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Moving to a Hybrid Cloud Environment for SMB

By Marc Miller, Imagine IT Owner, Education and Business Development

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Marc Miller, Imagine IT Owner, Education and Business Development

Technology for the SMB (small and mid-sized businesses) space is changing at incredible speeds. Looking back just 5 years ago there were a few businesses moving away from on-premise servers and using a few resources in the “cloud”. These first few businesses, scattered across the USA, were testing with waters with a few of their resources being hosted in data centres outside their buildings. Now, just a few years later, it is hard to find businesses that do not have some of their technology in the cloud – creating a Hybrid Environment for their resources. For purposes of clarification, this article will address the SMB market as the challenges for the SMB market are significantly different from those of the Enterprise market.

The Most Common “OOPS” When Moving to the Cloud

At least once a month we run into a business requesting for assistance to “move them back” from the cloud. Typically, these businesses have tried to move their entire technology stack to the cloud as one big project and once in this cloud environment they experience many issues. In almost all cases, the move to the cloud should be well planned and should be done in phases. Moving EVERYTHING to the cloud as one project creates too many changes at the same time and makes it very difficult for end users to be productive and efficient.

Planning Your Move to the Cloud

It is best to have a written plan when considering moving resources to the cloud. Business owners and management should identify the components within the business that might be moved to the cloud without interrupting operations. Most importantly, businesses need to identify technologies that are not quite ready for the move to the cloud.

Many businesses have found that large graphics and video files are not ready for use in a typical cloud environment. The applications used to create and modify these files still function best with a local server and desktops with lots of horsepower. Drawing and design CAD applications fall into this category as well. Other businesses have found that large databases still work best on a local server when accessed frequently by users.

First Step – Move Your Email to the (Public) Cloud 

Google and Microsoft have made the move to the public cloud very easy and cost effective for small and mid-sized businesses. With thousands of businesses moving to these platforms each month, email and data collaboration form the bedrock for the use of these public clouds … and for businesses not yet using cloud services, this move is a great place to start.

Microsoft’s Office 365 is allowing businesses to very gracefully migrate away from their Exchange servers. Since the first Office 365 offering, Microsoft has consistently reduced the pricing for these services and has continued to make great strides with meaningful upgrades and added features. In most cases, users are not affected at all with a move to Office 365, and with a little training, they find SharePoint and Skype for Business to be extremely useful tools.

Step Two – Move Backup to the Public Cloud

Nearly all businesses understand the importance of backup, but many still do not see the importance of utilizing an automatic backup of their data to the cloud. Costs for data backup continue to drop, so the backup of data to the cloud is a must for all businesses. There are literally thousands of providers that utilize on-premise devices in conjunction with automatic backup to the cloud to create layers of backup for the business data. 

These layers of backup provide for robust access to data, especially in a disaster event – large or small. In most cases, this backup strategy forms that backbone of the Business’s Continuity Plan. Businesses utilizing a manual method for getting the backup of their data offsite each day need to seriously consider moving to a cloud backup solution.

Step three– Move Data to the Cloud

Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365 SharePoint services provide robust solutions for the storage and access of a company’s data, and in many cases completely eliminate the need for the company’s remaining server(s). Word documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, PDF documents all perform extremely well in these environments. As mentioned above, large graphics files and some large databases still do not perform as well, so prior to moving these types of files to these platforms it is strongly recommended to do thorough testing.

The access of these files from in the office and out of the office becomes extremely easy and allows for remote users to be extremely productive. Access to these files also allows for very productive collaboration and eliminates versioning issues on larger projects. Mobile access to this data from all devices also provides greater efficiency and productivity for users out of the office.

Security permissions and access to these files needs to be carefully implemented as the data is moved to these platforms. In many cases, two-factor authentication is recommended to assure security is maintained as user’s access these files.

Final Step – Move Line of Business Applications

Many software manufacturers are offering hosted solutions for their line-of-business applications. Prior to committing to this move, it is recommended that a business thoroughly test the hosted versions of these applications. Many of them have a limited feature set when compared to the on-premise versions.

In some cases it makes more sense for the company to use a private cloud for these applications. Resources at a data centre are configured for the hosting of this application and users access this data remotely with products like Citrix or Microsoft’s Remote Desktop services. With adequate bandwidth, the access to these applications and data is seamless and the end user experience is a very positive one. 

With these resources hosted in the cloud, users are able to use many different devices, including thin clients, to access the applications and data. Businesses find themselves very nimble and scalable when using these technologies.

Know your business and the components of your business that will perform well in the cloud. Create a detailed plan of moving the business resources to the cloud and then implement the plan step-by-step and watch your business flourish on the cloud!