What to move to the cloud: A more mature model for SMEs

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By Chris Chesley, Solutions Architect

Many SMBs struggle with deciding if and what to move to the cloud. Whether it’s security concerns, cost, or lack of expertise, it’s often difficult to map the best possible solution. Here are eight applications and services to consider when your organization is looking to move to the cloud and reduce their server footprint.

What to move to the cloud

1. Email

Obviously in this day and age email is a requirement in virtually every business. A lot of businesses continue to run Exchange locally. If you are thinking about moving portions of your business out to the cloud, email is a good place to start. Why should you move to the cloud?

Simple, it’s pretty easy to do and at this point it’s been well documented that mail runs very well up in the cloud. It takes a special skill set to run Exchange beyond just adding and managing users. If something goes wrong and you have an issue, it can often be very complicated to fix. It can also be pretty complicated to install. A lot of companies do not have access to high quality Exchange skills.

Moving to the cloud solves those issues.  Having Exchange in the cloud also gets your company off of the 3-5 year refresh cycle for the hardware to run Exchange as well as the upfront cost of the software.

Quick Tip – Most cloud e-mail providers offer Anti-Spam/Anti-virus functionality as part of their offering. You can also take advantage of cloud based AS/AV providers like MacAfee’s MXLogic.

2. File shares

Small to medium sized businesses have to deal with sharing files securely and easily among its users. Typically, that’s a file server running locally in your office or at multiple offices. This can present a challenge of making sure everyone has the correct access and that there is enough storage available.

Why should you move to the cloud? There are easy alternatives in the cloud to avoid dealing with those challenges. Such alternatives include Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or using a file server in Microsoft Azure. In most cases you can use Active Directory to be the central repository of rights to manage passwords and permissions in one place.

Quick Tip – OneDrive is included with most Office 365 subscriptions. You can use Active Directory authentication to provide access through that.

3. Instant messaging/online meetings

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Instant messaging can often be a quicker and more efficient form of communication than email. There are many platforms out there that can be used including Microsoft Lync, Skype and Cisco Jabber. A lot of these can be used for online meetings as well including screen sharing. Your users are looking for these tools and there are corporate options. With a corporate tool like Lync or Jabber, you can be in control. You can make sure conversations get logged, are secure and can be tracked. Microsoft Lync is included in Office 365.

Quick Tip – If you have the option, you might as well take advantage of it!

4. Active Directory

It is still a best practice to keep an Active Directory domain controller locally at each physical location to speed the login and authentication process even when some or most of the applications are services are based in the Cloud. This still leaves most companies with an issue if their site or sites are down for any reason.  Microsoft now has provided the ability to run a domain controller in their Cloud with Azure Active Directory to provide that redundancy that many SMBs do not currently have.

Quick Tip – Azure Active Directory is pre-integrated with Salesforce, Office 365 and many other applications. Additionally, you can setup and use multi-factor authentication if needed.

5. Web servers

Web servers are another very easy workload to move to the cloud whether it’s Rackspace, Amazon, Azure, VMware etc. The information is not highly confidential so there is a much lower risk than putting extremely sensitive data up there. By moving your servers to the cloud, you can avoid all the traffic from your website going to the local connection; it can all go to the cloud instead.

Quick Tip – most cloud providers offer SQL server back-ends as part of their offerings. This makes it easy to tie in the web server to a backend database. Make sure you ask your provider about this.

6. Backup 

A lot of companies are looking for alternate locations to store backup files. It’s easy to back up locally on disk or tape and then move offsite. It’s often cheaper to store in the cloud and it helps eliminate the headache of rotating tapes.

Quick Tip – account for bandwidth needs when you start moving backups to the cloud. This can be a major factor.

7. Disaster recovery

Now that you have your backups offsite, it’s possible to have capacity to run virtual machines or servers up in the cloud in the event of a disaster. Instead of moving data to another location you can pay to run your important apps in the cloud in case of disaster. It’s usually going to cost you less to do this.

Quick Tip – Make sure you look at your bandwidth closely when backing up to the cloud. Measure how much data you need to backup, and then calculate the bandwidth that you will need.  Most enterprise class backup applications allow you to throttle the backups so they do not impact business.

8. Applications

A lot of common applications that SMBs use are offered as a cloud service. For example, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. These companies make and host the product so that you don’t have to onsite. You can take advantage of the application for a fraction of the cost and headache.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to move different portions of your environment to the cloud. For the most part, it’s less expensive and easier than you may think. If I was starting a business today, the only thing I would have running locally would be an AD controller or file server. The business can be faster and leaner without the IT infrastructure overhead that one needed to run a business ten years ago.

Looking for more tips? Download this whitepaper written by our CTO Chris Ward “8 Point Checklist for a Successful Data Center Move