Cloud & Services

What to Consider Before Moving Your Business to the Cloud

It seems like everything is about the cloud these days: servers are moving to the cloud, data is stored in the cloud, applications and services are hosted from the cloud. Based on all of the buzz, it would make sense to assume your business needs to be in the cloud as well, and that if you’re not you must be missing out on something. Before you rush off to the great big service in the sky, though, make sure you understand both the pros and the cons and ask yourself all the right questions.

You’re probably already familiar with the reported benefits of the cloud. Moving servers and storage to the cloud is alleged to provide ubiquitous access, simplify management and administration, and enable businesses to operate more efficiently all while cutting costs.

It sounds Utopian. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. Moving servers or data storage to the cloud definitely has some pitfalls.

For starters, you have to go through the effort of getting data moved to the cloud in the first place. That introduces an issue of vendor lock-in—meaning once your servers and data are hosted with one cloud provider, it’s extremeley difficult to move them to a different provider in the future. Choosing a cloud provider is a marriage of sorts, and you’d better be confident that it’s a relationship you and your business can live with for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the advantage of ubiquitous access comes with the potential that technical issues with the cloud provider or an interruption in your Internet service could cut you off from your applications and data completely. Finally, storing data out on the Internet puts it at increased exposure to risk, and requires you to entrust the security and privacy of your data to a third-party.

That's why you need to consider the whole picture—the pros and the cons—to determine what works best, and mitigate any potential risks. For example, it can be a cost-effective means of storing data, but storing data in the cloud introduces bandwidth challenges—especially for small businesses that often rely on consumer-grade Internet services—as well as potential concerns over data security.

One popular solution is to use a hybrid approach that straddles the line between local servers and the cloud. A small business can achieve many of the same benefits of simplified management, efficient operation, and rapid scalability by employing virtual servers on a local machine, and selectively choosing the applications and services that make sense to operate off-site without creating any unnecessary risk or burden.

Businesses can take advantage of cloud applications and services such as Salesforce for managing sales and customer relationships, or Office 365 for online access to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. Box.com and other cloud storage services can serve as an effective means of backing up and/or sharing data.

The core servers and applications the business relies on, however, can be maintained locally without the pitfalls of the cloud. Small and medium businesses don’t have to install or maintain a complete data center to accomplish that, either. With the right hardware, an entire IT infrastructure including virtual servers and data storage can be managed from one machine. Administration is simplified, power and cooling costs are minimized, and—most importantly—the virtual servers and data can still be made available over the Web to achieve the same ubiquitous accessibility as a cloud application.

To be fair, the hardware, software, Internet connectivity, and other elements of the IT infrastructure are prone to the same risks and issues whether maintained locally, or hosted in the cloud. SMBs need to consider the tradeoffs of cost, security, availability, and maintenance, and choose the mix of on-premise and cloud services that work best.

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