Should a small business move its computing to the cloud?

But before you grab your gear and head for the nearest nimbus, I’ve afraid it’s not quite as simple as that. You need to decide if you want to be part of a public cloud or have your own, private cloud, and you have to choose between renting or buying your equipment. 

Public clouds

Products such as Googledocs and Microsoft’s Office 365 offer access to a public cloud – that is, you effectively rent your own space in a large central cloud.

The good news is that these services are very cheap. You get backup, business continuity options and access from anywhere for a very small amount of money – and for a micro-business this is not an unreasonable option.

However, it gets more problematic the more staff you have. Microsoft and Google are prone to changing their products frequently, under the impression that they’re improving them. But if you’ve got 20 or so staff with varying degrees of IT confidence, even the smallest change can become quite disruptive. Also, changes that the providers force on you sometimes require some expert re-configuration of your network settings.

Not only that, but with a public cloud you have no real control over your own data, how secure it really is and what the cloud provider does with it.

Private clouds

If you opt for a private cloud it will be more expensive, but at least it will be all yours. There are two ways of managing it: either you buy your own kit and put it in someone else’s data centre, or you lease the hardware from the data centre.

The decision you have to make is therefore about capital costs versus lease costs. If you decide to buy the kit, you are facing one large cost up-front – but at least, once you’ve bought it, you have lower monthly payments for a few years as you are only paying for the space your kit occupies. If you lease from the data centre you’ll be paying out more each month, but it will be the data centre’s responsibility to keep the equipment up to date and working. It’s like leasing a car – yes, you have to budget for a regular monthly payment, but it covers regular servicing and you get a nice shiny new model every three years.

The problem with buying your own kit is that I can guarantee that you’ll find it hard to squirrel away money for a new server when the time comes. So you’ll keep on thinking you can manage for just another year … until your hard drive goes (or the cam belt on your car).

How long does it take?

Once you have selected a supplier, it will take between four and six weeks to migrate all your systems to a private cloud. If planned properly the process can be entirely seamless, but you do need an expert company to oversee both the planning and the implementation.

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