Moving to the Cloud is unquestionably the hottest topic today for small business owners when talking about their IT infrastructure. Moving data from an in-house server to a hosted provider has many potential advantages, causing more and more clients to ask if moving to the Cloud is the right choice for them now, particularly if they’re at a point where major changes to the network might be in order, such as the upgrade of a server.
Some of the primary benefits of moving to a Cloud based infrastructure are:
- Small businesses can gain access to applications and services such as Microsoft Exchange, QuickBooks, etc., and have network storage without the high initial investment required for purchasing the hardware and software.
- Data becomes easily accessible to all users from wherever they may be at any given time, as long as they have access to the Internet.
- Information kept on the cloud lets people very easily share information, whether it is colleagues sharing information on a project, or committee members working towards a common goal. All people who are given access to the files can share, access and work on them, no matter where they may be located geographically.
- Many businesses are much better protected by utilizing Cloud storage because their information and data files are stored offsite and are often replicated across multiple data centers. This is much safer than having all data located in only one location, such as a server room.
But despite all the advantages Cloud services can provide, you need to evaluate if a move to a hosted provider is the right fit for your particular client.
Imagine the following scenario...
You meet an accountant. He's got a small office with 10 employees. He's discovering that he's quickly outgrowing his 4-year old Small Business Server is wondering if Cloud services is the direction he should be moving instead of investing in another SBS server. He asks you to come in to discuss putting together a proposal for him.
At your meeting, you discover the following:
- He's currently got about 750GB of data on his server, but this is growing quickly. All of his current and future tax returns he processes will need to be kept digitally (his tax application keeps the original return and he creates a PDF copy for the client, plus he retains a copy on the server). He's also in the process of scanning his older returns to be kept as PDF files as well, so he's guessing that within a year or so he'll need maybe 2 TB of storage.
- Naturally, the tax returns he keeps contain very sensitive data. So, security is a top concern. He needs to be sure that no one at the Cloud provider can access his sensitive data. No one can have admin access to his server other than who he specifies.
- He can't risk having other companies being hosted on the same server he's on at the Cloud provider. He doesn't want to risk someone from another company accidentally being able to access his data because someone screwed up the server's security settings. (Having a dedicated server will greatly increase the cost over some of the low hosting costs he might have seen advertised.)
- He uses Lacerte as his accounting package, which is installed on his server and he has no intention of changing packages.
- He also uses 5 different versions of QuickBooks, because many of his clients use various versions. Some have migrated to QB's Cloud solution, but others are older versions, which he needs to retain on the server.
- If he looses access to his data for any extended period of time during tax season, he could literally be out of business (if the Internet goes down - or if the provider goes down, and if it stays down for more than a day – it can be devastating to his business.)
- He currently has a 1.5MB/768k DSL line, which he pays $89/mo. and he's very happy with (which you know will no way cut it for his needs, especially during tax season).
- He currently backs up to tape, and he takes home a full backup set every Friday for safe keeping. He also has a Mozy account for which he backs up only his current, active, critical files (about 100GB or $50/mo.) He needs to be sure that if he moves to the Cloud, that he will still be able to keep in his possession a regular, full backup of all his data. Plus, he needs to be sure that if he decides he hates his new Cloud provider, he can quickly and easily transfer all his data to a new provider.
- Currently he's using Exchange on his SBS server, and it's served him well, with no major problems. Mailbox stores are small and they don't need a lot of email storage space. They archive annually and incoming attachments are immediately downloaded to the proper client folders on the server and removed from the email. He currently sees no reason to spend money on Hosted Exchange, but he's willing to listen to your recommendations if you feel it's justified.
- Virus protection is a top concern. He's currently using Symantec Endpoint Protection, which is installed on the server, where he can centrally verify that all of his workstations are up to date. He wants to make sure he can still monitor AV on the workstations if he goes Cloud. If an employee decides to disable AV to try to speed up their workstation, he needs to know about it - and he can't go around to the individual workstations to check this.
- Four years ago when he had his current server installed, he spent about $3,800 on the server and about $2400 for the installation (he had his prior consultant do it over a weekend - 16 hrs @ $150/hr.). This breaks down to about $129/mo. if he does this every 4 years or so. He'd like a quote on how much it'll cost him to move everything to the Cloud so he doesn't have to go through this every 4 years.
While this "imagine this" scenario is an accountant, you can easily substitute just about any other profession (lawyer, architect, doctor, real estate, etc.) and they might have very similar needs and concerns.
When you take into account your client’s specific concerns similar to the above and factor in the costs for meeting those requirements, it might be quite challenging to justify from a cost perspective moving the entire server to the Cloud.
I suggest putting together your own cost comparison with your preferred Cloud partner, measure the associated costs and see which solution might be best for your own customers.
In my experience so far, keeping an in-house server with supplemented Cloud services such as hosted Exchange and backup still makes for the most easily justified solution.