Could mobile apps offer a solution to the inherent risks that your business faces when moving its data and functions to cloud-based applications or services?
Cloud Storage on the Horizon
No matter how hard you try to ignore it, most of the big names in enterprise 2.0 -- Google, Amazon, Apple with its iCloud service and others -- are ramping up cloud storage offerings for both the consumer and enterprise. It all marks a gradual shift from our data stored locally, or on local servers, to faraway places over which we have limited control.
But think about that for a second -- we have no control over when your PC's hard drive will grind to a halt (and just how up to date is your backup?), when a fire will strike your IT department or if rats in the basement will eat the network cabling. Accepting the insecurity of your data, wherever located, is all a matter of degree.
Currently, most of us already rely on the cloud for our personal email, and many companies are turning to web-based services to save on infrastructure and licensing costs of expensive office-based solutions. Over the last couple of years, many have started using cloud-based photo storage, with music and movies next on the list.
On the Move
Moving any data from local sources to the cloud makes some of those problems go away and replaces them with new ones: The need for a solid and reliable service connection, the need to keep paying the bills if it's a subscription service plus the need to read those terms and conditions carefully indeed.
For plain storage, business services such as Egnyte offer a Cloud File Server that enhances the accessibility of the cloud with enterprise-class security and the speed and consistent availability of local storage, using hybrid cloud technology., while the likes of Box.net and Dropbox offer popular quicker and easier cloud solutions.
For any business planning a move to cloud, working or storage, it's all a matter of time-critical thinking. As we've seen with big-name enterprises and many Web 2.0 companies, even mainstay services like Amazon's AWS can go down from time to time. If you can live with the odd day without access to information, or at least are sensible to keep local archives, then signing up for a cloud service should be no more stressful than a signup process.
Things start getting tricky when there is no practical way to keep a local backup, as data sizes ramp up or as the data changes too quickly as multiple users keep altering it. Once you're in that cloud trap, then you're relying on some clever design.
A Mobile Solution
This is where mobile could come to help. Smartphones already suffer from limited storage, less than reliable connections and are used more for personal and business use. Most of the cloud firms (and I'm thinking more of productivity tools like Zoho, Office 365 and others, rather than pure storage like Box.net) are developing mobile apps.
All these apps need ensure is that your last 30 days of data (or a suitable amount, depending on your use) is always available, regularly updated and locally stored, so if the service does go down, or you can't get a signal, you can still perform basic functions and have access to current information.
If you're going through a HTML5 web app, then the connection is still a requirement, so a device-specific app is preferable if you're looking for a cloud solution. There's also the new BlackBerry 7 OS and the imminent new iPhone, plus whatever Windows 8 brings to the party across tablets and desktops.
The benefits of moving to the cloud are well known; savings on infrastructure, the ability to work from almost anywhere and it generally encourages collaboration and communication without having to invest excessively in tools for that purpose.
Without diving into the pros and cons of each suite or apps service, any buyer has to look at how the risks of using such a service are mitigated. Any attempt at live-to-local archiving is to be embraced while claims of 99.9% uptime with no credits or reimbursement for failure to meet that target can be treated as marketing guff.
Logic suggests that mobile/tablet or desktop apps perform the most tailored link between dumping your data to the cloud and keeping enough of it available in case the cloud goes AWOL. Mobile working in any form is increasing, so expect developers to tailor their services to meet this need and offer users the best (or least worst) solution as the move to cloud-based working gathers pace.
Further Down the Cloud Line
As users demand improved mobile access, another concept is unified PC-to-mobile desktop apps that maintain a hosted virtual desktop (currently usually local-server based, but a technology ripe for a move to the cloud) across all devices with document and data access. As bigger enterprises move to virtual hosted desktops, any vendor with a mobile-too offering would be making an interesting step forward. However, the application licensing can of worms that this opens will be one for the lawyers to untangle.
Whatever solution you look to, the smaller the company, the easier it is to get up and go. Enterprises will require all kinds of hoop-jumping and test projects to make the transition, while nimble Web 2.0 types are probably already there, leading the way.