Is Your Cloud Service Sustainable?

There was an interesting thread over on the Dropbox forums where someone was bemoaning the gap between the free 2gb and the next level up which was around $10 a month for 50GB. This individual – and others – said there was no way they would pay $10 for 50gb which they would never use but would part with $5 a month for 25gb. They pointed out that there were other companies offering similar cut-down costs for smaller amounts of storage space which got me thinking about sustainability.

At the moment there is no shortage of companies developing a plethora of cloud computing and Web 2.0 based products. We can do our word processing online, prepare spreadsheets and presentation, carry out project management, keep track of collaborative ventures, share synced files with colleagues and friends without installing expensive software packages on our computers.

Plan For The Long Game

There is no doubt about it, these are interesting and exciting times, but if you are running a business you must not let your professional judgement get clouded by ill-advised enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter whether you use conventional software or cloud based packages you need to plan and budget for the long game.

Getting back to the Dropbox question, is it better to invest your money with a company that is not the cheapest but which offers a better long term potential or plough your investment into a cheaper option which may go bust once the initial funding runs out and the price package is not sustainable? What do you do if the initially cheaper company suddenly has to hike its prices to keep going? I would bet that because you have a data lock-in with the company you are forced to part with more money with a bit of a gnashing of teeth.

Something that our chap on Dropbox has probably failed to take into account is that the Internet does not equal free. The developers at Dropbox have backers who expect a return on investment and the people who manage the company have a responsibility to ensure it is viable and profitable. Creating a pricing structure that will realistically provide a ROI and ensure the company is self funding for future developments is vital.

I did a lot of testing on systems and examined pricing before happily coughing up the equivalent of £6 a month – that’s just the cost of two beers – because I liked the way the system worked and I thought the pricing would provide better data security in the long term. Paying the equivalent of one beer would save me money initially but for the long term – maybe, maybe not, but is it a risk worth taking?

Check Out Developers

Before making a financial commitment check out the developers if at all possible. It is highly likely that they will have been involved in other projects – remember the dot com revolution – see if their past products have bombed or did they sell them them on for a profit?

Data portability and data lock-in are two elements worth bearing in mind. Putting all your eggs in one basket has never been the brightest of options and I ensure that my data has portability and access by spreading it around in a manner that takes just minutes a day. For example, I am preparing this article on Google Docs. Once every day or so – more if I am very busy – I backup my Google Docs stuff to a folder that is housed within a Dropbox master folder so it is automatically synced with my Dropbox account up in the cloud.

I also migrate all my Google Docs stuff to Zoho and at 18:00 hours every day Mozy kicks into life and backs up everything that is within my Dropbox folder on my PC. So all my data is housed at four cloud based locations as well as my desktop PC all for very little physical action. I don’t think this is paranoia, just ensuring that my data is as safe as I can make it. Don’t be blinded by the potential of cloud computing, look at it in a cold, hard manner, seek advice and make a decision on sound business principals – the best being if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.