The cloud in the last 5 years has become one of the biggest catch phrases for business of all sizes!
Most people throw this term around not really understanding it and then ask us to implement cloud based solutions for their company. They think this will save them tons of money, their business will run smoother, new clients will pour down from the skies and every day will be 72 degrees and perfect weather. Yes, that is sarcasm you are picking up on!
The funny thing is the cloud has been around since the day the internet was born. If you ever used AOL email then you used a cloud based service.
The cloud is simply a hosted service on a server in a datacenter somewhere on the internet.
Now I will admit that the modern day cloud is a little more complex than AOL hosted email. The services have become more extensive and much cheaper and the infrastructure in most cases is several companies that have combined their resources and computing power to host these services in multiple locations at a cheaper rate.
Business Hosted Applications
So enough of that technical mombo jumbo and me ranting about catch phrases...does this "magical" cloud that everyone is talking about really help save my business money?
The answer is yes and no. First lets look at some services that are hosted in the cloud. Some of these services are only possible because we are starting to see extremely fast internet connections both in the office and in the home which allows people to work from almost anywhere.
These services include:
- File Systems
- Virtual Desktops / Virtual Servers
- VOIP / Phone Systems
- Application Hosting such as CRM, Accounting, Inventory and Help Desk Software
In my opinion there are 4 basic things you need to run a company with multiple computers and software.
- File Share Platform - most people in a corporate environment have a mapped drive on their computer where all the companies files are stored.
- Email system - Outlook and Exchange is the most common email platform today.
- Phone system
- Active Directory Services - This is the service that holds all username and passwords for your employees and when they login to a computer on your network it verifies those usernames and passwords have access to that computer.
So the first 3 are widely available in "The Cloud". File Share platforms such as dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon all can replace traditional file share platforms. There are some limitations. File Security and permissions are harder to control. In a Microsoft file share you can give access to a certain folder to a group of users very easily. This is not possible on dropbox or Google Drive. If you want to have a single folder that you share with all your employees and don't care if they see everything you stick in that folder than drop box will work well!
Email systems are super easy to host in the cloud. Like I said AOL has been around and hosted in he cloud since the early 90s! Today a lot of companies are using Office 365 which has replaced in house Exchange servers. Gmail is also available for business. We actually use Gmail at The Tek!
Phone systems - As long as you have a decent internet connection then a voip system hosted in cloud is very feasible. We have multiple companies setup in the cloud using a platform know as SipX, http://www.sipxcom.org/. There are also solutions provided by many cloud based providers like Vonage.
The last is the tricky part. Microsoft has an Active Directory service int he cloud know as Azure AD but it still requires a onsite Active Directory Service. AD ties everything together and gives you single sign on using one password for email, file and computer logins. Without it you don't have a single source for controlling employee access to all these services.
This is the last piece of the puzzle we are missing in order for a business to run solely in the cloud.
If you have a business with less than 5 employees you can probably function without an AD Service but after 5 you will most likely want to control all your employees usernames and passwords and will need an AD system.
So for now you are stuck with having a server in the office and since that is the case you might as well host your files internally so you can control access.
Word of Caution about Cloud Hosted Solutions
One thing you have to consider with all these cloud hosted solutions is where is your data and is it safe? We are relying on outside companies to have proper security in place so people can't gain access to your data. Also is your data backed up or do you trust that these companies are backing it up and that they will be able to recover your data if they have a failure?
You will have to ask if the cost savings is worth putting your entire business' data in the hands of a third party!
I know this blog ran on and on but trust me I could go for another 10 pages about cloud hosted solutions. If you want to talk about your company using cloud hosted platforms please give me a call. I will be glad to help!