Whether we know it or not, most of us are already using cloud technology. For example, Internet search is a cloud application. Gmail and other Internet-based email services likewise are cloud applications, and social networking sites like Facebook also reside in a cloud. This means that, like it or not, most users already trust cloud computing apps. Yet despite the cloud’s widespread use, many remain confused about the technology. In fact, the findings of a survey by VersionOne, a document management software company, have revealed that 41% of senior IT professionals admit that they “don’t know” what cloud computing is and two-thirds of senior finance professionals (finance directors and managers) are confused about cloud computing.
Advantages, features and deployment
In reality, cloud computing is no mystery. It is Internet-based computing, in which shared resources, software and information are provided to PCs and other devices on demand, as with the electric grid. Like grid deployment, cloud computing is characterized by unlimited scalability, rapid elasticity and measured service, which yields easy tracking and control of service costs. Its cost-effectiveness and attractive ROI makes it particularly appealing to CFOs trying to rein in budget costs.
An attractive payback is not the only advantage a cloud has to offer. Its speedy, out-of-the box implementation makes it a no-brainer to install with little need to reinforce the existing enterprise infrastructure. Internet deployment brings with it built-in collaboration and automatic remote user access. A cloud is user friendly — the system is high in flexibility and agility and easy to manage and maintain. Its reduced carbon footprint makes it popular with “green” companies that practice triple bottom line accounting.
Cloud services can be set up in a number of client-server configurations. They can be deployed in the form of infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). Vendors can install them in a variety of landlord-tenant relationships. A private cloud serves a single organization, whereas a public cloud serves its members in a full multi-tenant capacity. Hybrid clouds come in a number of flavors in between, comprised of any combination of public and private attributes, including the so-called community cloud, which hosts a single organization plus other closely aligned organizations.
Meeting the records management challenge in a cloud
Using a cloud to manage corporate records presents a significant challenge to today’s records manager. A cloud-based records management (RM) solution must implement records disposition schedules, a requirement that includes the ability to transfer and permanently delete records and perform other RM life cycle functions. Specific service and deployment models may not meet all of a company’s RM needs. Depending on the application, the vendor of a public cloud or the manager of a private cloud may not be able to ensure complete deletion, which of course is a records management mandate.
Nevertheless, the responsible party must establish best practices that govern compliance procedures regarding records capture, management and retention. In their capacity as records managers, they must ascertain which copies of records shall be declared as the record copy and manage them in accordance with juridical records management content. They must determine how to migrate records data to new formats and operating systems. They must decide how to transfer permanent records in the cloud to the records authority, and they should create a framework for portability and accessibility issues. Incidentally, the value of records in the cloud may be greater than the value of the original set because of indexing or other reasons.
What’s the hold up?
Cloud computing carries with it the warnings typically attached to new technology adoption. Cloud industry is immature and growing rapidly. It can be very disruptive to existing business models and IT practices, so users who are considering buying into it may not be comfortable with the new entity. Disruptive technologies invariably attract vendors that may not be around for the long-term; accordingly, new players will rapidly emerge to fill new niches. Big players will respond to the cry for component uniformity and system interchangeability by creating standards for security and governance. Somewhere along the technology adoption curve, consolidation of the industry at some point is inevitable. Witness Google, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft.
Meanwhile, a Loudhouse Research survey of 500 IT decision makers at US and UK firms, commissioned by Mimecast, found that the majority of organizations are now using some form of cloud computing service and that levels of satisfaction among those companies are high across the board. For example, among cloud users, 74% said that the cloud had alleviated internal resource pressures, and 72% reported an improved end user experience. Along those lines, 73% of users managed to reduce their infrastructure costs, while 57% said the cloud had improved their data security.
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