Growing Business

Separate the Cloud from the fog

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You’ve surely heard about the much-hyped idea of cloud computing—and whether you know it or not, you’re probably already using it. Web mail, Facebook, and Instagram are all popular examples of cloud computing, as are more business-focused services like Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365.

The basic idea behind cloud computing is that your data is stored on a computer that you do not own, manage, or maintain. This lets you and your employees focus on doing your job instead of worrying about keeping your systems running smoothly. It’s also cheaper—since you typically rent access to the systems for a monthly or annual fee that’s often quite competitive—and more flexible. Cloud services can be accessed via any Web browser, and most also offer mobile apps.

Public: putting it all out there

Your employees are almost certainly already running "public cloud" services on their phones and computers, whether they be cloud storage services like Dropbox or photo-sharing services like Flickr. These types of services are either called Software as a Service (SaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, from the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, and offer higher-end environments that run your company servers on their systems.

The flexibility of cloud services have changed the computing world quickly. Yet cloud’s ubiquity and ease of use have created problems, as the lines between personal and business are blurred and "shadow IT"—unsanctioned and unmonitored business use of public cloud services by employees—becomes common.

Without oversight, companies have no way of stopping or even knowing if sensitive corporate data gets out of their control. Employees are just trying to do their job better, but that will be little consolation if next year’s budget spreadsheets end up on the Web for competitors to see.

Hybrid: the in-between approach

In spite of the benefits of cloud computing, there are some circumstances in which companies may still want to keep data in-house—for example, to comply with industry regulations around the handling of sensitive data, concerns about cloud security, or because of regulatory restrictions that prohibit storing a companies data in overseas cloud systems.

As a result, few organizations have committed to the cloud 100 percent. Instead, most are pursuing so-called "hybrid" strategies that combine specific cloud services—often business systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) or human resources (HR)—with conventional on-premises systems that are owned and run by in-house technical staff.

This approach complicates things somewhat, because it means that businesses must keep track of two different types of computing environments. Yet new tools are bridging on-premises and off-premises cloud services, making it easy to track and secure data as it moves around the new computing environment. Most companies will use the hybrid cloud model for some time to come.

Private cloud: reinventing the business

While many companies are searching for the best approach to upgrading their applications to take advantage of the cloud, others are using cloud computing's ascension as an opportunity to rework the way they deliver applications to their own employees.

In the "private cloud" model, businesses effectively set up their own cloud-computing providers, running cloud services inside their network. These providers run applications on behalf of various business units, with the idea being that it’s cheaper and easier to centralize computing than it is to have each department run its own IT as in the past.

Building private cloud services requires a massive amount of effort, since it often involves upgrading old applications and moving large quantities of data into the new environment. Yet many businesses are also using the private cloud to offer entirely new services to business partners and customers. For example, a bank might run an application for finance brokers on its private cloud, giving them direct access to relevant banking systems.

Private cloud services also let banks connect their applications with those of other software providers using application programming interfaces (APIs) that let third parties easily access cloud services offering specific functions. A simple example might be an API that lets a third party retrieve current currency exchange information for use on their own website.

Less nebulous every day

There’s no doubt about it: cloud computing is here to stay. And while it’s still not perfect—issues such as telecommunications outages, security, and data ownership are still worrying many would-be adopters—its many benefits have made it essential for every business.

Current Technologies can help your business establish a clear cloud strategy now that will help you modernize your systems in order to take on nimbler competitors today and stay relevant for even more cloud-savvy customers in the future.

You don’t want to be the last one on the cloud

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Cloud or Dedicated Server?

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Should you be entrusting your data to the cloud or keeping it down to earth on your own servers? This is a decision facing every CIO, and it’s one they’ll be forced to justify and revisit regularly for the foreseeable future. That’s because there’s been no knock-out blow in the argument between the cloud and the in-house server. There’s plenty to be said for both, which means there is no blanket answer. Each individual company must make a decision based on what makes the most sense for the business.

Looking cloudward

Surely the chance to ditch your servers and outsource to someone who is steeped in server management seems like a gift from the universe. The arguments in favor of cloud computing are easy to make, especially to someone frustrated by the intellectual overhead and raw cost of maintaining their own servers.

The promises of the cloud include the following.

  • You pay only for what you use, so it’s incredibly flexible; you can scale up or down at will.

  • Security, upgrading, and server configuration are in the hands of experts.

