The Next Steps for Cloud in Your Business
Cloud has been at the top of the IT list for years. If you look back at the prognostications of IT and advisory groups like Gartner and others, you will find the cloud ranked in the top 10 technologies for years now. You may even be tired of hearing about the cloud, which is fair. However, cloud is becoming more accessible, stable, and the cost is coming down.
If you are like many of the businesses we serve, you have already moved some of your services to the cloud. Most have taken their email to the cloud on the Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace platform. This change has reduced their maintenance needs and refresh cycle. Many have taken their primary business application, ERP software, accounting software, or CRM to the cloud. Though this decision is not quite as wide-spread and often involves more complexity, it is more and more frequently the right move.
The interesting dynamic we see in evaluating the cloud is that cost-savings is not usually the primary driver. Simple cost comparisons often show that an on-premise, traditional server proves less expensive in the 4-5 year lifecycle of hardware. Costs, however, are continuing to drive downward, making the differential not as large and the cloud somewhat more attractive.
There are many things that often tip the scale toward the cloud. A big one is that many software developers are moving to a cloud-only or cloud-first strategy for development. This means the new features you might want are deployed in the cloud version first and either lag far behind in the on-premises version or are not available at all. Very often the SaaS based cloud is also at least perceived to provide some IT independence. It can be expanded or contracted without the direct permission or involvement of IT which in some organizations is more of a roadblock than an enabler (much more could be said here, but I will not digress). The cloud also has at least the perception of being more readily available from anywhere. In our work-from-anywhere world, this is a huge benefit.
In addition to moving email and line-of-business applications that have SaaS offerings to the cloud, many organizations have moved other services like file storage and entire servers to some form of cloud. This method of hosting entire servers in the cloud is typically referred to as IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service. The two most common and largest cloud hosting platforms for this type of service are Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS. These platforms and other large providers like Google offer an increasingly affordable, robust, and extensible cloud IaaS solution.
Early in the cloud movement, many MSP service providers setup their own data center to offer cloud services to their outsourced IT clients. It appeared to be easy money, and many providers saw it as a way to make their outsourced IT clients sticky. It is hard to switch providers, if all your computing resources are in their data centers.
In the last year, I have seen so many abuses and failures in this service model. Most of these providers may have good intentions, but the own-your-own-data-center model has just become unsustainable. Think about it like the early days of electric power when companies used to have their own power stations where they would generate electricity. This was only sustainable until the big power companies perfected their process, and made provision of power so cheap, easy, and stable that the smaller companies could not compete.
MSPs who host their own data center are having problems keeping up. There is a built-in hardware refresh cycle that is needed for these data centers to stay stable, and many delay this refresh cycle to stay profitable. Delayed hardware refresh means more failures which result in you, the customer, being down. It is also difficult for a small data center to maintain procedures, as it relates to security. In more than one instance recently, I have heard stories from business owners about how breaches have occurred on their servers at local data centers that seemed to have entered the data center and spread across servers and platforms that should have been isolated. In many cases, these breaches have either spread across backup platforms making recovery from backup non-existent or delayed, or the issue has simply uncovered an undetected backup failure. Either way data loss and downtime are the result. For these reasons, if you are in a small data center, it may be time to consider a move.
We have found that the Microsoft Azure platform is a great choice for this move. Computing power and storage have gone down in price, while features and stability have gone up. One of the long-time downsides of cloud is the connection speed over the Internet. The solution may just be Windows Virtual Desktops (WVD). These desktops work much like terminal server and offer each user a remote desktop that gives direct access to files and programs. When coupled with the Microsoft 365 E3 or a similar plan, it enables full Microsoft Office usage along with email and the ability to host your other applications as well. The WVD platform also enables remote workers, and reduces the need for a great deal of power at the remote user’s desktop.
As you consider architecting a cloud plan, these matured offerings of the Azure platform are a great thing to build on, but there are many other factors to evaluate:
- Is my Internet consistent enough and fast enough?
- Are there things that still require a local server due to large data sets or local interfaces?
- Have I created the right backup and disaster recovery strategy in the cloud?
- Does my backup strategy need to cover local files for any users, or local servers?
- Have I properly designed printing to avoid slow-downs and spooling issues?
- What should I be doing to secure the cloud and make sure that it is patched and maintained?
What are the next steps for your business? It may just be time to make some changes to your hosting and cloud strategy.
Scott Hirschfeld is the President of CTaccess, an Elm Grove IT support company that has been helping small businesses stop focusing on IT and getting back to doing business since 1990. Under his leadership CTaccess provides the business minded approach of larger IT companies with the personalized touch of the smaller ones. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.