The pros and cons of cloud hosting

HELP! > Decisions: Is Cloud Hosting for me?

“We’re moving to the cloud!”


The marketing gurus who invented the term “Cloud” have done a really good job. Because it sounds like water vapour it must be cheaper. And of course – everybody’s doing it.

Typically this option is considered when a company finds that their reliable but ageing office server needs upgrade or replacement. Since this upgrade can represent a surprisingly costly investment, you may be considering migration to cloud as an option.

Roughly the term translates simply as relocating the contents of the company server to a similar device in a Data Centre. Once the system is in a DC you can do some clever things with it such as federate / outsource various services to specialist providers to upgrade processing power, speed of access, storage space, even back up data to another country to ensure a copy of the data will survive local disaster.


Myth #1: “It’s cheaper!”


No way. Market forces regulate the cost of renting Data Centre Servers and space, consequently for most companies those costs are similar to keeping a local server. You’ll find that the cheap or free products have limitations and those you find you need are the extra’s you have to pay for, regularly and relentlessly. You will find that instead of making capital investment in server equipment and having the flexibility to extend the life of that server according to your financial needs, you are stuck with a fixed cost that will equal the investment route.

Registered charities can be an exception in the form of currently low-cost access to services such as Google Apps or Office 365. There are limitations to this service which may mean unexpected costs though.


Myth #2: “We won’t need IT support anymore.”


No. While certainly the major providers have great documentation about how to fix issues with accessing their servers, good luck actually speaking to someone. The management portals are by their nature complex and mistakes can result in data loss. And what is a machine wont turn on today? Keep your IT support. They may be willing to put you on a slightly lower rate because they will have been relieved of some of the server management roles, so negotiate that.


Myth #3: “I can just move everything to the cloud…”


No way. Not all locally hosted services can be moved to Cloud for instance: Many types of work-flow collaboration suites such as ACT!, Raisers Edge, Access Databases, Sage Accounting, Access Dimensions. Some of these providers do have SAAS (software as a service) options available – albeit costly. Also, some limitations extend to federated services meaning an organisation will need to adapt it’s culture and working methods to suit the provider – for example Google Apps will not allow sharing of mailboxes, or Office365 sharepoint file server cannot operate fully with files that are not in a Microsoft format.


Keeping It Local


Advantages


  • SSO (Single Sign On) allowing users company credentials and service permissions to be managed from one place. Domain based SSO managed by local server.

  • Management and control of domain workstations from server.

  • Uniform and automatic user-login to drives such as drive S: N: etc. Allocation of permissions to use devices such as printers.

  • Automated deployment of shared services and permissions via GPO (Windows) or Login scripts (Linux).

  • Workstation Antivirus deployed and managed from Server.

  • Remote Web Workplace (using office machine remotely) so that software does not need to reside on remote workers machine.

  • A local server is not exposed directly top the internet and because of it’s location less likely to be targeted with this kind of attack.

  • Assured connectivity to Company Data in the Office – even if the broadband goes down.

  • Office server hardware can be accessed by local engineer hands, issues such as refusal to boot and blue screens can usually be dealt with without recovering from a backup.

Disadvantages


  • A major investment is required when hardware capacity is outpaced by Operating System requirements (this is especially true for windows servers). For domain based services this also costs a significant amount of time on-site for engineers.

  • Premises dependency, vulnerability to disaster. Premises relocation or temporary exclusion as a result of crime, fire or other disaster may result in significant downtime and inability for users to work. Recovering from offsite backup is labour-expensive.

  • A server running 24/7 probably costs in the region of £20 per month in electricity.

Going Cloud


Advantages


  • Very high availability – 99.6% server uptime, multiple users have equal access to resources from any location with Internet access.

  • Data Centre servers operate in highly controlled environments and are typically high-end industrial specification and highly scalable meaning that platform changes whilst not trivial are far less disruptive. Server resources can be outsourced to maintain capacity according to need. For instance email or backup services may be easily sourced to 3rd parties to keep up with organisational capacity requirements.

  • Independent of premises – ideal for remote working. Provides users with the ability to work remotely which can help avoid productivity problems related to loss of access to premises such as disaster, relocation, transport issues or space/desk availability.

  • The remote server is silent and the electricity costs are included in the hosting plan.

    Disadvantages


  • Multiple credentials required, for workstations, server and possibly additional credentials outsourced services such as email. With SSO not available, workstations will need to be individually configured per user.

  • Workstation anti-virus and software update compliance, can not be controlled.

  • Limited access to files only – no services such as remote web workplace.

  • If the Office loses Internet access there is NO ACCESS to company resources from the office. You will need to have 4G internet uplink fail-over connectivity to cater for this type of event. Since ISP connectivity problems are usually limited to minutes, switching connection may take that long at least, users are absolutely prevented from working every time there is a disconnect, this can be disruptive.

  • Vulnerability to Zero-day hacker attacks. 0Day refers to security vulnerabilities attacks not yet revealed to the public or patched by the OS maintainer (such as Microsoft, Ubuntu, CentOS, ClearOS) See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-day_(computing). Servers on high bandwidth connections in Data Centres are more likely to be attacked by Zero Day since they can be incorporated into botnets and used in spamming and Deniel Of Service attacks. A higher level of system maintenance, audit work and security patching are required to mitigate this risk as far as possible.

  • No physical access. If the machine cannot be reached via software, remote-hands work by Data Centre Engineers is necessary and this can be more costly than recovering from a backup.

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