by asking them if, when they go to the bank to make a withdrawal, does someone go to a special drawer with their name on it and give them specific bills that belong to them? Of course the answer is “no”—our money is effectively in the cloud. It is virtualized and represented by numbers in computers. And we do not, in general, know where these computers are.

Most folks are OK with that concept. And they should be, since the level of security applied to financial and business data transactions goes far beyond what most any company provides on their own.

Cloud services are audited and certified through rigorous standards such as SAS 70 Type II or SSAE 16. Data is transported using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS)—meaning that 128-bit encryption is applied. And the data centers themselves typically have 24/7/365 physical security with biometric sensors (retinal scanners, hand or thumb print readers, etc.) controlling individual access. I’ve yet to be subjected to a retinal scan before I walk into a contractor’s server room…

Do I still own my data?

I bought a nice car a few years back. On my first day of ownership, my wife noticed that I had gotten up to leave the living room multiple times and asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I replied. “Just looking at the car in the garage.” I received what I call “look number 17” from her and decided to wait until the morning commute before my next trip out to the garage. That next day I had a breakfast meeting in downtown Seattle and I wound up leaving my car with a valet who (I assume) parked it in a nearby garage.

Not a very exciting story, I know, but it dawned on me when asked about data ownership in the cloud that the two situations were analogous. Just because I left my car with someone else to park didn’t mean I had to turn over ownership of the vehicle. Yes, I had to give him the keys, and so there was a level of trust that was assumed, but that was still my car he was parking.

In most instances of cloud computing, you do indeed own your data as clearly as I own my car. Even if the cloud application is a subscription, the data is generally yours. I realized I used the words “most” and “generally” to qualify these statements…that’s because in some cases you might indeed sign an agreement that states your data is NOT your own. This is an extreme exception, and I only mention it can apply, for example, in some cases where you are acting as a beta tester or in non-business related applications like computer gaming. But in business, the data is yours, regardless of who parks it. As always, if there is any doubt, read your end user licensing agreements (EULAs).

I hope this clears up some of the concerns around cloud computing and data hosting. I’ll discuss some of the real concerns for not moving to the cloud in next week’s blog.

Do you have other concerns about moving to the cloud?

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