Cloud Computing Can Benefit FERC, NERC Regulated Entities

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James Holler, Founder, Abidance Consulting

James Holler, Founder, Abidance Consulting

Cloud computing represents a major change in how you store information and run applications. Instead of hosting applications and data on an individual server, everything is hosted in the “cloud”—a collection of computers and servers accessed via the Internet.

This type of Web-based computing frees you from the autocracy of single-server computing and opens up new avenues for group collaboration. But as attractive as all that sounds, cloud computing isn’t for everyone. This blog will take an honest look at the pro’s and con’s of this type of solution and how the average end user can benefit from cloud computing.

Reduced Software Costs – Instead of purchasing expensive software applications, you can get most of what you need for a pittance compared to the $200k+ you will spend buying Documentum or SharePoint. Yes, SharePoint is virtually free…but the programming and maintenance isn’t. This alone may be justification for switching to cloud applications.

Improved Document Format Compatibility – You don’t have to worry about the documents you create on your machine being compatible with other users’ applications or operating systems. In a typical environment where Word 2007 documents can’t be opened on a computer running Word 2003, all documents created by Web-based applications can be read by any other user accessing that application. There are no format incompatibilities when everyone is sharing documents and applications in the cloud.

Unlimited Storage Capacity – Cloud computing offers almost limitless storage. Your computer’s current 200 gigabyte hard drive is peanuts compared to the millions of terabytes available in the cloud. Whatever you need to store, you can.

Increased Data Reliability & Security – Unlike server or desktop computing, in which a hard disk crash can destroy all your valuable data, a computer crashing in the cloud won’t affect the storage of your data. That also means that if your computer or server crashes, all your data is still out there in the cloud, still accessible – there is no “wait time” for a recovery tape to be loaded. Many cloud providers offer military grade encryption…far more secure than anything your organization could hope to provide.

Anywhere, Anytime Access – The ultimate advantage to cloud computing is that you’re no longer dependent on a single computer or network. Change computers, and your existing data and documents follow you through the cloud. Move to a portable device, and your applications and documents are still available. There’s no need to buy a special version of a program for a particular device, or to save your document in a device-specific format. Your docs and their apps are the same no matter what computer or other device you’re using…that goes for Apple computers as well.

Now…just to be fair and not to sound too biased towards cloud computing, there are some pitfalls.
However, I do believe that after you have seen the advantages and disadvantages, you to will decide that cloud computing is still the best way to go. OK…here are some of the pitfalls.

Requires Internet Connection – Cloud computing is impossible if you can’t connect to the Internet. Since you use the Internet to connect to both your applications and documents, if you don’t have an Internet connection you can’t access anything, even your own documents.

May Be Slower – Even on a fast connection, cloud-based applications can sometimes be slower than accessing a similar program on your desktop or server. The one solution to this issue is to “check out” the document. When a user is done working on the document, they can “check in” the document.

So, who are the users that are best suited for cloud computing? Given the pros and cons of cloud computing, I think that the following types of users benefit most from switching to cloud-based solutions and applications:

Collaborators – If you collaborate with other people on group projects, you’re an ideal candidate for cloud computing. The ability to share and edit documents in real time between multiple users is one of the primary benefits of Web-based applications; it makes collaborating easy.

Users With A Need For Total Security – Cloud computing, when properly configured, is one of the most secure environments known today. Many outsourced cloud solutions provide a total package that includes not only all the storage space you will ever need, but also security that would make the Pentagon jealous for and a maintenance program that is worry free. You will save large amounts of money, time and resources by not having to lay out big bucks for the latest versions of Documentum or maintenance programs for SharePoint – both of which have very limited security…if any at all.

Users With Regulatory Compliance Needs – When you are required to comply with NERC, FERC, CFATS or other compliance measurements, there are many areas that you must address. You could hire a high-priced consulting firm with almost no industry experience or pile more work on your already thinly stretched internal resources and purchase a fleet of new servers and desktops, or you could utilize lower-cost cloud computing instead. The other main advantage for those who have to adhere to compliance requirements is that the cloud acts as your back-up site for Disaster Recovery. Abandon that outdated technology and use a less-demanding, low maintenance, fully secured and hosted cloud instead. In the old days (in computer speak, that is last year), the only solution to increased needs was to purchase more powerful hardware and hire overpriced consultants that didn’t know your industry.

Bottom-line: With cloud computing, the solution is in the cloud—which saves you resources, time and money.

James Holler is founder of Abidance Consulting.

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