Do you manage your projects ‘in the cloud’? It’s the buzzword that has stopped being ‘buzz’ and is now a critical part of being able to operate successfully as a project manager – even if you don’t manage software projects.
Growing up in cold and rainy Hamburg, Mauricio Prinzlau had a semi-legitimate excuse for passing his time in front of the computer as a kid. After a degree in Business Communication Management, he joined the Cloudwards.net team as a managing editor and backup expert, where he's in charge of the cloud backup and storage reviews section.
I asked him what project managers need to know about cloud computing, starting with the really, really basic stuff.
Mauricio, what is 'the cloud'?
The cloud is obviously a very trending topic with a variety of definitions. The cloud leverages computing power and makes it available via the Internet so that businesses, organizations, and even individuals can use the cloud to solve business problems, upload photos, or host a website.
What else do people use it for?
Project managers use it for hosted project management collaboration tools but also other, non-project management apps that they are using in their day jobs or deploying to others.
For example, businesses use the cloud to make operations more efficient and leverage the computing power of servers to store and archive files cheaper and more secure. What used to be a complete on-site infrastructure that needed maintenance, security patches, and staff is now outsourced to cloud data centers that are off-site, thus reducing cost and risk for businesses and organizations.
Outside of work, you probably use the cloud on a daily basis without really noticing it. Facebook relies on cloud infrastructure, iCloud uses the cloud to backup people’s photos, Google Now helps us with day-to-day tasks. And there are many more examples we could come up with where the cloud plays a central role in people’s lives now.
So let’s say I need to back up all my project files. How do you choose the right cloud storage solution for your project?
How do you choose the right car? Just kidding, of course, it is very hard to give a general answer. What do you need the cloud for? Do you have a team of 5 people who need to collaborate and share files? Then you need to look at solutions such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
But what if security is a major concern? Then Dropbox and Google Drive are not an option. Project managers need to look at solutions such as Sync.com, who put security at the forefront of their business model.
Think about what your project teams and organization needs regarding features because it’s easy to overpay for a cloud service that you don’t need.
And what about the projects I might be delivering? Outside of file sharing and back up, what sort of things am I going to be hearing my tech architects talk about?
If you need virtual computers in the cloud to do calculations, then you you might hear them talk about Amazon Web Services because they offer great flexibility and scalability of computing power.
There are other options, of course, and what I would say is, there is no one-size-fits-all cloud. You need to compare features carefully, decide on your budget and then make an informed decision.
Can the cloud or online solutions be a cost-effective way to back up files?
In one word: yes. Online and cloud backup are terms used synonymously because there is not a real difference. Cloud (online) backups are one of the cheapest ways for businesses to get files off-site and protect them from disasters (theft, fires, flood etc.).
There are even services such as CrashPlan or Backblaze, who offer unlimited cloud backup, so they put no limit as to the amount of storage you can send.
Sounds great. Surely there are disadvantages we should know about?
There can be risks associated with cloud storage. That’s why I recommend my clients not to rely on one single cloud with all their data. Data loss can happen even to the best companies, so a fallback (ideally with a local backup) is always best.
Security is a concern if a cloud backup or storage company does not encrypt files before they are sent to the cloud (sometimes called end-to-end encryption). Always make sure you choose a service that supports this feature.
If your company has certain limitations as to the location of where the data is hosted then most companies have to be aware that the majority of cloud storage companies are located in the US. This is not ideal for most European businesses.
Yikes. So much of my project data is confidential. Is it safe to put stuff in the cloud?
It is safe if a) you encrypt files yourself before you send them, or b) a cloud storage service offers local encryption (or zero-knowledge privacy). I would personally recommend Sync.com, which is a Canada-based service, they work in the same way Dropbox does, but with zero-knowledge privacy.
I don’t even know what zero-knowledge means!
Oh, sorry! There’s a detailed explanation in this article but it’s too much to cover in this interview today, but it’s a way to store your data so that even the storage company can’t get into it.
OK, I’ll look at that later, thanks. How do you balance accessing work files on your work cloud and your personal stuff in your personal cloud, like Dropbox, for example?
Well, for one you could create two different accounts, one that you use for personal and one for business.
Dropbox and other cloud storage service offer business versions with enhanced privacy and collaborative features. For business collaboration, I tend to use Google Drive because my team and I can work together in real time on documents and spreadsheets, but I do not use the public clouds (Google, Dropbox) for very sensitive files like contracts. That’s where I would personally choose a zero-knowledge cloud.
Can you give me a short answer to what do managers need to know about the private/public cloud overlap and how best to manage it so that employees don't put confidential business records at risk?
That’s one of the major problems larger organizations face: the consumerization of the cloud. Employees use Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive to share business files. That’s why enterprises need to offer their employees a solution that is as easy to use as the public clouds. We have been working with Autotask Workplace as a solid solution for enterprises because it offers the same flexibility and ease-of-use as Dropbox, but without the security holes. Users can synchronize files (personal or business files) and managers can keep an eye on what gets in and out.
It sounds like an industry that is moving a lot. Where is next for cloud storage - what are the trends that you are seeing?
Cloud storage services do not focus on storage anymore, because, well, some argue that there is no money to be made with storage.
We clearly see a development into intelligent solutions for project and document management. Dropbox has hundreds of millions of users, all using their service in different ways, so in a couple of years, I believe we’ll be seeing a lot of artificial intelligence added to it, which helps us organize information automatically based on our specific business.
Thanks, Mauricio. Any final words?
I would say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially when using the cloud for backup. But also, think about what your project teams and organization needs regarding features because it’s easy to overpay for a cloud service that you don’t need.
Overall, I’m excited to be close to seeing the developments in this industry and am looking forward to more innovative features and services based on the cloud.