Cloud migrations for small businesses: Success stories from IT pros

Everyone loves a good story, especially when it has a happy ending. Here are some stories of small businesses that have tried (and sometimes succeeded in) migrating their on-premises infrastructures into the cloud. These are real-life stories about cloud migrations that were submitted to me by readers of our popular WServerNews newsletter that goes out weekly to over 400,000 IT pros around the world. Subscribe here if you haven’t done so already!

Not all of these stories have happy endings, but all of them can teach us something about cloud migrations. So without further ado, let’s listen as these in-the-trenches IT pros share their stories with us.

No more dealing with server hardware

Cloud migrationsKen says, “I own a small business that hosts apps for small business such as QuickBooks, FBS Accounting, and so on. A year ago I was supporting five physical servers at a local server hosting company. Early this year, I moved all of them to the cloud and was able to consolidate the servers to three virtual servers. At the same time, I moved from Windows Server 2003 to Windows Server 2012 R2. Of course, there was a learning curve on Windows Server 2012 R2. Works great and would do it again in a heartbeat. Nice too not have to deal with physical server hardware.”

Rackspace hosted Exchange rocks!

Ben, who works for an architectural firm says, “I’ve got to recommend Rackspace hosted Exchange for small businesses. I have just under 50 users and we did the changeover a little over a year ago. It has been amazing! We used to run each individual PC with Outlook and POP3. It was a PST nightmare. I transferred everything to Rackspace. Yeah, you could go the O365 route for email, but Rackspace’s support is outstanding. Plus with Rackspace archiving nothing ever gets lost. No Exchange server to manage, upgrade, troubleshoot, and so on. And if you are a Spiceworks member, you get Rackspace email for half price. Plus having all of your email across all of your devices is priceless.

As for other hardware, most small businesses live and die if their computer system is up or down. I still can’t bring myself to put my local data in the cloud. There’s no way that I could explain to my boss why a building full of people can’t do anything just because a tornado knocked out all of our WAN connections. Considering the great cloud backups solutions, like CrashPlan for Small Business, there’s no reason why any small business should be without some kind of backup.”

What you need to do before migrating

Sam has successfully done several small business cloud migrations and offers us several helpful insights and recommendations:

“I have performed nine small business cloud migrations, currently finishing a medical clinic. Here are a few of the requirements that you need to meet in order to have a successful move to the cloud:

First, a reliable cloud provider like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, to name a few, and do not forget that there are many local companies with excellent services. Spend time researching them (BB ratings, references) including pricing. There are wide price differences based on the type of service like server memory, storage capacity, RAID, speed of transmission, 24/7/365 support, OS installed (Linux, Windows), hosting, and so on. Always keep in mind that they are holding your data. Be sure that you let the prospective provider understand what is it that you are trying to do, be very specific (printers in use, test equipment used by the customer, site controllers, off-site access for teleworkers, hours of operation, backup and restore, and so on.,) a good provider can help you a lot and point out a few aspects that you might want to include like a local backup of your data for peace of mind. If the data is sensitive make sure that the cloud provider is certified (i.e. OSHA certification for medical data). For example, one of my customers is using SaaS with VDI and she is very satisfied (10 users, one server). Her hardware was originally designed for XP.

Second, a reliable, fast Internet connection. Unless you plan to run a hybrid cloud, no Internet means no server equals business down and back to pencil and paper or closing the business till the Internet is restored. This is the No. 1 reason for cloud services failure. Whatever hardware you have at the place of business needs to be reviewed in the context of cloud services, which is very different from normal usage since now you also have virtual desktop available. In my experience, only equipment that is less than seven years old passes and some need an upgrade. Do not forget to upgrade the switch to a fast switch, network cables, backup batteries, and so on. For example, one of my customers lost two days of business because the Internet was down and they had no access to their data.

Third, look into the software supplier. Some offer a cloud solution out of the box (QuickBooks, OfficeMate, and so on). If they do, it is almost a piece of cake. Do not fall for the trap that it must be their designated cloud provider unless you have already chosen them. If none of the small businesses have software that is cloud-ready, it’s still not a big deal but it takes a little longer. It is OK to have more than one cloud service for different apps. For example, an accounting/tax preparer (20 users, two servers) moved all their Intuit programs and data to the cloud overnight (it was a very long night!). The hardware was originally designed for Windows 7 and 2012 R2 servers.

Finally, in the long run, it is cheaper, but it is not a bargain as the initial investment can be large. Calculate your TCO including your recurring monthly fees ($50 to $200 a month). You have to accommodate for business disruption and be prepared to spend a few nights in there and retrain the users (e.g. “What you mean by save my documents to the network drive?”).

Worried about the data

Cloud migrations

Finally, the following story from awhile back that was shared with me by Alain in South Africa highlights some of the problems that can face small businesses as they work out their cloud migrations plans:

“I am halfway to the cloud at the moment. My business exploded at the beginning of the year from one to three people. Talk about growing pains! Whilst the numbers appear insignificant, the actual changes that are required to the thought processes are huge! I have decided to go the MS Office 365 route for communications (hosted exchange) and for the Office productivity suite. It’s a no-brainer because I now have access to my emails on all devices, and also have Office on my devices. The overall cost of this function is a pure expense to the company, so no depreciation to take into account in the accounts.

For accounts, I have stayed with a desktop application, since that is what my support structure uses. I am cloud-connected, though because we share the files using Dropbox. For payroll, I have engaged with an online payroll system, which is absolutely fabulous. It’s all self-service including leave requests and approvals, and it does some of my monthly tax returns as well. Awesome! I would love to use a cloud accounting package as well, on the basis of how easy this is to use.

My business’ products are all cloud-based. I offer an online document compiler that manages user templates, aimed at the procurement market (tender documents and contracts). I also have the publishing solution for that, with advanced elements including online tender submissions, and the whole platform is growing — all cloud-based.

My problem lies in that I have a fairly large volume of data, which does not lend itself to the cloud. I have a good dose of everyone’s paranoia about giving my data to a third party to look after — they might go bust, or they might not have the security I would prefer. You’ve been the whole mile. I have a sort-of solution that I use now, which entails a local file server (local in the office) with a dedicated hosted server that acts as an offsite backup of my files. The problem lies in that data transfer costs in South Africa are enormous, and the bandwidth is so tiny that it’s just not possible yet to manage this data. When fiber eventually reaches us, then maybe it will be a solution, but with “broadband” speeds of under 2Mb, this just ain’t working. I would be very keen to find out what solutions other people have for this type of scenario.”

Cloud migrations: What about you?

What have you learned from migrating your own (or someone else’s) small business to the cloud? What sort of things are you still struggling with in performing your cloud migrations? Share your thoughts with us using the commenting feature below.

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