The Cloud – it has to be the #1 buzzword of the current IT industry.  You see and hear it everywhere from multiple sources: Internet, print, even TV advertisements.  But most Americans are still confused about just how to define Cloud, even while more and more people use cloud services.  This confusion can become even more headache-inducing when you consider cloud services for your business, as opposed to a typical consumer’s use of the Cloud.

Cloud Services – A “quick and dirty” definition

While you could get very particular about how to define cloud services (and how not to), let’s work with a very simple definition for the business owner or manager audience.  Traditionally, your company’s data and applications would reside on the company servers or PCs.  This would be data like documents, spreadsheets, reports and the like, and applications such as email or messaging systems, databases, etc.  At its most basic definition, what cloud services do is enable a business to move its data and applications off the server and off-premise, to be hosted at another location or group of locations.  The objective of this relocation of information and services is to hopefully improve upon the following:

  • Availability – Reducing or eliminating downtime due to server maintenance, upgrades, etc
  • Disaster avoidance – Having data and applications in multiple physical locations with many built-in redundancies
  • Security – Enterprise-level hacking countermeasures, encryption, compliance concerns, etc.
  • User mobility – The ability to access your data and run your applications from anywhere, on any device

The perceived advantages of cloud services rest on the idea that a large cloud provider can implement much better availability, disaster avoidance, security and mobility than your on-premise server and IT staff can.  Whether this is true in practice, however, depends on several factors, as explained below

Just because everyone else is saying Cloud…

At first glance, moving your business to the Cloud, either in whole or in part, seems like a no-brainer.  Increase availability, security and safety of your data and applications, while reducing costs and getting those old servers out of your building – what’s not to like?  But there are caveats.  Here are just a few questions to ask yourself:

Does my company’s “core application” run in the Cloud? – Many businesses run industry-specific software, like AIM or Imageright in the insurance industry, for example, or Macola in manufacturing and warehousing.  Many of these kinds of applications either aren’t supported by cloud platforms, or require extensive customization or VPS hosting to work properly.

Am I bound by compliance requirements like HIPAA or SOX?  – Some cloud storage providers are compliant, others are not.

Do my employees use company-issued devices, personal devices, or both? – Your data may be secure when it’s parked at the cloud provider, but if you don’t have certain policies in place to govern how the data is accessed, it could end up spread all over devices that your company can’t effectively manage.

How savvy are my company’s end users? – Some employees are already acclimated to using cloud services, while others may not be.

Where a Cloud Services Broker can help

This is where a cloud services broker can be of immense help to your business.  Not all IT firms and managed service providers are well-versed in cloud services, but those that are can help your business in the following ways:

Strategic Planning

Your broker can help your company determine if all or just some of your IT services should move to a cloud-based alternative.  Also, not all service offerings are created equal.  Some will be a better fit for the way you do business than others.  Brokers can also develop a reasonable timeline to transition from on-premise to cloud solutions, minimizing downtime and unneeded stress to your staff

Effective Deployment

An experienced cloud services broker will know the common pitfalls of transitioning existing applications to cloud hosted solutions.  a well-planned deployment can mean the difference between a smooth shift to the new services and disastrous downtime and loss of productivity.  Don’t believe that just because you or your employees are comfortable with Dropbox or iCloud, that you can handle migrating your business data and services. Moving your business to the Cloud is not the same as managing your personal data on consumer-level cloud services.

Training and post-migration support

The dust has settled and you’ve moved some or all of your IT infrastructure to the Cloud.  Is it smooth sailing from here on out?  Well, maybe.  But, more than likely your employees will need training on new workflows and systems, and you’ll need support on the new technology.  Cloud services can offer a drastically simplified user experience, but that doesn’t mean that issues are nonexistent.  There’s also the problem of device management.  It is great to be able to do work on any device, but you need to manage your data and systems to keep everything secure.  All this means is that IT personnel are not obsolete.  It’s still a good idea to have continuing maintenance and support on your systems.

Pink Cloud or Storm Cloud?

Moving your business to the Cloud can create many benefits, but don’t underestimate the magnitude of such an endeavor.  It’s a job best left to professionals, not you or your tech-savvy niece or nephew.  A cloud services broker or your managed service provider can make certain that your company’s cloud is a pink one!

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