Small- and medium-size businesses have been wary of cloud services because of security, privacy and reliability issues. But a new Microsoft report, released this week, found that perceptions of clouds contrast with actual experiences.
Adrienne Hall, general manager of Trustworthy Computing at Microsoft, said in a statement that "there's a big gap between perception and reality when it comes to the cloud." She said SMBs that have adopted cloud services have "found security, privacy and reliability advantages" that were unexpected.
The Microsoft study did not inquire about specific products, vendors or services, but asked non-cloud-using SMBs why they weren't leveraging cloud technology.
For 60 percent of respondents in the study, a key concern has been data security, and 45 percent were concerned that they could lose control of their data. Forty-two percent doubted the cloud's reliability.
But, for SMBs that are actually using cloud services, the study found a different picture. Ninety-four percent reported they now have security benefits they didn't previously with on-premises technology, including up-to-date systems, up-to-date antivirus and spam e-mail management. Sixty-two percent said they experienced increased levels of privacy protection, while 75 percent noted improved service availability.
The study also pointed to the cost savings from cloud services, with 70 percent of respondents saying the savings allowed them to invest money and time into other areas and half saying they were "pursuing new opportunities" because of the time saved through cloud-based security management.
For some SMBs, cloud services also could pose an issue for regulatory compliance. But in announcing the study, Microsoft pointed to the DHCU Community Credit Union, a nonprofit financial co-op based in Illinois. The Union utilizes cloud-based Microsoft Office 365, and President/COO Matt McCombs is quoted as saying that 365 "gives us peace of mind that these things are being handled, and handled well."
Public, Private, Hybrid
The credit union example, however, raises a question of whether the study is, to some degree, comparing apples and oranges. In other words, a specific hosted application may be a different matter than an unknown variety of in-cloud apps or storage, if not for any other reason than the quality of the vendor behind it.
The study also does not explicitly distinguish between public, private or hybrid clouds. Many SMBs may find it easier and less expensive to utilize pay-as-you-go public clouds, and the study implies it is referring to public clouds by asking about contrasting experiences with on-premises technology. On-premises, behind-the-firewall private clouds are often considered more secure than public ones, although that requires a robust IT department to keep everything up to date.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, pointed out that, for large as well as small- to medium-size businesses, the question of whether to use cloud services is based on whether the benefits are worth the costs and risks. She noted that SMBs, which are often not in the forefront of innovations in infrastructure, are now beginning to see the benefits of public clouds, but some verticals, such as doctors' offices, "may still be reluctant to locate critical data off-premises."