Someone once asked me if the cloud is a bunch of satellites or something “up there” that store your data? That made me realize that the cloud, as the new widely accepted technology hotness, is far from understood as to what it is, what it can do, or what it can be. While it would be cool if it was satellites hosting your data (and frankly, some pricing options may seem like you’re paying someone to send up a satellite just for you) it is really just a large expanse of servers and storage. The cloud is basically someone else’s servers storing and running your data and applications for you, and you get to all that through your internet connection.
Now, like most things IT related there are different levels and costs to those based on your needs and growth. For this blog post we will concentrate on the small to medium businesses.
Introducing Software as a Service (SaaS)
You might technically be using the cloud and not realize it. If your email is hosted offsite, such as with Microsoft Office 365, then you are officially in the cloud. Your email is stored and maintained by Microsoft’s Office 365 team. You just open up Outlook and it connects to the cloud (their servers) via your internet connection. If you are using QuickBooks or any other program that you connect to their website or store your data elsewhere you are using the cloud.
The benefits of the above, known in the IT industry as Software as a Service (SaaS) models, is that you don’t have to purchase or maintain the servers, the patches, therefore reducing your general maintenance needs.
Considerations for the Cloud: Backup, Recovery, Retention
The main drawback here is that your data may or may not be under your control once it is handed off. Do you know if it is being backed-up? Do you know how to restore data if it’s lost? What’s the fine print in the contract as far as up time guarantees?
For the big players such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Quickbooks, etc., that may not seem as big of a concern as far as reliability of services, but even they suffer data corruption and can lose data. You may also have retention issues.
It is important you know you have a reliable backup and recovery method. What if an employee was sending company secrets via email and deleting their trail after? When it comes time to an audit months later, that data is likely gone. Or maybe an employee accidentally archived their mailbox locally and deleted years of data from the Office 365 server and didn’t realize it.
Like all backup and recovery options it comes down to: want, necessity, and cost. There are cloud-based backup solutions, and it is a fast-growing industry. There a variety of options out there, and new ones crop up every day, so if you need help in choosing such a product we would be happy to assist based on your needs.
All-In On Cloud? Consider It Carefully
Now let’s consider bigger migrations to the cloud. For those of you thinking you want ALL your data in the cloud to eliminate having any servers in your office: the same rules above apply, such as uptime, control, and backups … but now you have added another level of complexity. For most small business clients I have met with who wanted to fully offload to the cloud, we ended up determining that an onsite server was still necessary. The biggest reasons were for quicker communications to and from the storage, better local control, security, peace of mind in general, and of course, cost.
Is Your Internet Connection a Single Point of Failure?
For example, if you have slow internet service at your office and all your data is in the cloud, every read and write of that data has to go over that connection. That means slow responses from your applications and long load times. If you have 10 employees using that same small internet pipe, you will start experiencing delays in workflow and productivity. On top of that, what happens when your internet service fails? If the internet is out at your offices and your data is only in the cloud, you better pack up all the employees that have laptops and find a free hotspot at a local coffee shop in a hurry. Your employees all have portable laptops, right?
We don’t have a formula in determining this at Mirazon because we base all our solutions on the client’s unique needs. In most small business cases, I have the local server send a copy of the data to the cloud using an established service such as Office 365’s OneDrive for Business. The benefit of that is that the data is available locally and in the cloud, and I have backup and recovery methods for both. If there is a critical failure on either side, the client’s data is safe and easily accessed. On top of that, it’s a cost-effective starter cloud solution for the client. While there will still be an onsite server to maintain, the cost is minimal and the SaaS supplements them with services and redundancy that before now small businesses could not easily afford.
So your homework after reading this article is to research the following:
Where is my email and data really stored?
What are the retention policies?
What are my backup and recovery options?
When was the last time I tested the backup and recovery options?
Do I have a disaster recovery document in place?
What do I want or need to be in the cloud?
Do I need to call Mirazon to help me with the questions above and/or to layout a time table?