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Choosing the right cloud solution for your business: What to know

TECHNOLOGY BULLETIN  | 

The cloud is a complex solution, and many organizations struggle with finding the right fit for their needs. The cloud solution set is deeper than many realize; it is more than just one platform, instead possessing several variances that bring increased functionality and flexibility. While some are unsure whether the cloud is the optimal solution for them, the potential cost and process efficiencies warrant a close look at the variety of platforms.  

Public cloud
The public cloud is the typical starting point for many organizations' journey to the cloud. The public cloud is generally commoditized with products such as Microsoft Office 365; it is another delivery method for the software. The solution is less expensive than an on-premise platform and transitions technology to an operational expense, rather than a capital expense. In an on-premise solution, if a business wants all employees to have access to an application, each must have a license.

However, as needs scale up or down, the business retains those licenses that were already paid for. In the public cloud, you pay month-to-month for the licenses you need. As a business owner, it keeps more cash in your pocket. Instead of making a major purchase and depreciating it over three years, the cost is spread out over the life of solutions operations-wise, rather than making a large initial cash outlay.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Salesforce.com and NetSuite are typical first steps into the cloud for tasks including general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable and sales force automation. One downside to the public cloud is that it is not very customizable. You can configure many features by selecting different options in the software, but if you have enhanced security and compliance requirements, or the desire for more control or customization in your environment, you may want to step up to the private cloud.

Private cloud
The private cloud is a more dedicated environment, so you can make customizations and shape it into the solution you need it to be. In the private cloud, you can undergo heavy customization without being required to upgrade when all other users do. For example, you may have reasons to not upgrade your enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management system and keep your current solution.

In terms of security, the private cloud is a much more protected environment. In many cases, you don't have any administrative level access to the environment; you only have the ability to configure the applications that you use. If you are looking at current regulatory requirements like the Dodd-Frank Act and HIPAA, where very clear controls and security measures are required, the private cloud is often the best option.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Companies that turn to IaaS solutions don't want to maintain a data center or buy the necessary equipment. Beyond the hardware expense associated with data centers, physical security is also required, as well as a solid structure that can withstand severe weather and several redundancies that you must build in. The facilities costs get expensive, even before equipment costs are considered.

The three levels of IaaS are facility, compute and storage. Compute is how many physical servers and virtual servers you need for the processing power necessary to operate your environment. Storage generally involves implementing a storage area network (SAN) to store your important data and documents. SANs are very expensive for most companies, but the amount of data organizations need to store is surging as environments grow. Given this growth, buying and maintaining this equipment can become cost-prohibitive.

IaaS also allows for varying degrees of control. At one end of the spectrum, some organizations may want a provider to replace their server room and let existing staff administer it. These organizations pay a monthly fee, based only on how much compute and how much storage they are using at any given time. At the other extreme are fully managed solutions. If you do not have an information technology (IT) staff, you are still charged only for the compute and the storage that you use, along with a monthly fee to maintain your environment.

For example, if a small company wants Microsoft Exchange email, but they do not possess the IT capabilities to administer and maintain the platform, they can work with a managed services provider to develop the compute and storage that is required. The licensing is provided that will allow them to pay month-to-month for the users that they actually have, and the necessary managed services are layered on top to keep that environment running well and help ensure the ability to use it effectively.

Hybrid clouds
In addition, some organizations can benefit by utilizing multiple cloud solutions. You may have a highly proprietary business application that is better kept on-premises, but you also utilize Office 365 in the public cloud and maintain your accounting system in the private cloud. 

Your technology advisor can help evaluate the technology you are using, build a business case for each of your cloud and on-premise applications and determine where your systems should optimally reside. Those decisions are based on security and controls, and your skills and abilities. If you have a small IT team, you may not be able to manage a data center or your accounting system in a private cloud environment. However, an advisor can guide you in implementing these enhanced capabilities.

This hybrid cloud approach requires a set of services to make the various cloud and on-premise solutions work well together. Single sign-on solutions can be implemented for authentication and authorization to avoid having to sign in to each platform. When you log in to your computer at the beginning of the day, it handles all of the necessary handshakes and the logistics of what specific rights users possess. Hybrid cloud services might also include the integration of your solutions to tie everything together without the need to enter information multiple times. The environment feels like a single server maintained in your office.

Several business drivers steer organizations to the cloud; however, three have emerged as the most impactful for organizations of all sizes and in all industries:

  • Desire for operating expenditures, rather than capital expenditures: As mentioned earlier, transitioning to an operating expenditure model provides more cash on hand and financial flexibility for the organization.
  • Compliance concerns – If your business has compliance requirements, it leads to additional expenses, audits and headaches that can be alleviated by working with a provider with demonstrated security and controls.
  • IT staffing and competencies -– The technology competencies required to run a secure, reliable IT environment have become so varied and complex that no individual can do it all. Talent has become expensive and difficult to find.

Technology advances quickly, and the capabilities of the cloud are no different. With the depth of solutions available and the inherent flexibility of cloud solutions, there is a platform to help meet the needs of your business. Your technology advisor can help develop a comprehensive cloud solution to align with your business goals and existing capabilities at a predictable monthly expense.

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