It seems no one will ever stop talking about everyone’s favorite buzzword – “the cloud.” I know some people cringe as “cloud” is thrown around with wild abandon as the end-all solution for all your IT problems, and others who vehemently oppose anything “cloud” on the prejudice that it is wildly unsecure. But given the extreme spectrum on viewpoints, it’s no wonder people can’t stop debating about the efficacy of the cloud.
I work mainly with small businesses, a whole bunch of startups, especially in the biotech field – and the biggest thing I’m seeing with them is trying to figure out how much (or how little) of the cloud to use. I’d say the biggest IT concern for these folks is determining what the right mix of cloud-based and on premise services is best for their business. Obvious consideration factors include data security (easily the #1 concern when it comes to cloud services), ease of access, backup and business continuity options, and cost.
Among clients who want “the cloud,” the expectations are so high on reliability and affordability, but that’s not always the case – there are a lot of providers out there and different ones make sense for different businesses depending on the need for security and business continuity. We chose to partner with Egnyte because of their hybrid cloud file sharing offering, for example, and then there’s DropBox (although they’ve gotten some flak for not being appropriate for enterprise-level use), and also there’s Box. Box recently did a complete refresh of their client piece and system, and they have some features now that make them more of a viable solution in this space. Now the big guys, like Citrix and EMC, are buying similar type companies to fold these offerings in on themselves. Those are the things that a company, employees, and even us as IT people – talk about all the time. You’ll have employees come in who have used something else at another company that they liked so they’ll be pushing for that. There's a lot of internal tug-of-war going on trying to figure out what the right option is. You just can't investigate all of them and know which one is the best. There's a few that are in the horse race, but every three to six months one of the players in this space does an update of their service offering or pricing model and things change.
Business owners are often tempted to DIY their IT systems, and for certain types of companies, that can work. For a really small business, like less than 5 employees, where you’re not dealing with very sensitive data, you can go online and subscribe to DropBox and set it up pretty easily. That could work out just fine. But for many small to medium sized businesses, especially ones more reliant on IT services or have sensitive data (like intellectual property or customer information), you need to be more careful. Be aware too, many states (like MA) require you to protect your employees information – you don't want to have this type of data in the cloud syncing to multiple users computers, laptops can and will get stolen with this data on it and that puts you as the owner or executive in a bad position.
A business with real IT and security needs has to ask questions and seriously evaluate their options, and I'm not sure a lot of small business executives are even equipped to ask the right questions. That’s where we (or any IT Managed Services Provider) come in. A MSP can help you ask the right questions to assess your needs and evaluate what you can or cannot “safely” migrate to the cloud. For startups or small businesses on the brink of expanding past their current setup, we can evaluate the different pricing models (and risks) or keeping certain services like data storage, backup, and email archiving on-premises by investing in more hardware, taking it off-premises into the cloud, or opting for a hybrid model where a combination of both is used. For established companies that have a lot of their IT services in-house that is starting to show its age and coming up on a hardware refresh, we walk you through the conversation of “Does it make sense to keep this in-house?"
The Great Cloud Debate isn't going to fade into the background any time soon - but that's ok. The landscape is perpetually changing, and since all businesses come with unique needs and budgets, there is no clear-cut answer for should-you or should-you-not use the cloud. If you are at the stage where you need to make a new investment in IT - whether your current equipment is up for refresh or you're starting from scratch, talk with some MSPs. Many Managed Service Providers provide free consultations where they will go through a high level review of your IT needs either on-site or over the phone and provide recommendations in exchange for the opportunity to pitch their services. However if you aren't the type who likes free expert advice, I suppose you could continue just Googling the answers to all your IT questions...
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