Considerations for Moving Your Business to the Cloud
In fact, in a very short period, it became a competitive necessity for factories to take advantage of the lower-cost option being offered by public utilities. Almost overnight, thousands of steam engines and electric generators were rendered obsolete and left to rust next to the factories they used to power. Today, we are in a similar transformation following a similar course. The only difference is that instead of cheap and plentiful electricity, advancements in technology and Internet connectivity are driving down the costs of computing power. With cloud computing, businesses can pay for “computing power” like a utility without having the exorbitant costs of installing, hosting, and supporting it on premise.
Below are several popular cloud computing applications currently in use that reside in a cloud environment:
- Gmail, Hotmail or other free e-mail accounts
- NetSuite, Salesforce
- Constant Contact, Exact Target, AWeber or other e-mail broadcasting services
- Zoomerang, SurveyMonkey and other survey tools
Office 365 and Google Apps are perfect examples of the cloud computing trend; for an inexpensive monthly fee, you can get full access and use of Office applications that used to cost a few hundred dollars to purchase. And, since these apps are being powered by the cloud provider, you don’t need an expensive desktop with lots of power to use them; just a simple Internet connection will do on a laptop, desktop or tablet.
Pros And Cons Of Moving To The Cloud
All options of supporting company’s needs have upsides and downsides that need to be evaluated on a case-by-case scenario. It is imperative that all options are reviewed prior to a decision on which software suite is selected. Of course, the best option may be a hybrid solution where some applications and functionality are in the cloud, and some are still hosted and maintained from an in-house server.
Pros Of Cloud Computing:
- Lowered IT costs. This is probably the single most compelling reason why companies choose to move their network, all or in part, to the cloud. Cost is realized by the user on annual software licenses and hardware (servers and workstations). Additionally, IT support and software upgrades are no longer born by the business for those services moved to the cloud
- Ability to access your desktop and/or applications from anywhere and any device. Remote workers or traveling assets in a cloud computing environment will experience no loss in capability outside the office
- Disaster recovery and backup are automated. The server in your office is extremely vulnerable to threats, including viruses, human error, hardware failure, software corruption and, of course, physical damage due to a fire, flood, or other natural disaster. With your server located in the cloud, the ability to conduct business would not be severely hampered; a new laptop or other device being introduced, and the company would be back up and running within the same day.
- Cloud platforms offer a greater amount of security than most business networks since their providers have invested heavily in security. It’s important to remember the company will still need to invest in proper protection for your local environment and the new cloud environment, working carefully with your cloud provider. Also, it’s important to review needs for redundancy and availability with a cloud implementation specialist to ensure that potential upgrades fit within budgetary constraints.
- Capital expenditures are reduced as the company does not own the equipment and software. These are typically classified operational expenses
- No capital outlay for hardware when starting or expanding capabilities are required. Maintenance for this off site solution can be performed by a reputable MSP so as to ensure proper performance
- The adoption of this solution is better for the environment. This technology will save power and reduce electric utility costs.
Cons Of Cloud Computing:
- The Internet suffering an outage. This risk can be mitigated by using a commercial grade Internet connection and maintaining a second backup connection. With complete loss if the internet connection to a company there is a chance you’ll lose Internet connectivity, making it impossible to work.
- Data security may be viewed as a negative to moving to the cloud as data resides off site. While this is valid concern, research should be done regarding where the data is being stored, how it is encrypted to more information about where your data is being stored by the provider. Is it encrypted? How? Who has access to it? How do you retrieve it when you need to? Ideally, your data will be stored in a data center with many levels of security, including physical security (i.e., level 3 or 4 data centers)
- Certain line-of-business applications won’t work in the cloud. Make sure the cloud integrator you are using verifies you will not have issues running your software suite.
- Compliance Issues. There are laws and regulations, such as Gramm-Leach-Bliley, Sarbanes-Oxley, FINRA and HIPAA, that require companies to control and protect their data and certify that they have knowledge and control over who can access the data, who sees it and how and where it is stored. In a public cloud environment, this can be a problem as some cloud providers won’t tell you specifically where your data is stored. Most cloud providers have SAS 70 certifications, which require them to be able to describe exactly what is happening in their environment, how and where the data comes in, what the provider does with it and what controls are in place over the access to and processing of the data. It is important the client you ask for and receive assurances the storage company is meeting the various compliance regulations on an ongoing basis.
Transitioning To a Cloud-Based Network
When done right, a migration to Office 365 or another cloud solution should be like any other migration. Planning should occur to ensure a plan, including prerequisites, is developed and a migration plan put in place. Each solution is unique so issue will often arise during and after the migration takes place. Every company has its own unique environment, so it’s practically impossible to try and plan for every potential pitfall; however, here are topics that should be discussed before making the switch to the cloud to mitigate potential problems.
A primary concern is how much downtime may be realized as part of the transition. Some organizations cannot afford any downtime, while others can do without their network for a day or two. Specific needs regarding downtime should be documented and built into the transition plan. It is critical that the IT provider has a solid plan to prevent downtime outside what has been planned for.
Also, slow performance after the transition. It would be wise to operate your network and software in a test environment (sometimes called a sandbox) before making the full migration. As noted previously, every environment is slightly different, so it’s best to test before the transition if possible. This includes testing of third-party applications as well.
There are different types of cloud solutions that may be employed. The first is pure cloud. In this solution, all applications and data are put on the other side of a firewall (in the cloud) and accessed through various devices (laptops, desktops, iPads, phones) via the Internet.
The second type is a hybrid cloud solution. Although “pure” cloud computing has many valid applications, in some cases it is not the best solution. This can be due to compliance issues,
security restrictions, or speed and performance concerns. A hybrid cloud enables you to put certain pieces of existing IT infrastructure (say, storage and e-mail) in the cloud, and the remainder of the IT infrastructure stays on-premises. This provides the cost savings and benefits of cloud computing where it makes the most sense without moving your entire environment off site.
Single point solutions allow for certain applications, like SharePoint or Microsoft Exchange, in the cloud while keeping everything else on-site. Since e-mail is usually a critical application that is ubiquitous in use and is required to allow off site access (traveling, work-from-home) on various devices (iPad, smartphone, etc.), these apps can be placed in the cloud for widespread use. This type of solution will nullify the cost of installing and supporting an inhouse email exchange server.
Lastly, use of public cloud Vs. private cloud should be reviewed. A public cloud is a service that anyone can tap into with a network connection. They are shared infrastructures that allow pay-as-you-go and are managed through a self-service web portal. Conversely, private clouds are essentially self-built infrastructures that mimic public cloud services but are on-premises. Private clouds are often the choice of companies who want the benefits of cloud computing but don’t want their data held in a public environment.
Transferring operations to the cloud can be a daunting task. However, the advantages of security, access and cost often provide the needed ROI to justify the change from inhouse systems. Clearly the transition should be handled by professional organizations that are expert in planning and implementing this transition. Strategic planning with an experienced MSP will aid in ensuring the right solution is used and the transition goes smoothly.
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