Cloud optimize

Why businesses shouldn't trust Apple's cloud services

Erik Eckel explains why iCloud is not a business-grade solution for certain critical functions. Here is what he recommends instead.

Clients frequently ask the best methods for synchronizing email, developing and hosting Web sites, collaborating on calendars and backing up files. Firms that leverage Apple technologies, and even some Windows organizations, have begun using iCloud to perform these critical tasks. But that may not be the best bet, at least for businesses.

iCloud is an awesome personal service

Apple's iCloud is an outstanding consumer service. It's a smart choice for residential Apple computer users, especially. The ability to share audio and video files (songs and movies) between devices sharing the same iTunes account using iTunes Match is well worth the annual fee. Add in synchronized bookmarks (including on Windows systems), a basic photo backup courtesy of Photo Stream, and even cloud-based backup and sharing for iCloud-enabled apps, and the service is a steal.

But it's not a business tool.

What happened to iWeb and web hosting?

Apple is first and foremost a hardware company. The company's laptops and desktops are almost breathtaking. That's saying something, considering the blasé beige boxes from which personal computing really grew. Its Smartphones are life-changing (I listen to audio books while the unit's GPS tracks my route, calculates my split times and posts the results to the Web all while I'm checking my calendar, Tweeting and returning email and maybe even making or receiving a phone call) and changed the way millions leverage smooth intuitive gestures to navigate a stunning variety of applications on display-dominated devices.

Services, though, are another issue. Sure, AppleCare is a no brainer, and users new to Apple will find One to One services a rewarding investment. But Mobile Me proved Apple isn't successful in everything it tries. With little fanfare Apple's Mobile Me web hosting service simply ended. And what happened to those businesses that built their websites using iWeb, which published websites easily straight to Mobile Me? They're finding the application harder to find; it's not even promoted within new versions of iLife. Those relying upon Apple to provide an application to design websites and a service to host the site unceremoniously found themselves out in the cold and having to turn to third parties.

Business-grade solutions

Businesses and enterprise organizations needing to synchronize email and calendars will be much better served using a Microsoft Exchange server. Or, if developing and maintaining an Exchange backend infrastructure is too burdensome, these firms can purchase hosted Exchange services from a variety of reliable providers including Go Daddy, Microsoft or Rackspace. Exchange is simply a more robust, more proven, more reliable messaging platform. That's not to say iCloud can't catch up, but I'd wait before moving my business' critical email and calendaring functions to an Apple-powered service.

As for audio, video, and file backup and synchronization, I'm not convinced iCloud can manage the rigors of a true business environment. My consulting firm employs only 25 people, yet we maintain some 25GB of critical documents and files. The total doesn't even include photos or video. My own personal audio and video library exceeds 1.1 terabytes alone, so iCloud's Photo Stream, which only tracks 1,000 of my latest images, won't work. The free iCloud service, meanwhile, provides only 5GB of data storage, although additional capacity can be purchased at reasonable rates.

The real question for businesses is do they want to try synchronizing several hundred gigabytes of data across wireless connections? Probably not. While iCloud, again, is awesome for personal use, businesses will find themselves better served by a terminal server parked in a secure data center, VPN access to a corporate server, or another cloud-based file sharing solution that ensures only authorized users securely access corporate data.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

15 comments
DanielRP
DanielRP

I cannot agree on that right now, simply because of the amount of calls I receive from clients where it just simply doesn't work or does not sync files properly. After a few more years and it's matured, then maybe...But right now it's not reliable enough. And if it's not reliable enough for consumers, then I have to agree it's no where near enough for business.

rsaunders
rsaunders

Businesses and enterprise organizations needing to synchronize email and calendars will be much better served by Zimbra Exchange server. There are viable alternatives to Exchange which are also worthy of consideration.

spineres
spineres

Apple has finally given up on trying to get enterprise right. Anyone who has worked with MobileMe realizes how messed up Apple is in the enterprise realm. It is amazing that the most "valuable" company in the world can't get a reliable enterprise solution. I had to laugh when Apple announced Azure as their cloud based platform! Security? I agree with sysop that employees with USB drives are WAY more risky than worrying about someone in a server farm reading your files. I would also rate a local backup failure or fire as a much greater risk than cloud data theft. We are just going back to the mainframe data structure that we came from which makes sense from a security standpoint, but our access to the data and local manipulation has increased dramatically. I appreciated SugarSync's notification service that lets notifies me on all activity on my cloud drives/files. You can have your finger on the pulse at all times if you like.

