Cloud Services and the Photographer

Posted on March 1, 2013

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Everyone sees the advertisements with a constant call to action to join such and such cloud services. As photographers, you probably are using cloud services and don’t even know it. For instance, there is a good possibility that you are already using a “cloud” and down’t even know it. For example, if you have a Google, Yahoo, or Hotmail e-mail account, you are already part of the “cloud”. Other services include slide show creation (presentation), word processor, spreadsheet, image editing, accounting, customer relationship management (CRM), social networking, image sharing, internet storage and backup, marketing, project management, web content, and many software as a service (SaaS) applications. SaaS is a model where the application and the data being utilized are centrally hosted in the “cloud” or Internet. Some of the biggest names are Google, Salesforce, Citrix, Veracode, Logmein, Rightnow Technologies, Ultimate Software, Kenexa, Netsuite, and Constant Contact. If you think about this, you will see you are already part of the “cloud”.

What should you be concerned with about using these “Cloud” services? The first is security and ownership of content you use on that cloud service. Can they adequately protect the information you have entrusted them with? As a photographer, do you have some sort of privacy requirement for the images you take? For instance, some of the clients I have require I be confidential in the images I take and it isn’t necessarily just those who I shoot for boudoir images. Think about those people. Read that contract you agree to before using that service. For instance, if you use Instagram now, you have agreed to share copyright with ANY images you upload or use on this service with them. This means they can sell your images and give you nothing even if you delete the images and close your account. Other social networks tried this with incredible backlash in the past. You can expect almost any “free” service over the Internet to make a grab for your images and information. Can you live with what ever you put on that service being given to someone who competes directly with you or published out in the public? If so, seriously consider not using those services. Some other aspects to consider are what protections are put in place to protect the systems that host the application? Are there multiple locations? Can just anyone walk into the facility and access a system? Is the data stored in an encrypted format? Do they periodically test the system for vulnerabilities through cracking/hacking and “pen testing”? Are there firewalls and load balancing being used and correctly? Are there any policy and compliance measures such as PCI, HIPAA, ISO 27001? Is there a disaster recovery plan, and if so, what is it? This is all security and things to consider. I realize I could have written a full post just on this topic.

Reliability is another of those things you need to look at for a “cloud” service. What is the point in using a service if it isn’t available for you or your clients, right? Back in the 1990s, there was a rule of thumb that said that if a critical IT system was down for more than a day, that organization would fail within five years. You don’t want your business to fail because of a service you can’t access. Reliability is usually described in “uptime” in terms of a percentage. Uptime is the ability of the service to be available to be used and continue being used. In the IT world, system administrators shoot for “Five Nines” for reliability. What does that mean? Two nines is 99% uptime. That translates to 3.5 days of downtime per year or 1.5 hours per week. Three nines or 99.9% drops the time to 8.75 hours of downtime per year or 10 mins per week. Five nines drops it to 5.25 minutes per year or 6 seconds per week.

The next thing to think about is what it will cost you. Thing impacting your price include features, applications, commitment to the service, support options, and the number of places that you access the application. Most offer tiers or multiple levels of pricing. Key is buying what is important to you and that you will use, and not pay for more than you do. Sometimes, the free version is all you need. Making this choice more difficult is that some charge in different ways – usually the more frequent the payment and less commitment you have, the more expensive the service. Support agreements also add more expense but if you don’t have an IT person on staff to figure things out, this may be the best money you have spent. Finally, the number of seats or people that use the service can impact the price.

Finally, there is compatibility. This includes how easy it is to deploy the new service. Can you just load a data file you already have or will it take time re-enter all the data on the system you currently use? Can you export or migrate off that system easily, or are you locked in once you use it? How hard is it to administer the service? Lastly, can the people who need to use the service get the job done efficiently with this service or do they need to be sent to training? This is all compatibility with your organization.

Before someone says something in a comment, I didn’t include cover anything on features and functionality of the service. This is a serious concern, too, as you don’t want to buy something you won’t ever use or that isn’t functional in your organization. I briefly mentioned functionality in compatibility. Make sure the service offers you something you need and will use. This is just like investing in software that you purchase to run your business or use in creating deliverables to your client.

In this post, we looked at who and what a cloud service is, and some of the things to evaluate before you jump into a long term agreement with one of the services: security, reliability, price, compatibility, features and functionality.

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