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Genuine cloud or cloud cuckoo land?


How can you tell if the provider you’re speaking with offers genuine cloud services or is simply playing at it? Cloud expert Jamie Costello provides accountants with three simple questions to ask companies the next time they come knocking.

18th Dec 2019
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Hardly a day goes by without accountants reading about the cloud or being approached by companies professing to offer cloud-based services for different areas of their businesses.

But there’s an issue: a lot of the cloud providers emerging today aren’t genuinely ‘cloud’ at all, but a hybrid of cloud and legacy technology. This can result not just in a clunky service for you and your firm but also put your clients’ data at risk.

As someone who worked as a senior engineer at Microsoft for many years, specifically in cloud-based technology, I am technically, all things considered, something of a cloud über-geek. While my friends watched Arsenal, I watched the cloud form and evolve.

So although, as my Paycircle colleagues will confirm, I can be very boring to be sat next to at the Xmas party, where I can be of use is helping accountants determine whether providers approaching them are genuinely cloud or just cloud cuckoo land.

Below are three simple questions you might want to ask a self-proclaimed cloud-based provider the next time they come knocking on your door. And if they don’t provide the correct answers, I suggest you give them a thoroughly wide berth.

Q1. Will you geo-replicate our clients’ data?

If the provider has no idea what you’re on about, get out of there sharpish. If they say there’s no need to, our servers are secure, ditto.

If they say, yes, of course we do, geo-replication of data provides a crucial layer of protection, they’re the real McCoy.

Geo-replication is built into any genuine cloud-based platform and means your clients’ data is stored in multiple distant physical locations to protect it in the event a particular server farm goes up in flames or comes under attack (cyber or terror).

Q2. Will my database in the cloud sync with my local database?

If the person you’re speaking to says ‘yes’ or ‘yes if you want it to’, leave the room immediately or hang up the phone. They are not a genuine cloud provider. If they say your data, once uploaded securely, will exist solely in the cloud, they are the real deal.

If it is constantly being synchronised between cloud and desktop, your clients’ data will be significantly more at risk of being hacked or stolen. Data is at its most vulnerable when it is being beamed up to or down from the cloud.

Q3. Do you provide automatic back-ups?

If the company you’re speaking to says no, you need to do that manually, get out of there quick-sharp. If they say yes, ask them how often. A proper cloud provider will be backing up your data at least every hour, usually several times an hour.

Warning: there’s a distinctly hybrid whiff to any cloud provider that requires you to manually back up your data. Manual back-ups are a legacy, near-Dickensian process that you simply will not find in a genuine cloud environment.


The three questions above are fairly cursory, admittedly, but they are more than enough to help you ascertain whether the company you’re speaking to is genuinely cloud or simply playing at it.

The cloud offers many advantages to the modern accountant, from the streamlining of key processes, saving time and money, to creating a much more flexible work environment, but what’s most important is that your clients’ data is secure.

The answers you’re given to these three simple questions will go some way to help answer that.


Replies (4)

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By ShayaG
18th Dec 2019 14:29

2) is an unusual point of view. Whatsapp, Google Mail, Exchange, and pretty much any mobile app that you care to mention have an architecture where data in the cloud is synced with local databases.

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By Jamie C
18th Dec 2019 21:16

That is very true however those services aren't (or shouldn't be) holding highly sensitive information which is subject to GDPR.

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Replying to Jamie C:
By ShayaG
19th Dec 2019 11:08

Just to clarify, is it your contention that it is illegal under GDPR to maintain a suitably configured database on a server you own?

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Replying to ShayaG:
By Jamie C
19th Dec 2019 12:20

No not at all! I'm thinking particularly of legacy software that has some cloud features bolted on.

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