Here's how the public cloud can reduce the stress and expense of your on-premises IT

These are the key functional areas a small/medium business should be addressing with the cloud this year.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer
Image: ZDNet

Welcome to 2017. If you're a C-seat at a small- or medium-sized business, one truism is more true than ever: The cloud is your friend -- in fact, the cloud may be the best friend a CxO can have in times like this.

Indeed, public clouds like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform offer a dizzying array of services that can seem confusing and overwhelming to a business of your size. All three of these major players are vying for your IT spend; they are trying to inspire your confidence not just to transact with them, but ultimately, to move more and more of your on-premises infrastructure to their datacenters.

Look, we all know you aren't going to move whole hog to the public cloud tomorrow. There may be some very good reasons why you have to maintain a substantial amount of on-prem infrastructure, perhaps indefinitely.

But that does not mean the cloud isn't a critical pressure-relief valve.

To use an analogy with which many of us middle-aged folks are familiar: Sure, you might need to change your dietary habits and do some moderate exercise, but you may also need to take some blood pressure and cholesterol meds to keep things running smoothly.

Think of services in the public cloud as your Crestor, Azor, and Bystolic. Depending on the dynamics and needs of your business, you might need to take one or more of these to operate smoothly, even if you are eating right and hitting the gym.

Like taking medications, adopting cloud services is literally as easy as deciding to use them. Some may require higher levels of effort to implement and more frequent compliance.

Backups and Archive

If you're a small or medium business, you are most certainly feeling the effects of storage sprawl and may not know how good your legacy backup and archive technology actually is.

In the event of an outage, after all, your ability to recover a single application -- let alone all your Line of Business apps -- depends on the referential integrity of the backup itself, how quickly it can be restored, and how much capacity you need to bring back online for minimum functionality.

While having a local backup infrastructure is very important, there are obviously tiers of what is immediately important and what should be retained on-prem for your business to operate.

While cloud can be a primary backup mechanism for small and medium businesses, it may be easiest to employ it immediately for second- and third-tier archival of things that are important to retain but are not necessary for immediate continuity.

This will free up your high-performance, most expensive storage for the data that is intended for immediate critical business continuity.

Along with host-based cloud backup solutions at the hypervisor and physical level if required, consider cloud integrated storage, such as a physical or virtual appliance, along with block/blob storage accounts connected to a public cloud with a virtual private network tunnel or a dedicated virtual circuit such as AWS Direct Connect or Azure ExpressRoute.

Site/Disaster Recovery

As well-designed and as modernized your on-premises infrastructure may be, there is always a chance your entire site or datacenter could come down due to any number of events that might transpire outside of your control. It could be the weather, a local power grid interruption, or that your generator did not kick in as intended.

Even with the best laid plans, stuff can go wrong.

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Your customers don't want to hear that. They just see the outage. Every minute of it.

If you are an SMB, you probably cannot afford to stand up a second failover datacenter, even a reduced capacity one that would only be flipped to in an emergency, let alone two active-active ones for load balancing. This is where public clouds come in.

All three of the major public cloud players have good offerings for site recovery. They have partnered with the primary operating system vendors and the failover tool vendors to have fully supported cloud-based failover solutions -- or are the primary operating system vendor itself, as is the case with Microsoft and Azure.

A public cloud vendor operating at the hyperscale level has many more resources than you have for building redundant, regional, and global datacenter presence. These guys are a very cheap insurance policy -- like remembering to take your low-dose aspirin every day. So use it.


Let's face it, you actually hate operating and maintaining your own email and communications infrastructure, and now your business has more complex needs such as VOIP, conferencing, video, and workflow sharing. The two email servers in the wiring closet aren't hacking it anymore.

Not only do you not need this headache, but again, at the hyperscale level, the public cloud players do it better than you do. And there are very good players out there in the cloud migration tool space, like BitTitan, which can help you move all of that to the public cloud messaging service of your choice. Also, there are managed services providers that will do all the hand-holding for you if you really want or need that sort of white glove attention.

Whether its Office 365 Exchange/Skype for Business, Gmail for Business, or Amazon WorkMail -- or even managed dedicated messaging and communications hosting from a player like Rackspace -- this is not a line of business application you should be concerning yourself running on your own.

Messaging is now so commoditized that it isn't worth your time with all the other things you have to worry about. This is exactly what the cloud is for.

Workgroup/Collaboration/Document Sharing

Like email, collaboration and document management and sharing software is complicated to set up and just as complicated to maintain. It's a basic service that will demand a lot more of you and your staff's attention than what is actually justified if you decide to continue to run this yourself, rather than just buy it as a service from an established public cloud player.

As with email and messaging, you don't have to buy it and administrate it yourself directly from a cloud provider like Microsoft and Amazon. There are numerous managed services providers you can go to that will do all the heavy lifting of setup and ongoing administration and have reseller and integrator partnerships with these players. Just ask for their cloud and area competency rating from their partners -- if these guys really know what they are doing, they will display those competencies prominently.

Yes, it costs a little bit more to do it this way, but let's face it, you probably don't have a cookie cutter, out-of-the-box implementation anyway and will need some customization.

Are you ready to embrace the cloud for releasing that pressure valve in 2017? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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