For many companies, the question is whether to keep their data in-house or on a cloud server. According to Sherpa Software's Rick Wilson, Solutions Architect, either solution could be applicable.

"Deploying a solution in the cloud requires trusting some aspects of your security to a third party whereas in-house deployments mean you have direct control over those same security concerns," said Wilson. "You have to consider if your hosting provider can demonstrate that it has proper physical security procedures in place, if they are responsible for maintaining the server infrastructure, and how the cloud system will be monitored for software threats like DoS (Denial of Service) attacks."

Deployment to a cloud-based solution has the most to do with a company's risk tolerance. For example, some companies flatly refuse to place their sales information in the cloud. Yet CRM software like Salesforce is a poster child for successful cloud-based solutions.

A company's business model also plays into the decision. If a workforce is widely dispersed, virtual or heavily reliant on mobile access, cloud services make sense because they support those scenarios very well.

Precipitated by the many concerns we have been discussing, we have also seen the introduction of a hybrid cloud approach.  Sherpa's Attender Online SaaS platform is an example of this type of approach.  The management components and configuration data are hosted in the cloud while policy enforcement is handled by local agents within your company.  This means information never leaves your network.  This secure hybrid approach provides all the benefits of the cloud without the risk.

So what should a company look for in a cloud service? Wilson cites these factors:

Make sure you understand where the service is being hosted. Some larger cloud services run their own hosting data centers but often the cloud service is outsourced to providers like Amazon, Microsoft or Rackspace.
Ask what precautions or industry standards they adhere to from a security perspective.
Understand how your data is being backed up. In the event of a natural disaster this can be very important.
Have a contingency plan for service outages. Even large providers like Amazon occasionally experience outages.