Monday, November 28, 2011

When Do I Move to the Cloud?

Last article, I wrote on what the difference is between the two cloud scenarios: Full hosted web applications vs. hosting your servers at a “server farm” to get the most out of support, hardware, etc. Being that most companies still utilize a client-server type application (they’re very hard to get away from) in some type of form, I’d like to focus on the latter type of cloud.

Server hosting is a beautiful thing no doubt, but we have to be smart (as with anything) that we’re making the right choice at the right time. In my travels, I’ve been to some really interesting places where the company’s server is housed in a very tight, cramped, dark, dusty area which we all know is not good for a server that’s up and running 24x7. Dust and heat are the killers for these machines, and honestly who can afford to create a refrigerator style of data center where it is 60 degrees all day long, dust mats at the entry way, etc. all for 1 or maybe 2 servers?

So, when do we move up to server hosting? This is a very individual answer of course, but I get people to start perusing hosted environments when they’re just about to buy a new server. You’ve seen the signs: the server starts to get real loud (sounds like a 747 is taking off from the backroom), shuts down every once in a while and takes forever to come back up, or maybe it’s just not compatible with today’s software as we move towards more 64-bit client-server applications. Next step when you see these signs is to get a quote from your IT support person, whether onsite or outsourced, where the quotes can range (trust me, I’ve seen it) anywhere from $2000-$8000 for purchase, set up, and configuration. If feeling brave, you can even go to Dell or HP’s websites and start shopping, but I know I glaze over as soon as I start to customize – I just don’t know all the ins and outs of hardware.

To me, this is the first step in comparing costs in hosting or buying new machines. While making those comparisons, some advantages of going the hosted route to keep in mind:

  1. If going hosted, let the experts choose the servers for you. Chances are they already have the hardware and they’ll move you to a virtual environment that’s already in place, which is monitored constantly. You may get your own server or share one that is split into multiple virtual servers (don’t worry, it’s secure).

  2. I’m not out to replace your IT guy, but with most hosting companies they provide their own support staff which is part of the bundled pricing. Again, if you’re in good cahoots with your IT guy, arrangements can be made that they still do the support work, but maybe the contract price will be slightly lesser (there’s some flexibility here) on both sides.

  3. We’re a mobile oriented society now and it’s only increasing. Smartphones, tablets, and netbooks are allowing us to run our desktops from almost any platform. A hosted environment puts that desktop of yours in the virtual space, allowing for any of the above to be used to manage that desktop. We’re no longer tied to the desk, but we’re at the mercy of bandwidth – I say let someone else handle the bandwidth managing up-time, speed, and security.

The above are just a few reasons, to look into hosting, but a cost comparison is necessary. Go ahead, add it all up: IT support costs, hardware costs, upgrading workstations, online backups, etc. and see how the numbers compare. You may find that a per user monthly cost, while it sounds daunting at first, over the span of a few years would match out to what you would spend over time supporting your own internal network and hardware. You’ll still need some support for your network and machines to access the cloud but it will of course be significantly less. However, after all that comparing, even if the cloud is higher, the benefits of a hosted environment far outweigh those of keeping it in house, allowing us to sleep better at night knowing our “stuff” is in good hands.

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