Cloud computing is a buzzword you hear a lot these days, but what does it mean for utility companies and why would you want to run your business on it?
People generally feel much safer with their server sitting in their office where they can see it, or in a nearby server room, but it’s really a false sense of security.
Cloud computing is the safest, most secure, reliable and flexible system you can use.
Your data is automatically backed up and stored in the safest place on the planet. Tight security protocols make it almost impossible for anybody except people in your organization to access.
It also allows staff to work a more flexible schedule, even working remotely from home, which allows you to attract and keep the best and the brightest.
Cloud computing is basically a group of shared servers providing processing resources and data to your computers and other devices like tablets and mobile phones on demand. It is the safest platform to run your program on because it runs across a number of servers and hard drives, so if one goes down, your service is not affected.
Unfortunately, computers do fail – even servers and if a dedicated server fails, it can have enormous impact on your business from at best, pulling down your billing system, to at worst, the hard drive failing and corrupting your data.
Most organizations have a server administrator or an outside provider who looks after the server, but they typically do not have spare parts and 24 hour staff, so in the event their server fails, it can take hours, even days to get it back up and running.
Hacking is becoming widespread today and the fact is that serious foreign hackers backed by their government can hack into most systems that are around today. The difference with a cloud system is that the breach will be detected much faster that it will with your internal LAN and damage minimized, because the cloud system is continually monitored for any unusual activity.
Lower level hackers will have a much more difficult time hacking a cloud system than they will your local area network (LAN) because there are more sophisticated firewalls and security software is always up-to-date.
The data centers that cloud computing servers run in, will typically have a failed server back up and running or replaced within an hour. Servers are their business and they will have hundreds, sometimes thousands of the same servers and the same hard drives, with plenty of spares and technicians working around the clock.
These data centers are as safe as bunkers, with tight security and redundancy with both power and internet. They are usually positioned on the edge of 2 or 3 power grids, with additional back-up generators. They also provide access over a number of high speed internet lines from different providers, so if one has an outage, the cloud data is still available.
If you’ve ever had to upgrade your LAN, you’ll know how disruptive it can be. Days of downtime and periods where the software doesn’t seem to work properly and the new system is just not right. Then on top of that you have to deal with customer complaints when you can’t access their data to help with their queries… It can also be a costly exercise.
Cloud upgrades by contrast are completely seamless. You need more power or more space, we just carve off a bigger chunk of the cloud. There is no down time, no disruption to your business – it expands to meet your needs.
Security is an evolving thing – it’s a cat-and-mouse game – the bad guys find new methods of hacking firewalls and the developers learn from security breaches and prevent those hacks. Then the hackers find another way in, another vulnerability. The manufacturers block it and so on.
Your firewall is only ever reasonably secure if your IT team is completely up-to-date with the latest software. This is something that often falls by the wayside in LAN systems when budgets are tight for an organization and there are other priorities.
Many water and sewage utilities are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because they are located on waterways and are prone to flooding. At best, an organization could have a backup offsite that can be provided to our service bureau, who would then quickly pick up the ball and keep your organization operational, even if the office is completely destroyed.
But many organizations don’t backup their data off-site, or perform off-site backups haphazardly, leaving themselves vulnerable in the case of a natural disaster. Even when an organization does regularly back up off-site, unless they test the backup restore they may find it doesn’t work properly and the data is corrupted or can’t be properly read. The result is sometimes the same as having no backup at all.
While having your data running over the cloud may be an uncomfortable concept to begin with, in most cases it is a much more secure alternative to your LAN system. In the case of a flooded office, staff can continue working from home, accessing the system directly on the cloud
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