During the last years people are asking me when will it benefit them to move their data or their services to the cloud? The answer is difficult to answer because there are many factors that need to be addressed.
Don’t misunderstand my caution for some of the scenarios below. I have my own cloud and I do want customers to use it. However, I don’t want customers based on misunderstandings, myths, believes or just for the money. I know how vulnerable clouds can be. Some of the big cloud providers have had some serious crashes over the last 5 years. The bottom line is that nothing is 100% secure or up and running all the time. Remember that someone cut the fiber cable out of Ukiah this autumn (2015).
When should I use the cloud?
Below I have listed a couple of scenarios that I take in to consideration when answering a question like this. The target for my suggestions are small businesses (less than 100 employees) as that is what we have here in Ukiah.
- Sensitive data: Do NOT send that in to the cloud unless you are absolutely sure it is a safe solution. If someone find out your username and passwords to log in to the cloud, you have a problem. And remember that weak passwords on the internet is not your friend. They might be convenient, but NOT secure.
- Small business with general documents that everyone needs. Nothing confidential that need to be stored locally. This is a good use of a cloud system.
- Small business that needs backup solution or archiving. This is also a good use of the cloud. I would recommend that the data being encrypted locally before uploaded though, if there is anything sensitive.
- Secondary domain controllers etc. This is a good solution for many companies in case of a catastrophe where the main servers/infrastructure are destroyed. It will make it easier to deploy new computers and setting up users again. I would most likely recommend this to be done in a small local cloud solution. A local person can then deploy using the data that is in the cloud. Using DFS (Distributed File System) you can also keep all files up to date on the local server and in the cloud. However, keep in mind that your internet upload speed is normally low, and if you have files that are over 10GB, you might not be able to finish a backup over night.
Is it worth the money??
This is one of the main questions for many organizations. The answer depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Some functions might be worth putting in to a cloud weather it makes sense monetarily or not.
One scenario where I would be careful about recommending a cloud solution
Let’s take a look at numbers for a small organization (10-20 users) replacing their local server. I assume they have around 5-20 users and no Exchange or SQL server installed.
- Cloud based server with one core and 1.75-2GB of memory with a need of 40GB of space. $50-70/month. For a year that is $600-840. Over 7 years you have spent $4200-5880. The configuration in this scenario is very frugal. Most likely you would need an extra processor and more space. The prices above are based on Microsoft, Amazon and others. In my cloud you pay less than that. It depends on what you need.
- A brand new server cost around $2500-3000 with a 6-core processor, 16GB of memory, 2TB of storage space and a Windows 2012 standard license. Installation and setup will typically be around $300-1000 depending on what features you need or are transferring over to the new server. The lifetime of a server is normally between 5-7 years. Over 7 years you have then spent $3000-4000 on a server and licenses.
Note that I have not added any consultation cost over the lifetime of the servers. This will normally be about the same amount whether it is in the cloud or locally.
Above I didn’t add any cost for backup to the local installation. The price for 50GB cloud based backup would be around $8/month or $96/year. Over 7 years it will be $672.
You should also keep in mind that a server like the one above can easily host 50-100 users and it might be interesting for companies to go together and share one. Which will bring the cost further down.
Scenarios where it would be worth it to have a cloud solution:
- A company have three locations. Very few employees, but there is a need for the locations to be able to communicate and share information. In this scenario it would be beneficial to have a cloud server and use VPN to connect in to the server.
- A company is needing to have several employees communicate with each other, but maybe not seeing the internal data in the company. If they do need access to internal documents, they can set up DFS (Distributed File System) and make that data transferred to the cloud and back to the internal server. All other data will only be available internally.
- An organization need to have their data backed up and they don’t want to move hard drives in and out of the building all the time. The backup will run during the night and they can check the result in the morning. However, this will depend on how much bandwidth you have for upload and how much data is changed each day.
Security and availability
This part is something that can be a little difficult to explain. Lets start with security. A cloud is a bunch of servers that are working together. You access it over the internet with a username and password and some times with a codestring or a certificate to make sure it is really you. If anyone gets this information, they can log in and access the system and do what they want. Yes, that can happen to your internal network also. In my personal opinion there is only one secure system: One that is not connected to any network at all.
Availability is how well you can access your data. To access anything in the cloud, you need internet access. No internet, no work (or play).
What about access to your local server/network from somewhere else? Availability to data from internet for a small organization can be configured using VPN. You need a good router ($70-200) and then configure it. However, in this scenario you can access your data if the internet is down.
I will come back and write more on this when I have a moment.