• Availability: Will your cloud service go down unexpectedly, leaving you without access to critical customer records, e-mail, or other information for hours or more? Gmail outages are widely reported, but Salesforce.com and other well-established services have gone dark on occasion, too.
• Data loss: Some online storage sites have shut down abruptly, sending users scrambling to recover their data, sometimes with only 24 hours' notice. And T-Mobile Sidekick users were unhappy to discover that their personal data had been erased from their devices--especially when Microsoft said that the data loss was irrevocable. (A few days later, Microsoft announced that it had recovered most of the data.)
• Data mobility and ownership: Will you be able to share data between different cloud services? If you decide to stop using a cloud service, can you get all of your data back? What format will it be in? How can you be certain that the cloud service will destroy all of your data once you've severed ties with it?
• Tool robustness: Cloud-based tools frequently aren't as powerful as software applications. Google Docs, for instance, lacks a number of features that Microsoft Office has had for years, such as the ability to track changes in a text file.
Tips for Moving Into the Cloud
Once you've weighed the pros and cons, you may be ready to take your first steps into cloud computing. Before you do, consider these tips from small businesses that have already made the transition.
• Start small. Cloud computing is a different way of working from what most people are used to, and building familiarity and trust takes time, says Trevor Doerksen, CEO and founder of MoboVivo, a 12-member video content portal/software company. Doerksen recommends starting small--for example, by having two or more workers collaborate on a Google Docs file. Once team members grow more comfortable with the new work environment, you can start adding more cloud services to the mix.
• Think big. Can the service you're considering scale to meet your needs as your business grows? If not, keep looking.
• Make sure you can export your data in standard formats. You'll want to be able to export in the formats used by Word, Excel, and other programs you use. That way, you can back up (and access) your data locally or move it easily to another service later.