This content is part of the Essential Guide: Cloud services overview: Pursuing a new business model

In-house IT clients transitioning to the cloud? MSPs assess readiness

Many businesses now consider cloud computing as a viable IT delivery option. MSPs can help their customers assess whether the cloud is right for them.

In recent years there have been a lot of businesses inquiring about moving their technology systems to the cloud. Many times our existing customer base will ask whether or not they should be 'on the cloud' and what it really means. Helping our customers truly understand what the cloud is remains a topic of its own. One thing we definitely need to consider, however, is if moving this direction even makes sense for them.

One of the key advantages managed service providers (MSPs) offer over many in-house IT resources is the knowledge and ability to implement the newest technologies available. Let's face it, many full-time, company-employed IT people are so busy maintaining their existing servers, networks and, of course, supporting their user base, that they don't have the time or energy to keep up with the many cloud services available. MSPs with their variety of client bases and vertical markets are more in tune with cloud technologies that can help a small or medium-sized business (SMB) run more efficiently.

However, when it comes time to make recommendations, the service needs to makes sense, fit well and bring additional benefits the business is not currently receiving.

Here are the top cloud adoption considerations:

1. Is the customer’s current environment equipped for a move to hosted or cloud- based solutions?

Internet speeds, network equipment, types and ages of computers as well as many other factors play a major role in answering this question. For example, moving a customer to a cloud-based voice over IP telephone system doesn't make sense if the office is sharing a low-bandwidth DSL Internet connection.

Similarly, migrating from an on-premises file server to a cloud-based file solution generally requires computers with larger hard disk drives in order to sync data to the cloud with speed. If the customer is running older equipment or computers with smaller solid-state drives, disk space can quickly fill up. A broad look at the current network systems and current capacities is the first step in evaluating a customer's readiness for cloud services.

2. Will cloud resources help the business run more efficiently?

A broad look at the current network systems and current capacities is the first step in evaluating a customer's readiness for cloud services.
Derek Achterfeldtpresident, Corporate Data Solutions

Hosted solutions do provide our customers many valuable advantages compared with traditional on-premises client-server systems. These include the ability to work remotely without virtual private network connectivity, as well as lower server maintenance costs. In today's IT environment, customers like the ability to be more mobile and have the same work experience on their many mobile devices that they have on their office PCs. But sometimes these advantages are not worth the trouble. A software as a service application might be Internet browser-based which can translate into its own set of problems, such as browser incompatibility, plug-in issues as well as complications caused by continued browser updates. Oftentimes end users are not able to enter data or operate as quickly in a browser-based application as they were in the installed client version. Additionally, when moving data such as SQL databases from local servers to cloud data centers, users may see a speed or performance decrease. This could be due to the cloud provider's limited or oversubscribed shared Internet and sever capacities. A system evaluation and trial run of the cloud service is highly recommended before moving forward full force with any solution.

3. Is the cloud solution cost-effective vs. in-house IT?

Determining whether or not a cloud-hosted service is cost-effective for a customer is often hard to define. Usually, the best approach is to look at a service and how it will affect the company's current in-house IT system from all angles. For instance, moving 500 email users from an older on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server to a cloud solution such as Microsoft Office 365 may not appear to be cost-effective based on the $2,000.00+ per month reoccurring cost. However, the hardware costs of servers, the costs of Microsoft Windows Server Licenses and Microsoft Exchange client access licenses -- as well as the storage for the mailboxes -- is quite hefty. Not to mention, cloud email services like Microsoft Exchange Online (Office 365) offer 50-plusGB mailboxes per user by default. Providing this much storage for 500 users and providing a backup and replication plan for disaster recovery purposes is extremely costly. The cost-effectiveness of a cloud system will vary from system to system so it is important to understand the licensing purchase costs including support agreements, versus the monthly recurring cost of the cloud service.

4. Is the business ready to hand over support to the cloud provider

Moving a customer's data to a shared Internet resource usually includes handing over support to that same provider. With traditional locally hosted systems, an internal employee or MSP was the first line of support for most technical problems. Conversely, once this data has been moved out of the customer's network and hosted on the cloud, businesses have to rely on the support help desk and procedures of the cloud provider. This can be a point of frustration for customers when dealing with overseas support, slow response times and general lack of knowledge of their unique operations. Often the customer-to-support-agent ratio is not in favor of the frustrated client looking for help. It is important to have a conversation with any customer looking to move its systems to hosted solutions so these factors are acknowledged.

5. Does the customer really need the increased storage capacity cloud resources provide?

One of the key advantages of using cloud based offerings is the scalable storage capacity. Cloud providers can theoretically make available to your customers an infinite amount of data storage; customers can start with an initial amount of storage and purchase additional capacity as needed. However, many small businesses just don't need this type of capacity and are better off keeping systems in house. Obviously, this needs assessment changes on a client-by-client basis, but the cost of moving data to the cloud, the monthly recurring costs, as well as any additional bandwidth or infrastructure upgrades can be a cost burden without any great benefit.

The bottom line is that more and more systems are moving to hosted cloud services and customers are becoming more comfortable with the concept. It is clear that businesses in the SMB sector like the idea to emptying their server rooms and getting the services they need via the cloud at a predictable monthly recurring cost. There are many more things to consider (such as regulatory compliance, litigation holds, among others) when evaluating whether the cloud is right for your customer.

The key is taking a detailed approach and evaluating the many factors and uniqueness of each network so you can provide the customer with the best possible options … even it if it means leaving the old servers right where they are.

About the author:
Derek Achterfeldt is president of Corporate Data Solutions Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based technology solutions provider that focuses on serving small to medium-sized businesses in Arizona and the Southwestern U.S. For more information, contact:  [email protected]

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