Alpine Cyber Solutions is a proponent of well-planned and executed application of cloud computing as an enabler for a company to improve its security stance. We spend quite a bit of time trying to convince people that this class of technologies is the financial and technological future of IT. We have already written about some misconceptions you and others may have about the cloud. There are definite challenges to moving a large datacenter and all of its applications to the cloud. But there are plenty of well-trodden patterns in place that make it achievable and immediately beneficial for companies who can see past the haters and trolls to see its true multifaceted value. Particularly exciting and undertapped are the use cases for established small businesses to transform their operations and drive down IT costs.
Small businesses need to focus on cash flow and delivery. Not on IT’s intricacies. They often employ managed service providers to keep their environments up and running. These managed service providers are also usually small businesses focusing on cash flow and delivery. If not carefully managed, an hourly managed service engagement can easily spiral out of control and leave you paying WAY more than you need to.
How does the cloud help my small business?
- Your infrastructure occupies no space. For companies in the tiny-to-small size range, space is a major expense. Wouldn’t it be great if you could regain a desk for an actual earner? Even if your operation needs to host your website, a database for customer data, and an instance of active directory to manage your users, the cloud reduces your server footprint on site to exactly 0 sqft.
- Eliminates hidden costs of running your own IT. When you buy a server, it needs to be cooled and powered. In that single sentence, I’ve called out some significant capital requirements — server, resilient power supply (UPS perhaps), and a cooling system.
- Optimizes the value you get from your computing cycles. If you have a website, you either have a server on site, you’re renting space on another person’s server, or having your MSP do it. In all of those paradigms, you’re renting a full server for 24 hours every day, and it has to be powerful enough to handle the largest traffic spike your site may experience in a given year. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have your site get bigger when it needs to support more, but otherwise stay small? With cloud technologies, you can run a website that just displays information about your business for less than $30 a year (including paying for the domain name and encrypting the connections). If you have an application that is “bursty”, or its usage goes up during certain times of day and down during others, the cloud lets you pay less during those troughs and just pay for your peaks.
- Availability, availability, availability! The cloud not only offers you efficiency and cost reduction. It also gives you the ability to spread your critical workloads across geographic regions. Whether you want a hot/cold disaster recovery environment or a hot/hot highly available presence, the cloud can support you.
- Level up your physical security. I’m sure that hollow-door closet in the CEO’s office is a great hiding spot for her kids when they come into the office. And I’m sure the wet spot on the ceiling has been there for years and hasn’t grown MUCH since 2012. But the realities of running a secure data center are real and cost money. Cloud providers who are worth using have data center certifications and protections in place to the point where most will not even tell you where they specifically are. And their practices are defense-grade and better than you could do on your own any day of the week. This is what they do!
- Reduced managed service cost. As a small business you are more than likely using a managed network service company to patch and maintain your systems. They should be patching your systems, applying service packs, updating mail filters, optimizing the performance of your systems, provisioning accounts, defining group policy, fixing broken hardware components, and more. In the cloud, a lot of this goes away. When you go to the cloud, make sure you reassess your agreement with your MSP. You should NOT be paying the same amount as you did beforehand. They just don’t have as much work to do!
- Some things will just not be the same. Executives who know a little about IT are great to work with, and can frankly be dangerous. They have the hardest time with this pitfall. If you think that when you migrate your Sharepoint to Office 365 that you can continue to use all of your customizations, you may be disappointed. You have to check that they work if they’re that important to you. If you think you can take your bloated internally-developed application and just stand up AWS EC2 instances to run just like the ones did on-premises, you’re going to pay more money. The value in the cloud only comes when you think about your workloads, customers, and utilization curves of your systems and stop treating them thoughtlessly. Optimization is a worthwhile, yet never-ending process that pays for itself in cost reduction and customer efficiency over time.
- Assess your support team. Not all MSPs are created equal. If your vendor is spending more time trying to talk you out of a migration to the cloud than they are on doing it properly, the odds are that they don’t understand it. And if they don’t understand it, you will not reap those rewards — you’ll only breed frustration. A proper service provider will actually be able to decrease your monthly bill over time by nature of the fact that they should be automating and improving their processes every time they do them. Their contract should commit them to it. Over time, either your bill needs to go down or your functionality needs to go up. Either way, the cloud will get you more for less.
- Be thoughtful! Not all applications are ready to go to the cloud right away. You may need to do some work. And once you’ve done that work, remember that not all clouds are created the same. Do your homework. Understand their split of responsibility when it comes to maintaining your systems. Check their certifications. Check their uptime metrics. Check their market penetration. Don’t react hastily and move everything on a knee-jerk response to an awesome blog post. And whatever you do, don’t just assume that if the cloud you’re considering is made by the same company that wrote the operating system you use on your computers, that it will be the easiest or best path for you. I repeat — do your homework.
Hopefully this post helps a small business or two get over the hump. Cloud computing is worth it! But be thoughtful and take your time. Plan, then execute. And if this was all over your head, get an advisor.