As you read this section, keep in mind there is no “perfect” solution. All options – be it an in-house, on-premise server or a cloud solution – have upsides and downsides that need to be evaluated on a case-by-case scenario. (Warning: NEVER let any expert tell you there is only “one way” of doing something!)
Keep in mind the best option for you may be a hybrid solution where some of your applications and functionality 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 on hardware (servers and workstations) as well as on IT support and upgrades. In fact, we save our clients an average of 15 to 30 percent when we move some or part of their network functionality to the cloud. Consequentially, if you hate constantly writing cash-flow-draining checks for IT upgrades, you’ll really want to look into cloud computing. Included in this report are examples of how we’ve done this for other clients and what the savings have been.
- Ability to access your desktop and/or applications from anywhere and any device. If you travel a lot, have remote workers (includes allowing people to work from home) 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. Recently in Portland there was a day where 14 inches of snow dropped on the metro area forcing people to stay home. For our clients that was not an issue, as all their systems were available for them to keep working. Email, shared files and more worked just like any other day in the office.
- Disaster recovery and backup are automated. The server in your office is extremely vulnerable to any number of threats; including viruses, human error, hardware failure, software corruption, as well as physical damage due to a fire, flood or other natural disaster. If your server were 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. Traditional technology providers would ask for more than you could afford when it comes to disaster recovery, and business continuity is reserved for the BIG companies. Now any company can afford the ability to recover in hours and not days. Plus, there is the added benefit of getting off the hardware treadmill where every 5 years you are spending cash on replacement systems.
- 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. There was a time when knowing what the cost of technology services was not known. When spending on email, file storage and software was just one big black hole that sucked up money. Now we enable our clients to know precisely how much it costs to add a sales person, an accounting person or a warehouse driver and yes, the costs are all different because their requirements are different. Why waste business cash on services not needed?
- 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 as comparable 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 that are new or expanding, but don’t want the heavy outlay of cash for purchasing and supporting an expensive computer network. Rather than having to answer the traditional technology question of; “How big will your business be in five years?” We ‘right size’ your environment and can change the size as your needs change both up and down so you are never buying more than you need. An additional benefit is when your business hits a seasonal high the systems can be enlarged on a daily or even hourly basis.
- 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 that are cooling a hot server room and keep their servers running 24/7/365, the savings are considerable. For many of our customers the benefit is not having to use valuable and expensive office space for equipment instead of staff or product. In several cases savings comes from not having to rent storage space for records that are seldom accessed but required to be on file.
Cons of Cloud Computing:
- 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 you’ll lose Internet connectivity, making it impossible to work. At least from your current office.
- Data security. Many people don’t feel comfortable having their data in some off-site 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 “What to Look For When Hiring A Cloud Integrator” blog. Not all cloud solution providers have the same ‘respect’ for your data and understanding these details is extremely important
- Certain line-of-business applications won’t work in the cloud. For example, a solution that requires very rare or older software can be a challenge. There are also potential issues with some database programs and their requirements, which is why a proof-of-concept is often a valuable investment.
- Compliance Issues. There are several 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. 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.