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How SMB's can use "The Cloud" without getting snowed in

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We frequently get the question: "We've been thinking about moving our IT to "The Cloud"...does this make sense?

The response typically is "it depends".

It is exceptionally rare that moving all key IT infrastructure to the cloud is logical or cost-effective.  The vast majority of cloud implementations are actually hybrid systems with some infrastructure and processes remaining onsite and some offsite.

Lets talk about what "The Cloud" or "cloud-based" refers to.  Typically this means that rather than having the particular infrastructure for a system onsite, it exists typically across the internet at another location.  The services are available to users, but if they asked to see the equipment you would not be able to show them because its in "The Cloud" (the internet).

Cloud-based infrastructure has been around for many, many years.  Compuserve (bet you haven't heard that in a long time), AOL and Hotmail are examples of cloud-based services.  Outside of email, however, lets consider placing highly critical business processes in the cloud.  What would we be looking for which would make this an attractive option?

  • Cost - actually, no...cloud-based infrastructure is almost universally more expensive in terms of cost of ownership than in-house owned equipment when you look over time
  • Reduced management costs - this depends upon what is being cloud-based...if your are looking at Quickbooks Online you won't have to manage upgrades or manage the server on which it resides.  If you are cloud-basing a database server, you are typically still responsible for all management, backup, upgrades, etc.  In other words your IT management costs likely do not drop in this case.
  • Available from anywhere on the Internet - of course
  • Redundancy - part of the objective of critical cloud-based infrastructure is that redundancy should always be part of the deal.  Part of the premium which you pay should be that the system is always up, highly available
  • Investment is low - initial acquisition cost is extremely low, especially in comparison with building your own redundancy.
  • Someone else is handling the hardware and software upgrades, and in a way which prevents or minimizes downtime for your organization.

So what are some key ways that SMB's can use "The Cloud" to reduce their risk?  Dolce Vita has managed migrations to cloud environments for:

  • Accounting - moved clients from on-premise versions of accounting packages to cloud-based installations or to online versions
  • Specialized database servers - migrations of SQL servers from on-premise to either hosted servers or other cloud-based redundant environments - this was done in part due to environmental concerns for server equipment or because uptime was sufficiently important to require redundancy
  • Email - We have used hosted Exchange and hosted Sharepoint for our in-house email and have migrated clients to cloud-based email because of the critical nature of this for our businesses.  Having a server cluster for $10-12/month is a GREAT deal!
  • Business-specific critical databases such as client relationship management (CRM) or ERP - such as Autotask, Salesforce, etc.
  • Hosted VOIP phone systems - we use a cloud-based VOIP system without issues or regrets.  VOIP is very demanding in terms of infrastructure so it isn't necessarily for everyone.

What are the key "gotcha's" for cloud-based infrastructure?

  • Solid, redundant internet connection - if your critical process is cloud-based, and "The Cloud" has dried up and blown away what are you left with?  Typically a "Going out of Business" sign.
  • Use it mainly for processes requiring redundancy, typically we don't accept non-redundant services
  • Be sure to understand who is responsible for server or system management including system and database backups
  • For email systems, be sure you understand the costs and limitations of backups and archiving - in a legal action requiring discovery, the onus is ALWAYS on the business, not on the provider, to ensure email archiving is working and usable.
  • For any cloud-based VOIP infrastructure ensure that all internal IT issues such as bandwidth, traffic shaping, switching, and quality of service (QOS) are addressed, and be certain that at least a limited non-production test is done to ensure your environment will support VOIP adequately.

Call Dolce Vita today to talk about cloud based systems and to see whether this makes sense for your business.  We can promise answers, but not "smoke".

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