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To ensure you don't regret your company's ascent into cloud computing, here are some key questions to bear in mind.
• Who else might see the data? You may have a collective bargaining agreement assuring your employees that their e-mail won't be read, even by software. Certain industries fall under data privacy regulations that may make the cloud inappropriate.
• What if you don't pay the bill? Might all your data get deleted abruptly if the check gets lost in the mail?
• Does the cloud back up your data? A typical contract stipulates that you bear "sole responsibility for adequate security, protection, and backup."
• What if your service provider enters your business? The information giants are always investigating new business lines. Are you providing a potential competitor access to your data?
• What if you do business abroad? Your memos and e-mail are subject to USA Patriot Act searches when they cross the border if the "cloud" is actually located in the U.S. You may never know they have been searched. The U.S. government has clandestinely searched domestic electronic communications, too--perhaps improperly, perhaps not.
• What does the cloud expect of you? Are any of your documents "discriminatory based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or age?" Then you can't store them at Amazon. Might some of them infringe copyrights? Then Google might terminate your service. You can hope the provider would exercise good judgment before deleting your data, but you shouldn't stake your business on it.
• What's the access control? Does a single password provide access to everything, so that an intruder could delete your entire business? Is password strength industry-standard? Can you turn off access when you terminate an employee?
• Do you want your employees getting advertising (perhaps from competitors, or for naughty products) along with their e-mail? Consider paying a little to be advertising-free.
• What is your exit strategy? If you aren't satisfied with the cloud, how much will the migration in both directions have cost, and will you still have employees with the skills needed to manage your data?
Source: Business Week, http://businessweek.com
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