Is your business in the cloud? Should it be? Wait … what exactly does that mean, “to be in the cloud”?
That is a good question that needs to be answered before moving on any further. To be “in the cloud” refers to one or more parts of the IT infrastructure at your organization being made available to you by a vendor company with a presence of that resource located (or “hosted”) solely on the Internet and not at your physical office space. Many times, you will find that these products and services are paid for on a monthly basis by you, the customer, based on how many users you have and/or how much data is being stored. Some examples of cloud-based services include: Google Apps, Office 365, or other hosted e-mail solutions (billed per mailbox, per month); Online Data Backup (usually billed monthly based on the amount of data being backed up); Hosted Phone Systems or Voice Over IP/VoIP (usually billed per phone, per month with a couple of other miscellaneous monthly charges thrown in); and Hosted Customer Relationship Management Applications like SalesForce.com (billed per user, per month). This is by no means a complete list as there are thousands of cloud-based services out there.
Hopefully you understand a little more about “the cloud.” As for whether your business should be in the cloud, the answer is a resounding maybe. Certain circumstances warrant different decisions. Do you have multiple offices? Do the majority of your users work remotely? Do you have a legacy system in place, for example an old phone system, which is in dire need of replacement? Is your company subject to security measures outside of normal parameters? Is the value received worth the cost? The answers to these and other questions will dictate the proper path for your organization.
Possibly your on-premise phone system is outdated and needs to be replaced. The initial outlay of money when procuring a new phone system can be five or six figures depending on your size. In a hosted phone system scenario, you are usually responsible for a monthly payment, but the initial outlay of money is typically little to no dollars compared to a new on-premise solution.
Maybe you have a traveling workforce who needs to be able to access your line of business software application easily and quickly no matter where they happen to be. If the application were hosted, the only thing they would need to be able to work is a device with a web browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome and access to the Internet.
Perhaps you don’t have an internal IT department so you have decided to go with Hosted Exchange Email in an effort to not concern yourself with setup, maintenance and data backup for your e-mail. When you analyze the costs over time, many companies would benefit financially from a Hosted Exchange environment.
Another example could be a company subject to security or privacy rules that other organizations may not have to worry about — for example HIPAA for medical practices, PCI for retail shops, and various SEC compliance measures for financial firms. Be sure to do your due diligence before putting private or secure information into the cloud to avoid penalties and fines.
The bottom line is that moving some or all of your IT to the cloud is a company decision that needs to be analyzed from both a security and financial perspective. Certain cloud services will save you money, time and headaches. Others will give you piece of mind (like a cloud backup for your data). Just be sure all options have been vetted before making a decision.
Rich Kenney is vice president of TechSolutions Inc.