They’ve outgrown a too-small location, or the rent has outgrown them. Maybe the ranks of quality employees has grown too thin. A new, snazzier office space or more customer-enticing retail spot has cast its siren call, promising more comfortable digs for employees or a locale that will bring in foot traffic by the droves. Or maybe that new town or neighborhood simply offers a better quality of life.
Regardless of the reason, Americans today – and Americans doing business – are frequently on the move. According to recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics, about 12 percent of U.S. citizens change residences every year, about 36 million people overall. While the agency doesn’t track business moves, given all the enticements to change business locales there’s no doubt that many small businesses will consider relocating at one time or another.
As exciting as a move can be, it’s also hard work; getting organized, packing up, then making the move itself and settling into new places and routines. Given those challenges, contemplating a second move – the relocation of your IT resources into the cloud – might seem questionable at best. But a business move might just offer the perfect justification and impetus to shift your IT resources in a way that could benefit your business as much, if not more, than a physical relocation.
After all, if you have IT resources such as servers or storage systems in-house, having to take them along during a move is already a challenge and potential disruption. An office relocation very well could be the right time to move those systems and related apps and services not just across town, but into a more reliable, scalable and highly-available new home, in the cloud.
Before contemplating such a move, however, it’s important to understand the benefits – and possible risks – of a cloud migration. First and foremost is cost savings. Buying cloud services on demand generally is cheaper than buying hardware and software upfront, and can provide additional savings operationally as businesses no longer are responsible for infrastructure and application upkeep.
By running on the latest hardware, in a data center built to handle not only everyday usage requirements, but anomalies from power outages to earthquakes, a cloud-based infrastructure generally is much more reliable than a small business can maintain in-house. Security also plays into the reliability equation. It can be hard for a small business to keep up with the latest vulnerabilities and hack attacks; cloud providers live and breathe security and have the resources and tools to keep your systems up and running and safe.
Scalability is another advantage, and one well-suited to companies relocating due to growth concerns. If you’re outgrowing your physical location, it’s likely you’re outpacing your IT capabilities as well – not to mention the ability of your IT staff to keep up with software and server upgrades and other IT maintenance chores. By comparison, cloud scalability is available to be turned up on-demand, as needed, and with the latest upgrades, patches and fixes already deployed. The cloud also is well-suited when you aren’t simply moving but expanding and need to scale an IT environment across multiple regions or cities.
To be fair, cloud migration isn’t without its risks. Moving important systems, applications and data off-site could raise security or privacy concerns. If your IT systems are particularly proprietary, they might not move easily into the cloud – at least not without some added steps. And if your IT infrastructure is already bought and paid for, potential cost savings might not be realized immediately.
Like a physical move, an IT migration shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. But weighing the benefits against the risks, it’s often the right move, particularly during a time of change such as a business relocation.
If a business move is in the cards, there’s a good chance you – or an office manager, if you’re lucky – has created a moving-day checklist to make sure everything goes seamlessly. The same is required for a cloud migration. Some requirements to check off include:
Software as a Service (SaaS) will have you consuming certain apps from the cloud (think Salesforce.com). Platform as a Service (PaaS) typically moves your development out into the cloud (such as Google App Engine). And Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) will make computing infrastructure such as servers and storage available on demand, from the cloud (for instance, Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure).
At its essence, the cloud is centered on moving computing resources off-premise and into a large data center. That data center can be in-house if you’re big enough, or for a small business, more likely accessed via a public cloud provider. As you evaluate data centers, you’ll need to know: What are your storage requirements, bandwidth and processing requirements? What baseline security capabilities are in place — such as firewall, antivirus, denial of service protection and backup/disaster recovery — and what capabilities are needed above that to meet additional security or privacy requirements for your industry?
How complex are your applications, and how tightly coupled are they to your current systems or customized via proprietary tweaks? To what other systems do your key applications integrate – within your own walls as well as to external third-party apps? Are your apps so old they need to be completely rewritten, or can they move into a modern cloud environment as is?
Most cloud providers will have both processes and tools to help you with an IT cloud migration, including systems to evaluate your hardware needs, tools to discover and understand your application requirements and migration platforms to make the transition as painless as possible. And know that cloud providers typically guarantee service via SLA, or service level agreement. Hammer out the terms of that agreement before moving to get the assurance you need that your IT needs will be met.
Today’s busy small business person is seemingly always on the move. At times, that can mean relocation – for your business and for your IT infrastructure. Assessing an IT move into the cloud requires as much planning and forethought as switching offices – and it can pay just as large dividends, from lowering costs to improving operations to laying the groundwork for future growth. Cloud migration isn’t without risks, but we hope we’ve laid out the benefits, as well as provided a checklist that can help you get started with your planning.
If you’re considering an IT cloud migration for your business, let us know about it below in the comments. What cloud service style works best for your business – SaaS, PaaS or IaaS? And what are the biggest fears or concerns you are dealing with as you consider a cloud migration for your business?