In these days of everything being “as-a-service,” the idea of owning anything like a server seems downright old-fashioned. If Uber can run the world’s largest taxi service without owning any taxis, why on earth would you need to own servers?

Where to look closely

There are a few things you need to factor in to make sure you’re comfortable with any potential compromises.

Power: Cloud providers can’t match the power of a dedicated server that’s properly configured.

Speed: The scalability of the cloud has to do with getting more or less storage, not faster storage, which might be a concern when another customer is flogging the server you’re on.

Latency: If your cloud host uses dispersed locations or it’s not nearby, you might have latency issues

Taking a dedicated approach

The promise of cloud computing is most clearly seen in companies meeting one or more of the following criteria.

  • Tight budgets

  • Growth they can’t predict

  • Business-to-consumer models

  • Jobs that don’t need lots of computer power or storage or much time to run

A company that has a business-to-business model or has well-established usage needs and predictable growth will likely find running its own servers cheaper and more efficient. This is something you can quickly run the numbers on, and the results might surprise you, considering that “cheaper” is a clarion call of the cloud industry.

The issue of security

It’s also worth running the decision through the filter of security. Hackers fish where the fish are, which makes cloud hosts attractive targets. You’re not just outsourcing server configuration, you’re trusting another company with your security. If security is a concern, you’re probably better off keeping your servers in-house, where you can tailor security to your needs. Current Technologies can help you determine which solution would provide more value to your business and then set up a custom solution for your business.

Need help deciding or implementing?

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Budgeting IT Growth- For Growing Businesses

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Cast your mind forward 5 years. Will we still send so many emails? Will we be satisfied with a keyboard to fill in web forms and use passwords to log on to secure systems? The changes in speed of access and capability are coming fast. As facial recognition, voice recognition, and biometrics develop, our concept of how we communicate with machines will change. The effect of cloud computing will drive down the cost of infrastructure and create new potential for business solutions.

There are smarter ways to drive down the risks associated with aging IT systems that are likely to add value to your business. The question is how much should you spend?

We have tried to set a guide based on a percentage of revenue, but that is too vague for many businesses where maintaining margins is hard work. Often a better answer lies in reducing waste or risk. First of all, it is important to understand your risk around IT involves loss of systems or loss of competitive edge in the marketplace. Then look to business processes with high cost and look for technology to reduce that waste and so reduce the cost per product.

That cost may be in marketing, sales, inventory, materials, or time. The savings will build the business case for spending on IT.

Building a Business Case

There are some clear costs to IT that you can work into your business case. If you are using PCs, servers, and mobile devices, there is a cost to buying them and maintaining them. This may be a fixed cost if outsourced or a variable cost if you buy the equipment as needed. PCs will vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on the demands you are placing on them, from an email station running a couple of small spreadsheets to a workstation running 3D design tools. You should anticipate three to four years of performance from the right PC, but to stretch it further will have hidden costs in increased downtime, maintenance costs, and poor performance relative to newer machines.

For each new starter in your business you need to factor in the annual cost of a PC, a device, and software, and if you are using the cloud, factor in monthly fees. Again, these will vary from application to application, but you should be able to figure out what your costs will be. There is also the cost of supporting each person in your business in terms of their IT tools, which will either be a direct cost or a hidden cost. The costs are hidden when you have no formal support arrangement and your staff waste productive time fixing their own IT problems or working around them. Direct costs are usually lower than hidden costs because problems are fixed efficiently. Management of an individual’s IT environment will cost from a few hundred dollars a year to a few thousand depending on the complexity of the systems being used.

Dealing with Growth

If your business is increasing staff you may need to revisit your infrastructure strategy and change how you share, store, and protect your data. As you add employees, you will need larger, more expensive systems unless you have adopted a scalable cloud solution that allows you to simply add one more team member to the account. Of course, not all applications have a cloud version yet, so you may need to invest in a hybrid solution with some servers and some cloud storage.

The more you can push to the cloud, the less capital expenditure you will need to budget for, but keep an eye on the comparison costs over a four-year period. Many cloud solutions are cost effective for the enterprise but not for the smaller business. For a fast-growing start-up, the cost of the cloud is not the issue as it is all about the freedom to grow without the need for expensive upgrades.

Understanding your business and getting the right advice on suitable technologies may give you the advantage you are looking for. When your business is growing is the perfect time to reconsider your IT needs, and taking professional help is never a bad idea. Current Technologies has been helping companies manage growth for over 20 years. Our team is well versed in today's technology, where it will be in the future, and how to apply this information to your business. 

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