Transitioning to the Cloud

7640684444_bec3912132_mMany Small and Mid-sized Businesses (SMB’s) have moved to the cloud for a portion or in some instances, all, of their IT application needs. Most transitions to the cloud that I’ve been a part of started with moving websites from an internal server to a cloud based hosted provider.

This transition of hosting websites to using a cloud provider and/or cloud based services is usually pretty seamless and easy for most organizations. With this ease of transition, there’s usually a very quick move to begin transitioning many more applications and servers to the cloud as the organization begins to see the value in their systems located off-site and, in some cases, managed by other IT professionals.

The move to off-site web hosting usually leads to off-site email hosting. In my opinion, these are the two easiest and most rewarding uses of the cloud of SMB’s.  These two areas are the most mature cloud offerings and an SMB owner/officer should feel extremely comfortable and confidant in moving to the cloud for these services.

The next step for most SMB’s is then to scramble to find other internal applications and services to ‘move to the cloud’.    They a led into thinking the cloud is the only way to go. The cloud is cheaper and more reliable. The cloud takes less operational staff. Etc. Etc.  And…most often, they are quickly hurt by transitioning critical applications to the cloud because a proper risk assessment and plan wasn’t performed.

The key to successfully transitioning any app/service  to the cloud is ensuring that downtime can be mitigated.  If your email goes down for 5 hours, can you continue to do business? If your cloud hosted website also has an e-commerce function which brings in the majority of your revenue, can you stand to be down for a few hours?   Of course, these questions are no different than if you had these systems/services on-site but you would have had direct control over the ‘restart’ process to get things back online. When you move to the cloud, you don’t have direct control (in most cases) over the hardware/platform to quickly get things back online and you must wait for the provider to address the issue.

While most SMB’s are looking toward the cloud as a way to save money and improve performance, there must be some deep though put into the transition.Planning for the transition to the cloud is much more than just looking for savings. There’s a considerable amount of planning that must be done to ensure proper operations in the future. If the cloud provider goes down…what do you do? If the cloud provider goes out of business..what do you do?

Shawn Drew writes in a piece titled “Cloud Computing: SaaS Driving the Midsize World” that:

The benefits of the cloud are obvious, and now is the time for midsize businesses to take the next technological step to avoid falling behind. SaaS solutions provide an excellent entry point to the cloud. Soon, many businesses will find themselves completely virtualized and reaping the cloud’s enormous economic benefits.

I agree but need to add a caveat. The benefits are obvious but the dangers aren’t.

The cloud is great for SMB’s. There’s a lot of value to be found in the cloud. Just make sure you know the true costs in dollar value as well as operational value/costs. The driver for transitioning to the cloud for SMB’s is lower costs, more effective use of resources and the ability to take advantage of the expertise that cloud services and providers have.

When thinking about transitioning to the cloud, do your homework. Talk to experts in cloud computing. If you have the budget, give IBM a call. If you don’t, give your local small business IT consultant a call. They can provide expertise and insight into the cloud transition process and help you over some of the small roadblocks that most organizations run up against.

Image Credit: Clouds on Flickr

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.