So you want to put your data in the cloud?

  • Posted Tue 25 October 2016

Every time you look up from your smartphone these days, someone is pointing to the cloud as the technology solution of choice. It seems to matter very little what problem you’re trying to solve. The cloud is the answer.

Whoever named the cloud must have had the soul of a poet. It’s a romantic image for what amounts to thousands of servers in climate-controlled data centers scattered around the globe. But there’s nothing poetic about the underlying reality. By opting for the cloud, you’ve given someone else control of your data, and made them responsible for storing, managing and protecting your information.

Is “cloud” just another name for fog?

Many point-of-sale (POS) system providers offer cloud-based systems, claiming that they give customers greater flexibility, reliability and security. When we were designing our portable POS systems at Shopbox Retail, we took a long, hard look at the cloud option and chose to go another way.

Here are four key reasons why we decided to keep Shopbox Retail, and our customers, out of the cloud:

The big thing with the cloud is figuring out who owns your information. When you put your data into someone’s cloud-based system, they own it (by contract, in most cases). And they anonymize your data and share it or sell it to others. If you’re a retailer using a cloud-based POS system, the inner workings of your store, up to and including your customer data, is no longer yours. If you have any privacy concerns about your customers and their data, you shouldn’t use the cloud.

The Internet can accomplish incredible things, but what you can do online will always be limited by bandwidth. When you move data from a local server to a cloud server, your system will be immensely slower, anywhere from 100 to 10,000 times slower. It’s limiting. You can’t have large product databases. You can’t process large invoices with multiple products. Transfering photos and other images requires a lot of bandwidth. That works fine in a local environment, but things can slow down significantly if there are any Internet issues.

If you’re doing pop-up stores and other temporary retail events, which are our expertise, bandwidth becomes an incredible liability. It limits where you can hold your events—not only by ruling out most remote locations, but also by making it hard to stage a successful event in crowded venues where multiple users reduces the bandwidth available to you. Even if you have a physical connection, you’re still sharing it with other users. As demand increases, your share of bandwidth decreases. And if Comcast goes down, you can’t make any sales. You can’t process transactions or ring up customers.

Depending on the size of your company, your IT department may be just you or it may include a number of people. Despite the hype, cloud services sometimes do go down. When that happens, neither you nor anyone else can do anything about it. You have no control. For example, a cloud-based POS system (we won’t name names) went down for four days in 2015. For four long days, no one who was using that system could make any sales.

With a locally hosted system, you control updates. That’s incredibly important for two reasons:

  • Companies used to be able to have a stable version of their POS system. That’s no longer possible in the cloud. One of the selling points of cloud-based systems is that you always have the latest version, because of frequent updates that are released as soon as they are available. The problem is that there are no longer any early adopters. Everyone is an early adopter. There is no opportunity to let companies work out the kinks before a widespread rollout—and you can’t roll back to a previous stable version if something goes wrong.

  • Chances are you’ve invested a lot of time and money in training your employees to use your POS system and the specialized interface that goes with it. Cloud services historically have had no reservations about updating their systems, with no customer consultation and often no warning. They may even change the interface. As a result, you may come in on a Tuesday morning and find that your system is completely unrecognizable and requires you to retrain all your employees.

From a security standpoint, the problem with putting all of your data in the cloud is that you’re running without backups, putting all your eggs in one basket, and trusting that the cloud system will never be corrupted. There is no backup-and-restore system in the cloud, so your POS system is vulnerable. If there is a security issue, you have no way to recover. If your data is gone, it’s gone.

With cloud-based POS systems, you can’t archive or protect your data. If someone hacks your email, you can restore your password and recover your mail. If someone hacks your POS system, you’re done.

Breaking through the cloud People today often talk about the cloud as though it is the future, and therefore inevitable, the only possible solution to nearly any problem that involves data. It isn’t. There are alternatives that offer equal or greater benefits with fewer liabilities.

It’s also worth remembering that along with whatever benefits the cloud may provide, it is also responsible for many of the unwanted advertisements and other intrusions in our personal lives and a number of unacceptable and unnecessary risks that businesses currently face.

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