The demand to improve collaboration, customer experience, and the rate of product development is driving growth and acceptance of cloud solutions in business like never before. IT professionals were slow to embrace early cloud platforms due to concerns about security, data ownership and reliability as well as being heavily invested in on-premise solutions.
In my former life as an IT manager, I had the same apprehensions and experienced firsthand the mixed emotions of considering a cloud-based solution. I was unsure about where our data would be residing or who might have access to it. There was something falsely reassuring thinking that if it was on-premise, it had to be secure!
Finally, like so many others, after years of staying on the ground with our infrastructure, we started to explore the benefits of cloud solutions and increased efficiencies they could provide our business. A huge impact that caused us to take a serious look at the cloud was realizing that if a disaster were to hit the office, all of our critical applications would still be functional with the right cloud solution in place.
As the number of cloud-based solutions grow every day, researching and comparing solutions can be time consuming, and in the IT world, time is a sacred commodity. Although I can’t make your final platform selections for you, I hope to provide you with insight into the advantages of cloud over on-prem options and the types of cloud solutions available to give you a foundation to work from.
Cloud vs. On-premise Infrastructures
Cloud solutions provide major benefits to both businesses and individuals over traditional infrastructure, including:
- Accessibility: With cloud solutions, users can access data anywhere on any device, providing collaboration across all aspects of a business. Writing this blog is a perfect example – I have my Microsoft Word file open on an iPad, MacBook Pro and Surface Book. All show progress in real time as I write, whereas without a Microsoft 365 subscription, I would have three different versions of my document between the devices.
- Cost Control: The cloud helps control costs through predictable subscriptions for enterprise-class infrastructure solutions, eliminating the heavy capital expenditure of an on-premise infrastructure. Additionally, pay-as-you-go models for some solutions mean you can add or subtract individual services and only pay for what you use.
- Scalability: Cloud solutions provide easy and often instantaneous scalability versus the cumbersome process of procuring hardware and software for a traditional infrastructure, which can take weeks or longer.
- Deployment: With cloud solutions, businesses can deploy mission-critical applications without any upfront costs and with minimal provisioning time, allowing IT staff to focus on more pressing activities and objectives. It can also help to reduce the time needed to get new applications and services to market.
- Reliability: Though a concern of most during the introduction of the cloud, technology advancements are making cloud solutions even more reliable and consistent than on-premise IT infrastructures. Most providers today offer Service Level Agreements (SLAs) guaranteeing close to 95% and higher uptime, and 24/7/365 availability.
- Security: This is a central focus for any cloud provider. Cloud solutions today provide greater security than on-prem counterparts because data is stored throughout multiple highly secured locations yet can be accessed no matter what happens. A very simple example is a user who loses a laptop. If it’s managed using a cloud solution, the company can remotely wipe any sensitive information and protect its most important asset – it’s data.
Cloud Solution Models
Now that you know some key benefits of cloud infrastructures, let’s look at the three types of cloud solutions to find out what’s right for you:
Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS replaces traditional IT applications with a cloud model that is a software subscription provided by a third-party vendor. This is the most common cloud solution being utilized by businesses because it provides benefits to an organization such as the elimination of software updates, centralized management, and access through any device over the internet.
Examples of these services include Microsoft 365, Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Services, WatchGuard Cloud, Dropbox and Salesforce. When I was just entering the cloud, these were solutions that greatly reduced the time and energy I was spending on installing and upgrading software.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS provides the foundation for cloud IT infrastructures. This model is all about IT operations and typically provides access to network features, data storage space, and computers, while allowing the highest level of management control and flexibility.
Google, Amazon AWS, and Microsoft Azure are third-party sources for IaaS, providing the ability to only pay for what you use – basically like renting the resource. That means if you’re coming into a slower season of business, you can power down three of the five web servers running and pay accordingly.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS allows organizations to build, run and manage customized applications without the need or worry associated with on-premise infrastructures, making it easier for developers to create efficiencies as a part of the application development process. Among the benefits of PaaS are a reduction in overhead and an increase in the speed of development and deployment. Microsoft Azure would fall into this category as well.
Here’s a good resource if you want a deeper dive into the types of cloud models.
Know What to Look For in a Cloud Solution
When considering a cloud solution for your organization, these are important factors you should know:
Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
SLAs outline the service expectations and responsibilities between your company and a cloud supplier. It should state the metrics used for measurement and any penalties if the services don’t meet those expectations. These agreements are for both party’s protection and necessary to build a successful relationship.
High availability is important and is expressed as a percentage of uptime in a given year, or the “number of nines”. (Note that maintenance windows for patching, deploying new systems, etc. are not considered downtime.) I have seen a few providers that promise “five nines”, equating to downtime of only 5 minutes and 15 seconds per year, and fail to meet that goal. You will need to decide what is acceptable for your organization to continue to operate. Discuss this with a potential provider and then get it in writing.
Redundancy or high availability in cloud computing means that multiple copies of your data exist or systems that can be accessed if your cloud solution fails. When talking with a cloud solution provider about their redundancy or disaster recovery plan, make sure to ask:
- How redundant are your data centers regarding power, ISPs and other resources?
- What happens when server solution ‘A’ is installed or goes down?
- How are the backend systems set up (i.e.: web or SQL servers)? Are they clustered?
- What happens if the site where the solution is hosted goes down? Will the cloud solution still be available?
- What automation is in place to make sure my systems remain operational when a disaster happens at a primary site?
Even when a vendor provides a quote, there may be hidden costs you should look out for. I learned this the hard way in my previous role when I received the first invoice for our new cloud solution – something that was hard to explain to the executive team! Learn from my mistake and be sure to review the quote’s fine print carefully and ask thorough questions.
How I Learned to Love the Cloud
When I was an IT manager at my previous company, the data we worked with daily was very sensitive (containing PII) and securing it was the highest priority for me, my team, and the success of our company. Part of my hesitation to move to the cloud was due to the data breaches I seemed to be hearing about in the news every other day. It seemed impossible to decide which pieces we could migrate without compromising our security.
As the business grew, my direction and mindset needed to change regarding cloud solutions. We needed to be able to scale rapidly, collaborate efficiently and have access anywhere at any time. We finally chose to migrate to Microsoft 365 from an on-prem Exchange environment. I was initially blinded to its benefits because of my security fears and wanted to retain total control like I could with our on-premise servers.
However, as we began using Microsoft 365, I quickly started to see the organizational benefits: teams collaborating efficiently in groups, simultaneous sharing and editing of documents, and meetings that no longer required being in the same building. It’s as if my eyes had been opened to a whole new world.
Yes, we still needed to protect sensitive data, but the cloud allowed us to quickly expand our resources at a much lower cost than what we could implement in our on-premise infrastructure. Most importantly, it allowed me to sleep better at night knowing if a disaster hit, we’d still be functional for our clients. I learned to keep my feet on the ground and love the cloud.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CLOUD?
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