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In Cloud We Trust
Several factors determine whether cloud computing is right for your laboratory
By Robert Gitman
Frequently touted as the future of business technology, cloud computing's biggest benefit is that it levels the playing field by making enterprise-quality technology affordable for all businesses. In fact, it's now possible to run your laboratory completely in the cloud. And truthfully, anyone who uses a smartphone is already using cloud computing to access music, email, calendars, photos, videos, and backup apps, and for posting to social media. However, not everyone is on board with this concept. For every person espousing the benefits of cloud computing, there is an opponent with an equally powerful argument exposing a risk or disadvantage. With so many differing opinions, how can you possibly decide what is best for the operation of your dental laboratory? Let's examine some of the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing.
Improved Disaster Recovery
Moving your business data to the cloud can make retrieving data in the event of a hardware failure easier and less expensive. You can configure your backups to be continuous and automatic to your cloud provider’s servers in order to ensure you'll be able to recover the most up-to-date information in case of an emergency. If the cloud provider is accredited with ISO and other key industry organizations, security standards are likely to be more robust in your provider’s environment than in your laboratory.
Increased Collaboration and Flexibility
Cloud computing centralizes your data, which means that you can set up various levels of security so that your employees and your dentist customers can access your company data from any location, with any device that has web access. Storing data in the cloud also gives you limitless storage capacity. There is never a need to worry about running out of space on your server — you simply request more storage from your cloud provider and pay for the incremental difference in cost as your storage needs grow.
Cloud computing is very cost efficient for software use, maintenance, and upgrades. Traditional server and desktop software requires a substantial up-front investment — just add up the licensing fees for multiple users for all your software applications. In addition, cloud computing offers reduced costs for IT services to install software and firmware on servers and workstations, perform backups, etc. The cloud is available at much cheaper rates and can significantly lower your laboratory’s IT expenses. And with cloud computing, you will not be faced with purchasing servers or the cost of replacing servers every five years.
Running all or some of your laboratory software applications in the cloud is great, as long as you can maintain a consistent Internet connection with adequate bandwidth. If any one of your cloud-based service providers loses connectivity, or if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) experiences an outage, you're out of business until that Internet connection returns. Even the best servers go down occasionally, so if you decide to use this method, it's important to implement a backup plan (eg, cellular network connection).
While cloud computing is relatively inexpensive to start up, depending on your needs, an in-house solution may cost less over time. Purchasing servers and installing a local area network (LAN) are definitely large capital investments, and you also need to consider ongoing IT maintenance costs. Be sure to compare all the costs (including tax deductions for interest and depreciation) for supporting both an in-house server and cloud-based service provider to see which option works best for your situation.
It boils down to whom you trust with your business data. Many people feel inherently ill at ease with having customer and employee data and financial records leaving the premises and stored off-site in their cloud provider’s data centers. Once your information leaves your LAN, it could be stored on any server in any country — which may affect your ability to retrieve the data as well as violate HIPAA or other laws protecting both patient and employee information. In performing your due diligence to choose the most reliable service provider, ask them about security issues along with their ability to provide encryption of files — and a method for you to decrypt files if you discontinue their service.
If you subscribe to an industry-specific cloud-based software to manage your laboratory, be certain that your data can be exported in a format that can be used by other cloud or in-house server software solutions. If your information is encrypted with a provider-dependent code, then it may be challenging to move your data when the cloud provider’s software and/or service no longer meet your needs.
Cloud computing appears to be a simple solution on the surface, but its effect on your laboratory operations can be far reaching. Be sure to compare all the costs and benefits for supporting both an in-house server or a cloud-based server to see which option works best for your situation. Perhaps a hybrid solution will work best where some applications are in the cloud and others are managed in-house. Use best practices to analyze your options and consult with an IT professional before finalizing your decision.
Robert Gitman is the Company Administrator at Thayer Dental Laboratory in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.