phil_swift
phil_swift

Cloud is just a fancy name for a mainframe server joined to you by Broadband, ADSL, DSL, 'Leased Line' etc to your device. It's all been done before and is the reason people changed to keeping data and the 'family jewels' in their own domain years ago. Cloud is risky and 'all your eggs in one basket' is not good for data retention. Plus there is the privacy issue. Why would you keep your data on someone else's server and pay them as well. Plus there is the conspiracy theory of what is being done with your data. Natwest/RBS, outsourcing and incompetent liars jump to mind. If you want to keep it safe, keep it close.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

The biggest security risk to any company is the employees, not hackers or viruses or competing businesses (or China) but your employees. That is why we do security clearances both before hiring and ongoing during employment. Why do I want to add a whole other companies employees to my risk surface? Is Apple going to let me audit them for their employees security clearances? it's not like we will lose any employees if we go cloud, our risk surface in our own office will not drop but instead we will be adding a bunch of cloud provider employees to it. And that doesn't even touch on the added risk of hackers, software bugs and the internet transit from cloud to user. What it comes down to is not just do I trust the cloud provider but do I trust each and every employee that could have access to the data or servers. I trust our employees because we do security checks, up to and including secret level 3. This is done before you step in the door and then again every few years with random checks for employees in particular positions, including IT. Does your cloud provider do that? Do they let you audit them and their processes? Unless they can prove by audit that their employees are as trust worthy as your own why would you even think of using them? I hope this helps,

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Before you put your business data onto a cloud service (particularly a 'home user' style one) read the small print VERY CAREFULLY on the service. You don't want to have a nasty surprise bite you AFTER you've migrated several gigs of sensitive data. A good rule of thumb is: If it's built for the home user, it's not robust enough for business. This isn't always true, but in my experience, most of the time it is.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I would not host anything on GoDaddy after hearing numerous reports of them making it difficult to migrate to another service should you ever want to leave.

stoneyh
stoneyh

I agree with every point made here but I would not stop at iCloud. I really like iCloud or Sky drive as a personal service. Personally I use Skydrive for my personal storage needs (I'm a Windows guy) but I have two college students that use iPad and iCloud and its a great solution. That stated, neither service (or any mass-consumption cloud solution for that matter) is suited for business unless you have a very small amount of data and users. If you have an enterprise level need for full time access and control of your data and collaboration resources the "cloud" is not a viable solution.

spineres
spineres

What other Exchange alternatives are there other than Zimbra? Tried it and ended up with usability issues with my Outlook worshippers.

robo_dev
robo_dev

Vetting employees is a good idea, but you have to build controls to monitor and detect when your sensitive data is accessed, and when it goes out the door. There are lots of huge issues that can arise anytime you put your data in the hands of another company, whether it's in the cloud, or simply where your backup tapes are stored. The ability to truly audit 'the cloud' is a myth. The billion dollar question is whether all the IT governance and control processes can adapt to the cloud and either make it safe, or prove that it's not. The challenge, of course, is that business process owners don't like to hear the word 'No' and those in IT, IT Governance, and IT Audit are not all that good at saying the word No.

rhonin
rhonin

There is a reason other than the article states on why more and more big and security conscious businesses are avoiding the iCloud. I know at my work, the iCloud is severely restricted and Siri is not allowed,

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

With GoDaddy you also have to wonder about the way they support the US government/law enforcement/judicial system with regards to investigations and shutdowns of domains. There's been a number of cases over the last few years where they've received notification that a domain may be suspect and they've shut it down, out of hand. The jotform fiasco comes to mind. Now, I'm all for GoDaddy taking a stance on malware sites but to simply shutdown domains without warning and without investigation is a worry. Imagine if your website was considered to be using malware-style techniques somehow (aggressive mailshots, unusual authentication mechanisms or forms etc.) of if a user of your site posted something potentially damaging. How would you feel when GoDaddy take down your domain with no explanation or checking of the facts? OK - so I admit, it's highly unlikely for most of us. I just wish GoDaddy weren't quite as quick to capitulate. I mean, look what happened over the SOPA legislation. It's all fuel that says 'be wary of GoDaddy - you can never be quite sure how they'll react' I sure as hell wouldn't use them. Which is a shame as all registrars and ISPs really should have a strong anti-malware stance to make it better for us all. GoDaddy's heart may be in the right place, but it's head isn't. In business, that matters.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The points raised aren't restricted to Apple's services. There are plenty of consumer-oriented cloud services that are equally ill-suited for business use. I wouldn't trust business data to any free service; as noted, they can disappear with little or no warning.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

"This is your reminder to turn me off" :)

robo_dev
robo_dev

If the business data is the Coca-Cola formula, then perhaps putting it online is not a good idea, while if the cloud data is stuff that's publicly available anyway, than why not? A bigger issue is that the Apple terms and conditions may not even allow their cloud services to be used for commercial purposes (for personal use only). Therefore the Apple police will come for you.