Q: If a client asks you which is better—cloud or local servers—how do you respond? Would your answer differ based on the size of the company?
Charles: “Probably the biggest thing that we have to understand concerning cloud versus local systems is the client’s requirements. I can think of one of our clients that works with cloud systems—their data and systems fit neatly inside of Office365, they don’t need any outside systems, so cloud is a slam dunk for them. On the other side, I can think of a couple other clients who have line-of-business applications such as an EMR or an accounting package that either do not have a cloud option, or the cloud option is not yet as effective as the on-site solutions. In those cases, we follow the needs of their primary systems. If they’re using a primary line-of-business application that works best on site, then we’ll look at on site systems. If they don’t have a requirement like that, then we’ll certainly look at cloud solutions because in many cases, the cloud solutions offer more options and are easier to scale for companies that are growing. Cloud can be nice for growing companies because you pay as you consume, so rather than having to buy equipment that has capacity for future growth, your costs rise as you experience actual growth.
The answer doesn’t directly depend upon the size of the company; it has much more to do with the systems the company uses. Now, a larger company that is spread geographically makes cloud much more preferable because there might not be one, single office to build equipment in.”
Q: Obviously, local servers were around before cloud servers. When cloud servers were first entering into the tech world, what reservations did you have? Have all of those doubts been remedied over time?
Charles: “Absolutely I had reservations. Essentially, cloud is trusting someone else to run your systems. And as a longtime IT worker who is used to running those systems myself, I had many concerns as to how it would be run and how it would be protected. And there often isn’t a clear view to see exactly how things are built and protected. Now those issues have largely been addressed by big providers because they now have so many years of experience in showing how they handle being attacked and experiencing failures. And the fact that a failure at Microsoft’s 365 or Amazon’s AWS would hit the news actually worries some people, but in reality, they hit the news because they are so extremely rare. It’s not like those kinds of events happen daily. If it’s something that rises into the news cycle, that means they’re doing a really good job at what they do. That track history makes it much simpler for me to trust them. Now, just because someone claims they have a cloud solution for a niche product doesn’t always mean they have done their due diligence. It honestly could be just a couple of servers hanging in someone’s back room. And that is worrisome. So you really have to pay attention to the provider when making decisions like these.”
Q: In regards to disaster recovery, especially during hurricane season, are there pros or cons to either cloud or local servers?
Charles: “Certainly, protecting against geographic issues is a strong point of cloud because a company’s systems aren’t necessarily located only in one place—their place of business. We’re based here in Tampa. We deal with hurricanes and lightning. If you have an onsite server and there’s a hurricane coming, you’ll probably have to shut that down and maybe evacuate your equipment. You’ll probably lose power, and you’ll probably lose connectivity. Now if you own a small local business that only serves your local population, your disaster recovery plan might be to shut your business down for the necessary time because the people you serve are not expecting you to be operational during that time. On the other hand, if you’re a medical provider or similar business who would be expected to be open and operational during a natural disaster, we have to figure out how you can stay online.
Our own plan is that if there is a hurricane inbound for the Tampa area, we will send at least one staff person out of the area so that they can continue to service clients. And because we use predominantly cloud systems, we can do that.”
Q: What is the advantage of working with an experienced MSP who knows the client’s environment when making decisions about servers in general or deciding between cloud and local servers?
Charles: “Well there are a couple of areas. Often, when we’re looking at these things, it’s because a vendor is trying to sell a client something. This is where we act as advocates and consultants for our clients. We know their environments well, and we can help them interpret what is really in their best interest. Also, while some of these decisions might be made because of a certain need—for instance, needing a new accounting system—they often have ramifications in many areas of the company’s infrastructure. And because we know our clients’ environments from end to end, we can often help them understand how much each solution would affect the entire system, and then we can help them choose the solution that offers the best returns across the board.”