Collaboration in the Cloud

To take advantage of a cloud service, all a user needs is a web browser and access to the Internet. That’s why cloud services have become particularly popular in a down economy, when small to midsize businesses are wary of spending much-needed resources on software licenses, servers, and the IT personnel to install, configure, and run the hardware and software systems needed to support the company.

Web services have started to evolve in the cloud. Web services can be viewed as a form of SaaS; however, the web services provide APIs that enable developers to exploit functionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full-blown applications. Some examples of web services offered are Google Maps, ADP payroll processing, the US Postal Service, Bloomberg, and even conventional credit card processing.

How does collaboration fit into the cloud, and what should you be looking for if you are providing services in the cloud or consuming cloud services? Instead of standing up an in-house collaboration solution, you now have the option of looking for a service provider that will outsource your collaboration solution for you. The providers take care of hosting the applications, and your subscribers access those applications over the Internet.

However, since the outsourcing firm is hosting the application, you need to be aware that it is most likely also storing all the application data in its data center. In the cloud, you must consider two very important factors with regard to collaboration:

  • Your data may not be controlled by you. The outsourced collaboration is set up very similarly to services offered by Internet collaboration solutions such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The main difference is that many of the outsourced solutions are designed to protect your data better than the popular consumer sites that are not focused on corporate customers. You must still be sure you understand the risks associated with your data being stored in the outsourcing firm’s data center. You need to ensure that the outsourcing firm’s security policies meet your company’s security requirements regarding access controls, data recovery, and so on.
  • You may end up with another collaboration stovepipe. As you look to outsource your collaboration needs, keep in mind that you want a series of services that can integrate into your existing applications. The recent emergence of web services in the cloud offers a possible solution if packaged properly by the service provider.

Using a collaboration solution in a cloud environment can help reduce IT costs but you still need to be mindful of the security risks as well as the potential barriers that can prevent access to the collaborative capabilities.

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