Indeed, the promise of the Cloud is to provide IT as a service. It’s a way of offering companies resources on a metered usage basis that they can consume as needed—growing or reducing capacity as needed, and only paying on a per use basis for what they consume, as needed.
The hope is to free up the business and their IT staff from worrying about the mundane daily repetitive administrative tasks and burdens of keeping the business functioning and allows them to be more strategic with their time and efforts. In the Cloud Era, servers and desktops can be provisioned, configured, and deployed in minutes instead of weeks! The time saved allows the organization to focus on all other areas of the business to make it more profitable; such as their marketing and advertising strategies, application/website development, and the betterment of their product and services.
Cloudy Conditions Ahead
All of this sounds like a wonderful dream. But, before jumping in, it is important to understand what the business goals are. What do you want to get out of the Cloud? How do you intend to leverage it to your best advantage? These questions and answers must come first before any decision is made regarding software vendors or Cloud service providers. The promise of the Cloud is tremendous gains in efficiency, but only when adopted and utilized correctly.
To Host, or Not to Host?
Let’s look at a simple use case: Whether or not to host a company’s e-mail in the Cloud.
· The company does not need to make a substantial investment outlay on hardware or software; it will only pay for what it needs/uses.
· Hosting email will be billed on a per-usage basis, either by number of user mailboxes, number of emails sent/received, or storage used.
· Day-to-day administration, availability, fault tolerance, backups are all handled by the service provider. Little administration is needed aside from creating user accounts and mailboxes.
· Offsite-hosted email still has the same look-and-feel as on-premise email, and can be accessed remotely, in the same ways, from anywhere. (Most users can’t even know the difference!)
· The company is subject to the outages and downtime windows of the service provider. (In such a case, as long as it is not an unplanned outage or disaster, proactive measures are usually taken to ensure continued e-mail delivery, but systems may be unavailable for periods of time, usually on weekends or overnight).
· Initial migration and large data transfers to the cloud can be an administrative burden.
In addition, there are more factors that can either be positives or negatives depending on the business size and needs. For example, a small startup company with a limited staff needs to be extremely budget conscious. In their case, it would certainly make more sense financially to outsource their e-mail for a monthly fee for service instead of looking to install and maintain their own internal email servers—which after hardware and software costs and licensing could cost five figures. Furthermore, internal mail servers would require at least one dedicated person to maintain them. This is certainly not a cost-effective option for a small business trying to get off the ground.
At the other side of the spectrum, a very large enterprise with thousands of mailboxes may find the process of migration to be a prohibitively expensive and time consuming administrative burden. While offsite email would offer good availability and safeguards against system failure—perhaps even above and beyond what the enterprise currently utilizes—it is also a substantial risk. If the Cloud Provider has an outage it could bring the enterprise’s email access to a grinding halt. Granted, the same risk would apply to a small business as well; however, the smaller and more localized the business, the more likely they are to adapt to an e-mail outage and resume intra-office communications via secondary means—a contingency plan that is more difficult to act upon for a larger global enterprise.
And, yes, the enterprise that hosts e-mail internally has the same risk of an outage; however an enterprise can respond to an internal e-mail outage immediately and be able to ascertain how long the outage will be, instead of being at the mercy of the Cloud Provider’s timetable and troubleshooting efforts. Therefore, in our sample “hosted e-mail” use case, it would make more sense for a smaller business to consider the option of moving e-mail services to the Cloud, and may not provide much value, if any, for the enterprise.
Lawrence Kohan is a Senior Consultant at LogicsOne, specializing in virtualization, networking, and Cloud Computing. He is an IT veteran with 15+ years of field experience and advanced-level certifications from VMware, Microsoft, and Cisco.