The cloud isn’t as hazy as it seems!

Before I go on to explain my experience with the ‘cloud’, let me first explain what prompted me to write this piece. The long string of frequent panic calls that we get from clients about trouble with their emails!

It never ceases to amaze me how much time people spend wrestling with their exchange servers. For instance, there is this one-man-band client of ours who has an exchange server. When his server decides to go bang, and it will and it has done, you guessed it- business stops. He calls out the IT man who comes along with his IT salve and voila! All the lost trinkets are back on the table. But, not without the cost of serious productive time and a hefty IT bill to add to the mounting costs. .

And does it stop there? No. There would still be the server to patch, the security scans to run, software to upgrade, disks to add, and the batteries (UPS systems) to buy to prevent catastrophic failure in case of a power outage…!

Our bigger clients, on the other hand, have a slightly better system for coping. They have server rooms, air conditioning and some other bits for near datacenter quality conditions to keep the servers running in tip top condition. But the question is, do they really have to go through all this bother? This is what got me thinking.

We work with IT support companies. Some are great and others have shocked us. When you install an exchange server, it is a bit like a cash cow. A nice support contract pays the monthly bills or when it goes bang the call out fees and remedial work soon mounts up.

Also when you are into this type of infrastructure, what happens if a situation arises where the office can’t be used? For example a flood, or power cut or tube strike or what ever-, and you are done for. The ultimate result is, in simple terms ‘lost productivity’.

That is when you start to think about the much hyped ‘cloud’. You find oodles of material written about the cloud, a lot of conflicting information, confusion; and the scare mongering by the IT companies to top it all up. And, there are all sorts of stories doing the rounds, for instance, what happens if you lose your data or what guarantee do you have that Uncle Sam might not have a good regard on your data if you store it in a US data centre…Yes, all of these are issues, but they are not impossible to solve, nor are they costly to work around.

Let me give you and example. We started out on Sage for our accounting. I found this to be a nightmare of software where we could not make sense of our own data. We moved to QuickBooks and loved it. But we had to stop using it while the accountant was working on the QuickBooks file, which was getting bigger and bigger with the iterations. If the accountant took a week, then we were locked out for a week!

Now, when we looked for a cloud version of QuickBook I could not believe that the only apparent solution was to rent a computer in a data centre and use some sort of remote access. We still had to own the software and rent a server. Far too complicated for my liking!

It was at this point that the benefit of working with an accountant in a large grouping paid the dividends. Evidently they had tested all the cloud applications and recommended us to try Kashflow. We did, and were onto it like a shot.

We have just completed our first year on this and we are really happy we made the decision. We can work on our accountriing when we want and where we want. And, they are constantly making improvements and we avoid the pain of upgrading a PC and potentially stuffing things with all the associated down times.

Brilliant. Forza the cloud!

We are now in the process of moving absolutely everything to the cloud. I must add, it is about time people like Photoshop decided to wake up, as well. If they are not careful, for us, they will go the same way as Sage and the QuickBooks.

Now, on a practical level, I would define the cloud for our clients as:

  • an opportunity to save money
  • a way of building in some business resilience for business continuity
  • and an opportunity for freedom

All the same, it goes without saying that all the above must be accepted with eyes wide open. Chances do exist where a supplier could go bust, as we have seen with CDN. Just make sure you understand the risks and take the necessary steps to keep the risks down. After all, the field that we are all into is business- which is all about taking risks, but keeping them in the limits of what can be called ‘sensible’.

Update 28th October 2011

Since I wrote this post I have ended up commenting on a couple of sites. And that is the power of RSS and Feedburner for you!

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