Should Your Business Be in the Cloud?

One of the most frequent questions I get is, “should my business be in the cloud.”

It’s a reasonable question. Heck, the cloud seems to be taking over the world and no one wants to be left behind, right? But here’s the thing…the cloud is not new, only the term is new. In many ways it’s just a fancy buzz word used to describe something that has been around for as long as computers have existed. And, here’s the kicker… nearly every business is already “in the cloud.”

Let’s start with defining what the cloud is. I did a Google search to see how others are defining it and the definitions are all over the map. Even the ones that are meant for non-IT people start getting into phrases like “server clusters.” Small businesses don’t care about server clusters. So, I’ll take a shot at my own definition:

The cloud describes IT services that are hosted and maintained by someone else, somewhere else (i.e. not in your office) and which are accessed remotely utilizing a connected device such as a PC, tablet, or smartphone.

Hosted by someone else…you know, like a website. Over the past 20 years, almost every client I have worked with has had a web site. Of those approximately 2,500 companies, I can only recall two that hosted their own. The rest of them spent $19 – $299 a month (depending on their needs with the vast majority at the low end of that range) for someone else to host their website. Public facing websites for small businesses have for all intents and purposes, always been in the cloud.

Email is one of those deals that has come full circle. In the early days of email, it was usually in the cloud. We didn’t call it that. We just said that the email was hosted by a third party. As time went on, if you wanted really good email (like GroupWise, Lotus Notes, or Exchange), you brought it in house. Now, many small organizations can get the same high-quality email without hosting in internally from providers such as Microsoft’s Office 365.

If cloud has been around forever, why does it have a new name?

The term cloud came about primarily for two reasons. First, the prevalence of hosted applications has exploded with the advancements in smartphones and tablets over the past 10+ years (and the associated increases in speeds available over cellular networks). And second, because marketing people figured non-technical people would relate to cloud better than any of the terms we geeks were using, such as SAAS (Software As A Service).

So, getting back to the original question, “should your business be in the cloud?” The 35,000 foot answer is “absolutely!” But then we need to dig into details. The majority of our clients have a combination of on premise and cloud solutions that make up their collective IT infrastructure. Every decision as to whether a particular application or function will be hosted internally or in the cloud is made on its own merit. We look at many factors including how the technology will be used and by whom, how users will access it, who the leading vendors are, what limitations (or enhancements) come with the cloud offerings, and financial metrics such as capital outlay, cash flow, and total cost of ownership.

In a future article, I will dig deeper into the how to evaluate on premise vs cloud decisions and how to select cloud technologies and vendors. Helping our clients make intelligent decisions about where and how to host their critical IT functions falls under the Virtual CIO role function of the Complete IT Department model.

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