Storage in the cloud. Has a nice cosy feel to it doesn't it? And it could save you money, they say. But is it real?
If you're a small business, it could just mean that you keep your backups on a simple storage service -- there's a number of them differentiated mainly on price.
Alternatively, you could think about going for a more managed service, such as the one that's launched: ThinkGrid. The pitch is that it's a "cloud storage service for organisations that need to retain ever-increasing amounts of data, but lack the capital to invest in high-cost, on-site storage", all paid for "on a pay-as-you-go basis".
ThinkGrid uses its own servers and MezeoCloud's software to provide the service. You can ship encrypted files, manage them, back them up and so on. It's being sold as a way of saving on file server hardware and management, as well as gaining you backup and disaster recovery services.
All well and good, and just what a small business often needs. In fact, you could argue that small to medium-sized businesses can garner greater benefit from the cloud than larger ones, although there are still other issues to take into account..
The problem is reaching the cloud. Most small business' connectivity uses the same technology as that of most homes and individuals. Yes, it's good old ADSL. For most folk, this means an upload speed of, at most, around 400kbit/s.
That's maybe in the morning before the US wakes up and the kiddies start downloading torrents of videos. By the end of the day, at a time when you might do your backups, you'll be lucky to see an upload speed of more than a quarter of the booked data rate. And while local loop unbundled connections can reach the giddy heights of 1.3Mbit/s or even more, but they're still rare.
What does it all mean? It means that, with a well-performing ADSL connection, you could upload a CD's worth of data in well under four hours, while a DVD would take over 24 hours -- assuming nothing else is using the connection during the transfer. With more than a couple of PCs to back up, those sorts of times will start to look forbidding.
Cloud is all the rage. But what helped to kill a similar industry movement, then dubbed ASP or application service provision, at the height of the dotcom boom almost ten years ago was a lack of bandwidth. The problem is, for the SME, that problem has yet to be addressed.
So is the cloud a working SME solution? Given the volumes of data even the smallest businesses now generate, I suggest that it's not yet there yet. Roll on universal fibre...