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Should Your Business Be in the Cloud?

It May Be Time To Make The Move

Small businesses continue to hear “Take It to the Cloud” over and over yet rarely do people stop to explain the concept, advantages, disadvantages and risks. I hope this article helps small business owners determine if “The Cloud” is something that provides a strategic advantage or adds more risk.

Microsoft’s cloud commercials started the craze in October 2010. One of the three commercials focused on startup companies. The commercials have been fun and intriguing which is a trademark of Microsoft.

With three primetime commercial spots, I give full credit to Microsoft for making “The Cloud” a household term. Its true goal was to reach presidents and CEOs around the world to rebrand and re-stimulate an old concept, Application Software Provider (ASP).

First let me explain, at a high level, what cloud services mean. The expansion of the Internet during the 1990s brought about a new offering of hosted application computing called Application Service Providers. ASPs hosted and managed specialized business applications, with the goal of reducing cost by central administration and through the solution provider's specialization in a particular business application. The servers and storage that hosted these applications were in large datacenters around the country. The cloud hasn’t changed what ASP offered, but has simply re-branded the terminology around it.

Cloud providers like Microsoft, Rackspace and Amazon all provide access to your applications via the Internet. Your applications can be accessed from web browsers, desktops and mobile devices. The Cloud provider typically takes care of worrying about which servers and storage your application reside on. You are relieved from having to worry about hardware and refreshing it every five years.

There are many options for cloud computing:

  • Convert your existing servers to a virtual format and move them to the cloud as is. Afterwards, you would not have to worry about hardware, and you would access your servers securely over the Internet. These are called dedicated virtual machines. Sometimes your desktops are virtualized and hosted along with your servers to increase performance.
  • Move your company data off your servers onto new shared virtual servers at your cloud provider. This could apply for data shares (files), email, etc. Typically the application has to allow for slower connection speeds.
  • Leverage turn-key hosted applications where your data resides in a hosting company's own applications. Examples include Salesforce.com, SAP, etc. You may also hear this called "Software As A Service" (SAAS).

Moving to the cloud can be a complex decision for businesses. Many believe the cost will be lower, but that is not always the case. We recommend that you have a third party neutral assessment to see if it’s a good fit for your company.

Your business applications should be inventoried and assessed to see if they can be moved to a cloud environment without affecting performance to those applications. Cloud computing is not always about costs savings for companies but can be a great way to gain redundancy, resilience and remove the need to worry about replacing hardware every five years. The datacenters that house cloud applications offer 24/7 resilience and redundancy in all components. Most companies cannot afford to have redundant dedicated A/C, power, Internet, servers, storage, etc.

The key will be your business applications. If your company uses industry specific applications that require dedicated internal servers and databases, the decision to move to the cloud can be much more difficult. If applications include email, file sharing and other more standard or web based applications, then “The Cloud”could be a perfect fit.

Cloud Advantages:

  1. Removes high initial cost of hardware and software associated with servers, storage and applications
  2. Removes inconveniences associated with upgrading hardware and software every five years
  3. Can remove need for workstations and PCs in the office
  4. Allows remote workers access to applications from anywhere
  5. Allows quick provisioning of servers for new needs

Cloud Disadvantages:

  1. Depending on the business software applications, the five year recurring costs are typically higher than purchasing hardware and software every five years
  2. Office Internet connectivity becomes mission critical. The office Internet connection has to be up to allow your employees to reach your business applications
  3. Specialized business applications may not perform as well as having them internal
  4. Data control can be a concern with some cloud providers when your data is stored inside their hosted applications
  5. Security of your data and applications has to be closely inspected to ensure it is not vulnerable

Should Your Business be in the Clouds? (Initial Check list) Yes No

1. Do you use specialized business applications that run on internal servers?

2. Do most of your applications run in a Web browser?

3. Do you have redundant Internet connections to prevent the Internet going offline?

4. Is your server and storage hardware reaching five years in age?

5. Do you have more than thirty (30) users that work out of one office?

6. Is your workforce remote?

7. Do you need your systems to be up 24/7/365?

8. Do you feel confident about your IT provider and the stability of your IT systems?

9. Do you have a full proof backup and recovery strategy in place?

10. Can your business survive without your IT systems for a substantial amount of time?

Blake White is president of Endurance IT Services. Endurance IT Services is a locally-owned firm specializing in serving businesses IT needs in Hampton Roads. Endurance focuses on services and does not resell hardware, software or cloud services. When companies provide both there is a tendency to recommend more than the client’s true business requirements dictate.

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