IT Report: Should You Move Your Business to The Cloud?

By James Kudla,
President, Tarrytech Computer Consultants
www.tarrytech.com

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing uses multiple server-based resources via a digital network, such as the Internet. With cloud computing, businesses can pay for “computing power” like a utility without having the exorbitant costs of installing, hosting and supporting it. In fact, you are probably already experiencing the benefits of cloud computing in some way but hadn’t realized it. Below are a number of clouds computing applications, also called SaaS or “software as a service,” you might be using:

  • Gmail, Hotmail or other free e-mail accounts
  • Facebook
  • NetSuite, Salesforce
  • Constant Contact, Exact Target, Aweber or other e-mail broadcasting services
  • Zoomerang, SurveyMonkey and other survey tools
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • All things Google (search, AdWords, maps, etc.)

If you think about it, almost every single application you use today can be (or already is) being put “in the cloud” where you can access it and pay for it via your browser for a monthly fee or utility pricing. You don’t purchase and install software but instead access it via an Internet browser.

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.

Of course, these aren’t great options for all businesses. Google Apps doesn’t (currently) integrate with many line-of-business applications, which presents a deal breaker for using this service. For example, if you like using Microsoft’s Excel or Word to pull reports or create documents from your line of business application, you might not be able to do that with Google Apps.

Microsoft’s Office 365 is too early in beta to risk moving your critical company operations to at this point – not to mention a number of other limitations that would make it a poor choice for a business, including the fact that you get zero help desk support. If something goes wrong, there isn’t a customer service help desk you can call for support or assistance. But again, it’s a perfect example of where we are going with cloud computing.

Pros And Cons Of Moving To The Cloud

As you read this section, keep in mind there is no “perfect” solution. All options – be it an in-house network or a cloud solution – has both upsides and downsides. And which option has to be determined on a case-by-case scenario before you can come to a complete conclusion on which option will work for you. (Warning: Do not let a cloud expert tell you there is only “one way” of doing something.) Most companies end up with a hybrid solution where some of their applications are in the cloud and some are still hosted and maintained from an in-house server. We’ll discuss more of this in a later section; however, here are the general pros and cons of cloud computing:

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. Not only do you save money on software licenses, but hardware (servers and workstations) as well as in IT support and upgrades. In fact, we save our clients an average of 10% to 20% when we move some or part of their network functionality to the cloud. So if you hate constantly writing big, fat checks for IT upgrades, you’ll really want to look into cloud computing.
  • Ability to access your desktop and/or applications from anywhere and any device. If you travel a lot, have remote workers or prefer to use an iPad while traveling and a laptop at your house, cloud computing will give you the ability to work from any of these devices.
  • Disaster recovery and backup are automated. The server in your office is extremely vulnerable to a number of threats including viruses, human error, hardware failure, software corruption and, of course, physical damage due to a fire, flood or other natural disaster. If your server was in the cloud and (God forbid) your office was reduced to a pile of rubble, you could purchase a new laptop and be back up and running within the same day. This would NOT be the case if you had a traditional network and were using tape drives, CDs, USB drives or other physical storage devices to back up your system.
  • Plus, like a public utility, cloud platforms are far more robust and secure than your average business network because they can utilize economies of scale to invest heavily into security, redundancy and failover systems making them far less likely to go down.
  • It’s faster, cheaper and easier to set up new employees. If you have a seasonal workforce or a lot of turnover, cloud-computing will not only lower your costs of setting up new accounts, but it will make it infinitely faster. You will no longer need to purchase software licenses for Office products, or operating system client licenses. You will essentially be able to rent them for the time period you need them. In most cases, “virtual desktops” can be provisioned for users in minutes, and new staff can be fully operational just as quickly.
  • You use it without having to “own” it. More specifically, you don’t own the responsibility of having to install, update and maintain the infrastructure. Think of it similar to living in a condo where someone else takes care of the building maintenance, repairing the roof and mowing the lawn, but you still have the only key to your section of the building and use of all the facilities. This is particularly attractive for companies who are new or expanding, but don’t want the heavy outlay of cash for purchasing and supporting an expensive computer network.
  • It’s a “greener” technology that will save on power and your electric bill. For some smaller companies, the power savings will be too small to measure. However, for larger companies with multiple servers who are cooling a hot server room and keep their servers running 24/7/365, the savings are considerable.
  • The Internet going down. While you can mitigate this risk by using a commercial grade Internet connection and maintaining a second backup connection, there is a chance that you’ll lose Internet connectivity, making it impossible to work from your office. However, this does not mean that your business necessarily stops. We have configured many users’ home PCs so that they can access the same information from their home offices. In some cases, we have configured mobile telephones as “hot spots” so that office PCs can communicate with the Internet and continue to work on the mobile phone as a disaster recovery device. Some applications also allow you to synchronize your data to your local PCs, so you can continue to work in offline mode, where data re-synchs to the cloud when Internet services resume.
  • Data security. Many people don’t feel comfortable having their data in some offsite location. This is a valid concern and before you choose any cloud provider, you need to find out more information about where they are storing your data, how it’s encrypted, who has access and how you can get it back. You’ll find more information on this under the “What To Look For When Hiring a Cloud Integrator” later on in this document. Keep in mind, however, that most companies that host offsite servers or applications have much greater resources and larger budgets for security than your typical office network. In most instances, this allows them to provide a cloud product that is more secure than the equivalent solution would be in your own office.
  • Certain line-of-business applications won’t work in the cloud. For example, you might use QuickBooks for your accounting data. Depending on the cloud solution that you select to provide this service, you may not have access to the specific version you need, or it may not allow you to install some of your plug-ins from third party products used to enhance your QuickBooks experience. Another example might be a product that requires a hardware “dongle” to prove that you have a valid license. Although there may be ways to work around this, it may require you to maintain a physical server on your office network.

Cons Of Cloud Computing:

  • Compliance Issues. There are a number of laws and regulations such as Gramm-Leach-Bliley, Sarbanes-Oxley 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. Many 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; but as the business owner, it’s YOUR neck on the line if the data is compromised so it’s important that you ask for some type of validation that they are meeting the various compliance regulations on an ongoing basis.

Different Types Of Cloud Solutions Explained:

Pure Cloud: This is where all your applications and data are put on the other side of the firewall (in the cloud) and accessed through various devices (laptops, desktops, iPads, phones) via the Internet.

Hybrid Cloud: Although “pure” cloud computing has valid applications, for many, it's downright scary. And in some cases is NOT the smartest move due to compliance issues, security restrictions or performance issues. 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 premise. This gives you the ability to enjoy the costs savings and benefits of cloud computing where it makes the most sense without risking your entire environment.

Point Solutions: Another option would be simply to put certain applications, like SharePoint or Microsoft Exchange, in the cloud while keeping everything else onsite. Since e-mail is usually a critical application that everyone needs and wants access to on the road and on various devices (iPad, smart phone, etc.) then often this is a great way to get advanced features of Microsoft Exchange without the cost of installing and supporting your own in-house Exchange server.

Public Cloud Vs. Private Cloud: A public cloud is a service that anyone can tap into with a network connection and a credit card. They are shared infrastructures that allow you to pay-as-you-go and managed through a self-service web portal. Private clouds are essentially self-built infrastructures that mimic public cloud services, but are on premise. 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.

For more information about cloud computing or to get an IT assessment for your business, please contact James Kudla at Tarrytech: jkudla@tarrytech.com