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Head in clouds
Cloud computing – the concept, the pros and the cons

The phrase ‘cloud computing’ has become increasingly more commonplace recently, to the point of being ‘trendy’. Tech companies now use the exponential benefits of a ‘cloud’ environment and with the basic premise of ‘cloud computing’ reaching amazing levels of lifestyle integration with computers and tablets and phones synchronising reminders, contacts and events automatically and seamlessly; the future is ‘the cloud’! For some of you, cloud computing may still be somewhat alien. Here’s a very simple explanation of cloud computing.Traditionally when you buy a computer it comes with a black box. This is where all of your data – letters, spreadsheets, pictures and music – gets stored. The capacity of these boxes has grown exponentially over the years, but so too has the size of files you store and of course, the types of files you store. Restrictions with ‘local storage’ include: no access to your black box = no access to all those files; if it gets stolen/damaged/destroyed (unless you have a separate back up) you lose all your files; and if you love storing stuff digitally the black box runs out of space.

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With the wonderful invention of the worldwide web – where interconnectivity has become second nature – we can now connect to other peoples black boxes; much bigger black boxes that store more data, respond faster, can be accessed anywhere, are securely backed up and can link up to create synchronicity. Companies sell space on their black boxes and like most things, there is an economy of scale: one black box (a server) in your practice, may cost you £2,000 but, if that black box can support 1,000 practices, well… you see where I’m going with this. Space has become so readily available that some companies have started giving it away free. So, what’s not to like? Last September, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) released new guidelines for the use of cloud computing to underline that companies remain responsible for how personal data is looked after, even if they pass it to cloud network providers. The issue is, many of you are using cloud computing for serious business tasks, perhaps without realising it and certainly without realising the implications. As a professional healthcare provider, you have a legal obligation to conform to vehemently uphold legislation surrounding patient confidentiality, data protection and information governance. The ICO frequently publicise fines of £50,000 or more for breaches.

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