Over the past few years, much of the work we have done with clients involves some aspect of Cloud Computing. I thought I’d list out a few thoughts for anyone interested. For the sake of brevity, I just listed the main points that seem to come up frequently. There are many more, but these will get you started. As always, I’ll be glad to discuss any of them with you if you have questions.
1. “The Cloud” is not one single thing, it is comprised of an array of services offered by thousands of vendors across the Internet. Some may be of use to you, others probably aren’t. Much like you get services at home from various power, water, waste, yard maintenance, cleaning, painting, and maintenance providers, shifting services to the cloud allows you to pay for the service you are using. You don’t need to own the lawnmower and edger, you just want to know that the yard will look nice.
2. Just because you move one segment of your data to the cloud doesn’t mean you have to move everything there. It might make sense for your specific situation, but it isn’t a requirement. It might make sense to move your email first, but keep a local file server and have a cloud based backup system.
3. Most of our clients find that a hybrid strategy makes the most sense, leveraging public cloud services for some applications such as line of business, CRM, or ERP functions, while keeping highly sensitive or customized data and applications in a private cloud that they have more control over.
4. Private cloud usually provides more control, flexibility and performance, public cloud provides specific applications at a lower price. Both offer freedom from hardware and software upgrades cycles. Don’t assume either is secure, ask questions pertinent to your particular requirements. Don’t assume that all private clouds are equal. One may be running on a couple servers in someone’s basement, and another might have high end enterprise equipment. A tour to actually see the datacenter and meet the support personnel is a very good idea if possible.
5. Migrating data and applications to the cloud doesn’t always directly save money, it just shifts expenditures from Capital expenses to Operational expenses. Potential cloud savings may come in terms of operational efficiency, scalability, security, or flexibility rather than direct costs. Running an ROI analysis that incorporates as many aspects as possible will help you analyze and make a good decision.
6. The most important aspect of introducing cloud services into your organization is thinking through the workflow. How does your team members operate currently, how is the optimal way to operate, and can the cloud give you the workflow desired? If the design doesn’t support the workflow, the cloud deployment will fail, or end up being very expensive in terms of lost productivity.
7. It pays to understand licensing agreements of cloud models, especially with Microsoft products. The cheapest license may not be the one that supports your cloud workflow, and it may require you to purchase duplicate licenses to be in compliance. When a Microsoft audit (this is happening more frequently now) finds discrepancies, saying that you didn’t understand the licensing mode won’t help pay the hefty fine.
8. Putting any aspect of your operation on a cloud based platform makes your internal network more important. Switching, routing, and security must be optimized to facilitate access to applications outside of your network. You will most likely need more bandwidth, but that isn’t the end of the story. Network addressing and naming are critical, as is a unified directory that minimizes creation of multiple accounts for multiple services.
9. When evaluating a cloud services provider, you should ask lots of questions. If the cloud provider is offended or secretive, find another vendor. Remember that data centers in other countries may not have the same requirements and controls of those in the US.
– Where is the data stored, backed up, and secured? What certifications does the data center have?
– What is their disaster plan? Do they have written SOPs? What kind of redundancy is built in?
– Who will have access to the data?
– Who provides support when needed, and what Service Level Agreements are available?
10. Everything has a beginning and an ending. It’s important to know that in the event you need to get your data back from a cloud service provider, you understand the costs, timeline, and downtime required for a move. You don’t want to be a “captive audience” of a service provider that doesn’t meet your needs.